What can property learn from I'm a Celebrity?

Barry Jessup's latest Property Week column discusses the power of gossip in our industry and how this helps generate culture and defines our spaces, the full article is below:

Global TV and social media is awash with reality TV shows of all descriptions, usually regional variations on a theme featuring exposed individuals put into a highly pressurised environment without the necessary tools to cope properly.

In the UK, up to 10 million people tune into ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ and social media comes alive with people’s views of outrage or excitement. It is a television and cultural phenomenon. TV producers realise that these shows are tapping into an essential human and social need: gossip.

Gossip is crucial to human interaction and to building relationships. Gossip helps to build trust and determine behaviour. Gossip helps to create culture and defines the spaces that we use.

Whether its politics, football, the next England cricket captain, or the latest episode of Love Island, we all spend a lot of time discussing people’s attributes, their strengths and weaknesses, and speculating about their future success. This has historically been how communities have chosen their leaders, established which relationships will last, and set the boundaries for individual behaviour and inappropriate activities. The importance of gossiping is built into the human DNA and we all have an urge to fulfil our gossiping need on a daily basis.

In the property sector, we would do well to understand this key human phenomenon because it should be the foundation stone upon which we build successful places. It is relatively easy to understand the role that gossip plays in the popularity of cafés and pubs, but it is also crucial in the creation of offices, residential developments and public spaces.

Designing ‘collision points’ where gossip can take place into our developments is a vital first step; in the hybrid working world, this has never been more important. It is now broadly accepted that whilst virtual meetings can on occasions be very effective, they are also typically deeply unsatisfactory; the lack of an ability to gossip being a key factor. The discussions that take place prior to a meeting, the joke that breaks the ice, the body language, whether it is the rolling of eyes, or the slump of the shoulders, are crucial to the human psyche and teamwork, allowing people to create trust and a shared belief between them. Without trust and a shared belief, humans wouldn’t be able to collaborate and deliver the massive projects that we currently do.

Therein lies arguably the most important role of the office. It is an environment that allows individuals to identify common beliefs, to set shared objectives and to agree joint activities to achieve them. This is done through the creation of trust that arises from gossiping and understanding individuals’ strength and weaknesses, and the agreement of a shared vision for what success looks like.

Gossip is also crucial in residential communities. The ‘garden fence’ chat, a glimpse of your neighbours’ visitors, the overhearing of arguments or impassioned talking, the invitation to a barbecue or a summer beer. These are as important to the resident’s enjoyment of their home as the specification of the oven, the type of flooring used, or the ceiling heights. And yet very little consideration is often given to these critical elements in the design of our modern homes, particularly in urban areas.

There is a natural inclination to turn our noses up at the likes of I’m a Celebrity… and Love Island as adding very little to our communities. But instead, we should be focused on what we can learn from this fascinating human behaviour.