ePrivacy and GPDR Cookie Consent by Cookie Consent The Resi Interview: Joe Whitworth Head of Technical Operations

The Resi Interview: Joe Whitworth Head of Technical Operations

Joe, Head of Technical Operations at Resi discusses what’s missing from the UK planning sector, what makes Resi unique and what a happy home looks like to him.

6 min read

Molly-Sue: How would you describe your role at Resi, and what does a typical week look like for you?

Joe:  I see my role as leading the teams that bookend the design process. So, at the front end, my teams make sure that the design process has the technical inputs it needs,  that the surveys we're producing are of a high quality and therefore that the existing models are the best they can be so that it enables that conceptual design stage to start off on the right foot. On the other side of the design process, making sure that the concepts and the proposed design that we develop for clients are grounded in planning reality and set up for planning success. I also lead the People and Operations function as well, making sure that everyone across the business has everything they need for a happy and healthy workplace.

“I make sure my team is set up to succeed from the start”

A typical week really does vary because I cover so many different areas that are very different in their nature. Surveying, for example, is very different from planning and people and operations is very different from the existing design process. It varies from day to day which is great. And it’s really about supporting individuals to make sure that they have everything they need, checking that the performance and output is there from their perspective. I also review the high level strategy of those teams to assess how we can better contribute to the customer journey.

As I have a background in planning, I give hands-on technical guidance to the team, customers and people across the business. So my week is very varied but I like that about my role.

Molly-Sue: How long have you been at Resi and how has the business evolved over time?

Joe: I've only been here 18 months but it feels a lot longer than that. My previous role was in local government which is not particularly fast moving and an architectural tech startup is very much the opposite of that.  Things move very quickly and that’s what I love about it – that you can  have an idea and see it through to fruition very quickly.

“My previous role was in local government which is not particularly fast moving and an architectural tech startup is very much the opposite of that.”

A lot has changed in regard to how we operate but what we're about and what we want to deliver for people has very much remained a core focus. It's just the stuff around the edges about understanding how we actually get better at delivering those things that have developed.

I guess that's the nature of a startup! You learn very quickly. You can try different bets to work out very quickly what works and what doesn't. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to try and improve that product. We've always had a very clear vision from everyone, and particularly from Alex. We know what we want to achieve but we’re always working out how we want to get there. The ambitions always remain the same.

Molly-Sue: What’s the most Resi thing about Resi?

Joe: It’s the people! A huge amount of the people at Resi have really bought into what we’re trying to achieve and believe in the mission and vision we’re trying to deliver. Our product  is different, it’s something other people aren’t offering or can’t offer to the same degree that we can. I’ve never been part of a company where everyone is so motivated by a shared vision – it creates a really unique culture. The fact that we have planners, surveyors, architects, designers, product managers and programmers all under one roof is rare. There are very few places where you’ll find that mix of professions. I think it’s really healthy. You get a broad spectrum of insight and opinion.

Given your role’s proximity to the particulars of the UK planning system, what’s your sense of how it’s working? And what, if any, changes would you like to see?

Joe: I think it's working incredibly poorly and has been for some time. In our recent Times piece, I was very vocal about my lack of faith that the system is set up to facilitate success.

I think there's clearly a very significant funding gap for Councils across the UK. That means that they have to scrap for every penny that they can get. So, you end up paying for services on top of your planning fees which should be inherently built in. It creates this standoffish approach between Councils and the private sector where it feels like you're not being helped and it's an adversarial relationship rather than one that's collaboratively trying to get things across the line. That funding gap has kind of bred these bad behaviours and attitudes. When I was working in planning departments, it was there but not to this level. I think it's changed in the last year to 18 months, particularly post-Covid.

Now, some Councils ask you to pay hundreds of pounds just to submit additional drawings even though you've already paid a planning fee. You can feel a lack of contact and engagement from planning officers because they're either overworked or they're told not to engage. And it means we have to work very, very hard to leverage positive outcomes in that environment. It really shouldn't require a consultant to navigate the planning process, but now it's almost fundamental because of the hassle that it can throw up  so we at Resi have to bridge that gap.

I’m not just suggesting that additional fees are going to fix it – it just needs to be part of a wider package. That includes much closer scrutiny of council performance and decision-making quality, so that they are more accountable for their performance. From a residential home improvement / existing housing stock perspective, the permitted development system needs a really radical overhaul, to be widely expanded and far more permissive.

Molly-Sue: What are the most common issues that you run into when it comes to getting plans through the door for Resi customers?

Joe: We're very proactive in the way that we have to deal with planners to try and get applications across the line but the uncertainty about the time involved in the planning process is the most critical issue. Because, for our customers, time is money and you just want to crack on with this wonderful vision for your home, yet you can find yourself stuck in this bureaucratic process with the council. You don't know when it's going to end – it might be next week, it might be in six weeks, it might be in two months or even worse. So I think the worst thing is those unknown time frames and outcome uncertainty, which we do our best to try and overcome.

Molly-Sue: So, what’s your favourite part of your job?

Joe: Coming to work in the office and seeing the people who work here gives me a lot of energy. For the reasons I mentioned before – it’s such a broad range of really special people. That’s one of the main reasons I joined Resi to start with. That's what really excited me: the different way we do things.

And not only that, you feel part of a journey in helping turn someone’s idea into reality. It’s done in a way that I genuinely don't see being done anywhere else and has an immense amount of potential to it. Seeing a project that we touched 18 months ago when I first started in the planning team come to life is amazing to see. Just that absolute mission that designers and planners went through together across the line and it resulting in a really, really nice project. That’s really gratifying.

And, finally, what does a happy home look like to you?

This is a funny one because it's a bit at odds with my job. Because people who know me know I don’t spend a lot of time at home. I like to be active doing stuff, going to gigs, music festivals, sports events, whatever. So, I don't think about it a lot. I just like that when I am home that the environment reflects my personality. So, I like it to be clean and minimalistic with small touches that give me energy – art, greenery, music.

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