Demand for regional office space a sign of the times
UK office space rental agency Free Office Finder has reported a 45% increase in requirements for offices outside of the M25 since May, almost double the rise in demand for central London offices.
New data from the company shows how the acceleration of the flexible working trend sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way British organisations are accommodating their workforce in measurable ways.
Nick Riesel, Free Office Finder’s managing director said there had already been a noticeable shift in office size requirements since April/May, with buildings outside of city centres getting more attention.
“Staff redundancies and a widespread move to remote working for existing staff are prompting companies to search for smaller offices,” he continues.
“We’ve seen a 45% jump in requirements for offices outside of the M25 and only 23% for central London. We believe some firms are looking to relocate out of central London to reduce travel on public transport and reliance on spaces with high footfall in order to reduce the risk of the spread of infection.”
As companies adopt a dispersed team model, it is possible coworking/serviced office operators with a range of regional locations will experience the biggest increase in uptake. Businesses may decide to purchase flexible memberships for their staff at offices nearer to where they live, and only require them to travel to their main office in the city when necessary.
Riesel believes the most likely outcome is a mixed approach: “Companies will do what’s best for them and their employees, with some adopting part-time remote working approaches and others eventually returning to centralised locations in the city. Choice is key.
“I believe the final result will be somewhere between where it was pre-lockdown and where it is now. Some firms will continue with the strategy they’ve implemented. Others will come back into the fold for an office in central London when the threat of Covid has tapered off.”
The demand for flexible workspace was already ramping up before March, according to Free Office Finder.
There’s been an appetite for flexibility within the SME community for years; however, more recently, corporates have started to get on board with agile office solutions.
Riesel expects serviced offices to become more popular now that companies of all sizes can’t risk being tied into long-term leases. “Flexible providers are now starting to offer terms that factor in an outbreak into agreements,” he says, adding that break clauses “will need to become embedded in flexible operators’ strategies to give companies peace of mind about committing for more than a month at a time.”
Covid-19 accelerates existing trends
The commute was falling out of favour prior to the pandemic, as an increasing number of office workers started to embrace flexible working.
A global survey by the infrastructure architects Weston Williamson & Partners of more than 2,000 commuters in 10 major cities revealed a pre-coronavirus reduction in commuting of 2-5%. 60% of managers and professionals were already working partly from home.
"Fewer people have been travelling at rush hour but although the numbers are just a few percent they are significant numbers – from New York to Los Angeles, to Paris or Berlin. So it's quite a trend,” said the firm's co-founder Chris Williamson, in a BBC article.
According to employee engagement platform Peakon, employee comments featuring flexible working-related terms increased by 18% between 2018 and 2019, with terms such as ‘WFH’ and ‘flexible work hours’ becoming more popular.
Similarly, employee comments about environmental issues increased by 52% in 2019 (year-on-year). This ties in with people’s changing attitudes towards commuting.
Our attitudes to work have shifted in line with the economic landscape. Higher living costs mean single income households are in sharp decline. Again, in order to manage work, family and life in general, flexible solutions are needed.
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