One Year On, Here’s How the Pandemic is Impacting Workplace Decisions

One Year On, Here’s How the Pandemic is Impacting Workplace Decisions

The events of 2020 shook up the world of work profoundly. Many established workplace trends came to an abrupt halt while alternative workplace solutions, such as virtual offices, soared in popularity.

At the very start of 2020, we expected to see a continuation of certain growth trends such as coworking and meeting room rental. Given what we know now, it’s not surprising that demand for these collaborative spaces dropped off, albeit for a short time. Now, buoyed by the vaccination rollout and with expectations of a return to some ‘normality’ later this year, many businesses are once again booking shared office space and meeting rooms for future requirements.

And that's not all.

At UBC, one significant trend we’re seeing is that of large businesses turning to flexible space. Of course this is nothing new; large firms frequently utilise flexible office space for project teams or branch offices.

In recent months however, we’ve seen a notable upsurge in interest from larger businesses. Interestingly, conversations with these business leaders indicate that they would normally take long-term office leases -- but now they are actively looking for flexible options in regional locations instead.

The current situation has forced companies to re-evaluate their office requirements, and many are now looking for flexible solutions not just as a short-term ‘fix’, but as a longer-term integration into their property portfolios.

There are two key themes here:

  1. Many large firms are turning away from traditional office leases in favour of serviced or managed office space on flexible agreements.
  2. Under ‘normal’ circumstances these firms would seek space in city centres, but now they are looking at space in regional locations that are less congested and safer in terms of social distancing.

Late last year we became aware of these changes, and we began seeing growing interest from corporate firms looking for flexible space in out-of-town areas, both to enable social distancing and to enable staff to work closer to home.

At the same time, a number of industry reports noted similar patterns. The latest flexible workspace report from Instant Offices, The Changing Face of an Industry, found that some suburban office locations in the UK saw 100% growth, and there was also a sharp rise in demand for flexible office space in smaller regional markets compared to city centres.

Here are some of the main reasons why businesses are switching to flexible space in regional locations:

  • Existing offices aren’t large enough to accommodate everybody safely
  • Staff don’t want to use public transport to get to work, particularly in busy areas
  • It’s too expensive to expand office space in city centres (to allow for social distancing), but it’s generally more cost effective in regional areas
  • Businesses want a short-term solution for the current situation, and want the flexibility to be able to extend their agreement or upscale/resize as necessary
  • Existing office Internet bandwidth can’t accommodate multiple video conference calls with remote workers - they need a purpose-built workplace
  • Business leaders don’t want to adapt their existing office space and invest in expensive safety measures for the sake of 6 - 12 months.

All of these requirements are playing a part in driving large firms to flexible office space.

At UBC, we’ve already adapted our spaces to be Covid-safe, so occupants don’t need to invest more for their staff to feel safe. And since all of our workspaces are regional, we’re seeing a distinct surge in enquiries from companies looking for a hub-and-spoke workplace model.

In particular, we’re proceeding with a number of serious enquiries for large serviced offices at our business centres in Birchwood (Warrington), Southampton, Solihull and Fleet -- with all enquiries coming from companies that want flexible space to form their workplace ‘spokes’.

This agile workplace model enables firms to accommodate more hybrid ways of working for their staff -- ie. mixing some days at home with some days in the office -- and to ‘bring the office to their people’ rather than reverting to the old norms of commuting.

As we move forwards through the year, it’s clear that diversity of location, cost control, and a more agile (and spacious) workplace that can accommodate work flexibility are the main priorities for business leaders in the immediate, and the foreseeable, future.

Want to learn more? Download our free guide to find out how to create an agile office environment for your remote team.