According to data from Centre for Cities, Boris Johnson’s first request in July for workers to return to the office, especially in large cities, caused only an 1% increase in footfall the week following.
Therefore, for this month’s member topic, we’re asking what ‘modern’ working environments need to look like to attract people back into city centre offices?
Jonathan Combe, Partner and Head of the Real Estate Group at Muckle LLP
“For us it is not that easy a question to answer as we had (pre Covid) carried out a substantial refurbishment of our building as we fully embraced the concept of agile working. We had created a wide range of work stations to enable our people to either work on their own or in more collective team based environments.In this regard please see a link to an article which appears on page 51 of Mix, a leading design publication: https://issuu.com/mixinteriors/docs/mix_interiors_-_september_2020_-_hr?fr=sYmY2YTE2NjI2ODk
“In relation to our own working environment therefore we believe that it remains fully fit for purpose even in the post Covid world albeit social distancing has meant that we at present have to limit the number of people who can actually work in the office.
“I think therefore that flexibility will remain the key for office providers so that they can provide a wide range of working environments which can be tailored to the needs of individual businesses. The advantages of city centre working which existed pre Covid remain exactly the same post Covid although this is obviously tempered by the obvious impact of Covid19.
“Unless the risks associated with the pandemic recede in the short term the biggest challenge facing city centre businesses will be ensuring that their people’s journeys to/from work are as safe as possible and that is not something which is within their direct control.”
Paul Fairlamb, Associate Commercial Surveyor at youngs RPS
“We have actually experienced a slightly higher number of enquiries for office space over the last month than we had immediately prior to lockdown. Many companies are still assessing their ongoing needs but there is still activity in the market in both directions; from companies looking to acquire smaller premises due to more home working and others who are looking for larger space to enable greater social distancing in the office.
“There will be a long term shift to even more flexible working patterns and we believe this will lead to a mix of home working, and the increase in working outside traditional core hours. To cater for this, offices will need to adapt to more flexible space to allow for socially distant team meetings and training rather than traditional office layouts. Companies will look for a greater degree of natural or mechanically ventilated space and external break out space if possible. Offices will need to feel spacious both at the workstation and in rest areas, kitchens and toilets with clearly defined circulation areas. As well as physical improvements, staff will also need to be reassured about the cleaning standards throughout.
“The reluctance to return to the office is often led by convenience, however, there is also an acknowledgement that at least a partial return is necessary for the mental health of staff, team building, corporate identity and training.”
Neil McMillan, Managing Director of iMpeC Developments
“This is a real conundrum for employers and city leaders. Employers are balancing the risk associated with the wellbeing of their staff and the possibility of a Covid outbreak shutting their office versus the negative impact of home working on innovation and collaboration.
“There is no silver bullet here, but the answer has to be carrot, not stick. I believe those employers who work hard to make the office environment safe and, importantly, appealing, will prosper.
“Of course what is appealing to one group may be different to another. It may be more amenity space in or near the office is important allowing staff to work or socialise in a more informal relaxed setting. It may also be the layout and furniture within the office need to evolve in order to provide a different and more appealing environment. One thing is for certain, things will change, but it’s likely it will change in different ways for different businesses.
“This is a period of change for the workplace, one I think we should embrace and be excited about!”
Neil Hart, Group Managing Director at Bradley Hall
“I fully believe that during this very fragile time for our economy it is essential for all business people to think of the bigger picture and long term impact of not returning to office working. There are many things which can and have been done to create modern and attractive working environments in our ‘new normal’, however what we all need to focus on are the benefits of being part of a bustling and vibrant city. Therefore, this becomes not only an issue of creating a modern and safe office environment, but also the attraction depends on the surrounding activity in our cities which ultimately creates a desirable location for business.
“Local businesses must return to a productive working environment in order to remain successful, but this also provides a lifeline to other industries including bars, restaurants, retail and public transport. The North East is a region like no other, it’s ability to persevere during times of adversity has been proven previously, and we all know that we are stronger together.
“It is essential for us all to take responsibility, be innovative and step up to protect the future of our economy, as each industry feeds into another.”