Remote working is here to stay, according to a new study that sets out the economic case for making the shift away from the office permanent.
This has the potential to reduce regional inequalities, cut carbon emissions and raise productivity, argues innovation economist Dr Matt Clancy, author of The Case for Remote Work.
But what does it mean for the office provider and co-working sectors that were thriving prior to the outbreak of Covid-19?
There’s no doubt that the rise in remote working is taking its toll. Recent quarterly figures from office agent Free Office Finder reveal a nationwide drop in commercial real estate rental prices, with Bristol reporting a nine per cent fall.
Yet, it’s not as simple as to say the days of office working are dead, as evidenced by major office providers that have already set their sites on Bristol in anticipation of a surge in post-Covid demand for flexible and safe workspace.
Commenting on the current outlook, Akshay Khera, architecture profession director at BDP’s studio on Hill Street, says the key is to offer flexibility.
“In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a hybrid model is emerging where we are seeing a combination of home and office-based working becoming the norm,” says Akshay.
“There is still demand for quality office space in Bristol, but landlords may need to adapt their floorplans to accommodate a growing interest in co-working.”
He adds that many businesses are likely to consider satellite town ‘spokes’ as a cost-effective alternative to maintaining one city centre HQ, reducing travel and enabling small teams to work together.
Desklodge, a co-working provider with venues in Old Market and Redcliffe, is already taking a flexible approach to meet the changing needs of its clients.
“We have thought about how we can continue to adapt our products and services to meet what our current and new members need,” explains Desklodge’s Emma Gorton-Ellicott.
“This includes launching our latest product the ‘Hoffice’ – a blend of private space and hotdesking.”
Prior to Covid-19, the Desklodge team would welcome more than 250 members a day, which has now dropped to around 50. While this has inevitably impacted revenue, Emma says they are still receiving plenty of enquiries from new prospective members.
“People and teams will need a workspace more than ever,” she says.
“Some will continue to work from home, but for the majority that simply won’t work long-term. The magic of collaborating and seeing teammates, a great work setup, having fast reliable WiFi, being in a creative environment and having a purpose to get up and dressed every day is pivotal to your productivity and wellbeing.
“Also, the attraction of businesses placing themselves in a flexible workspace will mean they can still attract the best talent as we work through Covid-19.”
Redbrick House co-working space on Wilder Street in St Paul’s has reduced desk capacity by 30 per cent to enable social distancing. It also suspended members’ rents between April and June, measures which have paid off as workers are now returning to the premises.
“There will be a dip in the growth of co-working but many of the factors which made it appealing to so many people are still valid,” says Redbrick’s Yasmin Joan Qureshi.
“Redbrick House offers a space to connect with a community, find potential collaborators and host a support network during a time where isolation can very much affect physical and mental health.”
The optimism of long-term city residents is reflected in the actions of national office space provider Clockwise, which is opening a brand new site in the Generator Building in Redcliffe, and global company Flagship, due to open new premises on Colston Avenue.
Clockwise bosses say they are anticipating a surge in demand for quality, flexible and safe office options.
“As all businesses look not only to survive but thrive, in the ‘new normal’, the measure of our success will be how well we can anticipate and accommodate members’ needs before they themselves even recognise them,” says Alexandra Brunner, Clockwise’s newly-appointed COO.
“In doing so, we will provide much-needed support for the businesses that are the lifeblood of the UK and European economies.”
Bruce Good, director for Flagship owners The Steyn Group says there has been considerable interest in the new space, which will offer private offices, dedicated desks and flexible co-working spaces.
“We have been impressed by the strength of the Bristol market, the entrepreneurial spirit and the success of the city’s economy as a whole,” he adds.
“Whilst the Covid pandemic has, of course, presented huge challenges in terms of workplace design, it has also accelerated the move towards greater flexibility and an interest in really beautiful, high functioning spaces to work and collaborate in.”
Main photo courtesy of Desklodge