Rachel Burdis, Inward Investment Manager at Invest North East England explores the evolution of the office-based financial, professional and business services sector (FPBS), including BPO, shared services and contact centres.
North East England is well known for attracting global brands across FPBS. The region’s highly skilled workforce, low cost base, and quality office space, all make the region an attractive UK location for business services.
Post pandemic, the sector is evolving; a shift to hybrid work patterns, higher demand for sustainable office accommodation and a better work/life balance dictated by employees, has led many business service companies to consider new ‘greener’ factors when selecting a new business location. This is where North East England can offer so much.
Let’s start with the obvious, the pandemic changed the ways of working for the world in every sector.
Contact centres, BPOs and shared service centres in the region and across the globe all found themselves needing to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and service customers in a new way, whilst maintaining loyalty & repeat custom. We saw many move to contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions and those already using cloud technologies were able to adopt remote working models efficiently and securely.
“Regional businesses adapted very well throughout the pandemic and the changing guidelines announced throughout. They accelerated existing business plans for offering staff a more blended working practice, which they were looking to introduce over the next five years in any case” said Lynn Cramman, Site Lead at Cobalt Park.
Fast forward and 2022 has seen a continued approach to hybrid working, with most businesses having around 30-40% of staff in the office at any one time.
Staff needs have changed too, a better work/life balance for many during the pandemic has seen a shift in employee demands – enhanced flexible working, access to cycle schemes and more open workspaces.
Businesses have had to consider new ways of using and repurposing space by introducing break out zones, hot desking, and outdoor seating areas. There’s been an increase in investment in electric vehicle charging points, cycling storage, and changing facilities. EE and DXC are just two examples of businesses in the region investing in multi-million pound fitouts.
City centres – a new dawn is rising
There are clear benefits to FPBS businesses basing themselves in city centres, including footfall, public transport and access to leisure and hospitality facilities.
But businesses are looking at additional factors when considering a new location. Green transport, digital technology, innovative use of outdoor space and eco-friendly buildings are all playing a part when deciding on a new location.
Policymakers too, are looking at how to re-ignite the city centres, making them better places to do business and helping them to grow to a new demand. Recent property development across the region supports the notion of the continued need to provide investors with high quality and sustainable city centre office space.
Portland House in the heart of Newcastle city centre, is an example of newly refurbished office space which has been designed with quality, sustainability and well-being at its core.
The North East also has a number of ambitious regeneration programmes going on in city centres.
Riverside Sunderland was recognised as the UK’s ‘best future place’ with judges highlighting the schemes innovation and sustainability. It’s home to the award-winning City Hall and The BEAM office complex, housing Ocado Retail’s customer delivery centre.
Milburngate in Durham is further evidence of this growing trend for new city centre office and mixed-use development. The 200,000+ sq.ft. Grade A office accommodation, is in the centre of Durham, situated on the bank of the River Wear overlooking Durham Castle and Cathedral – surely one of the most spectacular office locations in the UK.
Out of Town Business Parks remain a popular choice
Out of Town Business Parks continue to be a popular choice for the FPBS sector.
They often have site teams, who maintain strong relationships with occupiers and encourage knowledge sharing through steering groups, as well as support them with retention and recruitment. This is something rarely seen in city centres and perhaps part of the reason companies such as Verisure and Just Eat chose to set up regional hubs in these locations.
Out of town sites also benefit from access to parks and open spaces. For example, Cobalt Park in North Tyneside, offers 5 miles of off-road bridleway which links to a cycling network. The relaxing environment with its ponds and wildlife supports wellbeing agendas and promotes ‘outdoor’ and ‘walking’ meetings.
With improved transport links and support from the team at Cobalt to create bespoke travel plans, it’s also easier, and often more environmentally friendly, to commute to these parks from home.
North East England continues to be strong in FPBS
Whether it’s a city centre location or an out-of-town option, the North East has an abundance of eco-friendly property options as well as the skilled staff.
The region’s businesses have listened to employee needs and by adapting workspace and introducing new ways of working, has ensured staff loyalty and low turnover.
It’s not just access to a skilled workforce, our region also boasts a low cost base, quality office space, academic support and extensive financial provision. It’s why the likes of Just Eat, Concentrix, Xplor and Ocado expanded here successfully. And why Sage, BGL and Worldpay continue to hire for their hubs in the region.
Our innovative approach to technology has placed our contact centres, BPOs and shared service centres in a strong position for future advancements in the sector.
“The North East contact centre market is the most buoyant we’ve seen in over a decade. In the last three years, several exciting new brands have chosen to open new sites in the region, which has created even more of a buzz amongst the industry.
“Career opportunities in contact centres are infinite in the region, and brands are well aware that the North East is bursting with some of the UK’s finest contact centre experienced frontline and specialist talent.” Louise Reed, Director of Client Solutions at greenbean.
At the recent UK National Contact Centre Awards 2022, the North East came away with numerous awards; further evidence that our region is an ideal destination for top performing businesses.
To celebrate the region’s buoyant sector, the North East Contact Centre Awards are a key date in the calendar. The NECCA Awards recognise the most dedicated, hardworking individuals and teams. Nominations are now OPEN and will close 29th July 2022
With all the technology, the shift in employee demands and new office requirements, it’s clear that the sector is evolving. The North East is in prime position to accommodate forward thinking FPBS businesses.
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