‘Working from home has come of age, but the office is not dead’

“Offices: The future is blended” according to Charlie Hoult, MD at ‘flex space’ operator Hyhubs.

Charlie, who runs three workspace ‘properties with personality’ led an Entrepreneurs’ Forum panel discussion entitled ‘What does the future hold for the office?’

The discussion featured panellists Jen Hartley, Director, Invest Newcastle; Pete Watson, CEO Atlas Cloud and Jonathan Seebacher, Architectural Director at Ryder Architecture. It was introduced by Entrepreneur Forum Events Manager Karen Berry.

The event was hosted at Haylofts, Hyhubs’ latest acquisition which opened in St Thomas St, Newcastle city centre, last month. It was also broadcast live online by event partners Recognition PR.

Panellists explored the implications the Covid pandemic has had on the commercial property sector, focusing on workplace design, advanced technology infrastructure, changing city centre culture and property investment and development.

Charlie set the context for the discussion, saying that although the pandemic had devastated the UK economy, it would recover, while some companies have thrived and grown during the last few months.

“What has definitely changed is that ‘place’ has become less important, and many businesses will not return to a traditional office model,” he said.

“The future will be a blended model where people will work at home and from the office,” he added.

Invest Newcastle’s Jen agreed, and said that while she felt the true effects of Covid were yet to be fully understood and initially there had been a slowing in companies moving cities, more recently there had been an increase in demand. “Perhaps surprisingly, more companies looking for new offices, particularly big corporates that are reassessing their footprint. We’re getting a lot of corporates from outside the city looking to Newcastle.”

Jen agreed ‘blended working’ was the future: “The trend seems to be showing regional markets will recover in terms of property faster than the biggest metro cities. If you look at London, a lot of people can’t see themselves going into their office any time soon whereas there is a real offer from Newcastle to create the office of the future and have flexible working – where you don’t expect everyone to be in the office full- time, particularly in sectors like tech and digital.

“People are looking at a different sort of workspace, very tech enabled, which will allow you to speak to your clients and offices in other areas of the UK and overseas, but people still have the desire for collaborative space. People still want to mix with others, so the office is far from dead but will be very different.”

Ryder’s Jonathan Seebacher added: “The office will become a hub for collaboration and interaction. Teams meetings are fine, but you never get a feel for an organisation or its culture. People are starting to think about how individuals work, that’s how we are approaching it from a design point of view.

“One of the interesting things about co-working before Covid is that it was aimed at SMEs and tech start-ups, now it’s the biggest corporates, some of whom are looking to share workspaces.

“Another thing that has changed is city centres, where there are massive changes. For instance large department stores are turning into office space. The world was starting to change, but Covid has sped it up.”

Atlas Cloud’s Pete Watson agreed, saying flexibility was now a vital component: “People aren’t expecting to be working full-time in an office now – they don’t want to be in an office in Newcastle five days a week and they don’t have to be, the barriers of geography are just not that important any more.

“We recruited people from Leeds and Manchester prior to Lockdown 2. Our team is doing two days in the office, two from home and a flex day and people like that. One thing we’re having to look at is the office lay-out, it has to be better, somewhere that people enjoy being, a social place and not just a place of productivity.”

Jen added: “We can hire talent from anywhere now, but what we’re also seeing is people relocating to the north east but continuing to work at the same place, wherever that might.  People like the quality of life here and some are bringing their companies with them. Our city has so much to offer in terms of work/life balance.”

Atlas Cloud has completed two Covid-related staff surveys which are informing the company’s work space decisions.

“We did one survey at the beginning of the pandemic and another more recently, and the key point was that the desire to work from home was growing, but people did want to be in the office at some point,” explained Pete.

“The world has changed forever – most places won’t go back to working in the office 100 per cent. The tech has been there a long time for home working, it’s the culture that has changed.”

The panellists agreed that office culture had changed – and that productivity had increased as a result of more people working from home.

Pete reported productivity had increased by 17 per cent at Atlas Cloud: “Makes sense when you think about it, people are logging on when they would have jumped in the car, and logging off when they would be starting the drive home.

“One of the challenges for us, and for others in the future, is to make sure people aren’t working too much, that there is separation from work and home life especially when their home ‘office’ is their living room or bedroom,” he added.

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