The implications for the property industry of more efficient space planning models and the uptake of flexible working are explored in a new report from planning and design consultancy Nathaniel, Lichfield and Partners (NLP). The headline figure from the report, Workspace Futures: The changing dynamics of office locations is that the office stock in England and Wales rose by 17 percent in the twelve years to 2012 while the numbers of office based staff increased by around 21 percent.
The report suggests that an urban resurgence has been shaped by market demand and the lifestyle factors of key workers for workplaces that are in close proximity to a range of services, amenities and entertainment. These denser work environments enable companies to thrive and benefit from agglomeration economies such as sharing ideas, resources, and having access to a large pool of potential labour and customers. While the race for talent has driven companies to expand more in urban centres, the highly competitive nature of these office markets, due in part to space limitations and high costs, means that companies have had to adapt the way in which they use office space in order to survive in these locations.
Over the past decade, the number of office-based jobs has outpaced office space growth resulting in a declining density ratio of sq m per employee as companies strive to make more efficient use of space.
Flexible working practices, supported by technological advances and enhanced broadband connectivity, have relinquished some space requirements. However despite a reduction in overall office space per employee, the office is far from dead.
The densification of offices does not always lead to smaller overall floorplates. Smaller workstation space is in some cases offset by growing communal space for leisure, amenities and collaborative workspace to meet the needs of modern office based occupiers. Analysis by NLP shows that while the scale, type and location of office stock varies considerably there are three broad location types that shape the office markets in major towns and cities – the urban core, the fringe/ periphery and out-of-centre.
The challenge for workspace providers, developers and local authorities is to plan for what today’s office market occupiers are looking for and mould the various locations to suit their needs. The rising costs of offices in urban core locations due to a shrinking pipeline and pressure from new permitted development rights (enabling conversion to residential) provides opportunity for fringe and peripheral locations to capture market spillover. There are opportunities outside the city that developers and policymakers need to plan for in order to meet space requirements for scale-ups and growing companies.
The report raises interesting issues that will have a particular relevance in the tech sector,where aspirations are high to build on the success of Tech City (Silicon Roundabout) and to further develop tech clusters and innovation centres, particularly in the North of England under the Tech North initiative.