- The UK is back in lockdown, but we have positive change on our side.
- Now is the time to reflect on what workers want from their workplace.
- These 7 themes are expected to shape the UK flexible office market throughout 2021.
In what has been dubbed #Lockdown3, among some other terms that can’t be repeated here, the UK started the New Year in the place it least wanted to be: stuck at home.
Covid-19 cases in the UK are now at a record high, largely blamed on a new variant of coronavirus that spreads more easily and at a much faster rate than other strains. This, coupled with seasonal pressures on the healthcare system, means public places — offices included — must close to all but essential workers.
So here we are again.
This time however, we have positive change on our side: a vaccination programme with not just one but two vaccinations, and it’s being rolled out as we speak. The current lockdown is expected to last until mid February at the earliest, after which the situation will be reviewed.
Suggested Reading: Strong Future for UK Flex Office Sector Despite New Lockdown Measures
So what happens now, and what’s next?
For Richard Morris, Director at technologywithin, businesses and in particular workspace operators “will have to adapt in order to endure.”
Now is the time to reflect on what workers want from their workplace in a post-COVID era. “Operators should also be prepared to flex-up their tenancy agreements, with many firms now seeking a more agile approach.”
With technology providing the all-important link between people during this era of physical distancing, Morris added that the premium placed on providing cutting-edge connectivity and office management platforms will be higher than ever.
“Operators who fail to meet tenants’ expectations risk being left behind.”
For Giles Fuchs, CEO of Office Space in Town (OSiT), one of the greatest concerns during the lockdown is workers’ mental health. He cites OSiT’s own research, which found that 37% of people are struggling to unplug from work — “raising serious concerns of worker burnout during the weeks of lockdown ahead.”
Fuchs added: “Frankly, working from home in perpetuity is neither sustainable for people or businesses, which saw productivity plummet last year at the fastest rate on record.”
A carefully managed workplace is the solution, he says, as it can offer a safe space during the pandemic “and will be crucial in supporting businesses not only to recover from COVID-19, but to thrive in the months ahead.”
Flexible Workspace Trends in 2021
With 2020 behind us, can we expect more of the same in 2021 — or something entirely different?
Cal Lee, global head of Workthere, outlines some of the key themes expected to shape the UK flexible office market this coming year.
1. On-demand coworking:
Workers want flexibility. In particular, Lee expects “the majority of coworking space to become available on-demand”, offering flexible space to smaller businesses and individuals in the form of day passes or pay as you go.
2. Retail space opportunities
With many different types of space falling vacant, the flexible office sector should look to alternative spaces, said Lee, such as vacant retail space located on the UK’s long-suffering high streets, which “provides a ‘ready-made’ hub close to amenities”.
3. Hotels exploring flexible space
In addition to landlords offering flexible space, operators should also keep an eye on hotels — after an extremely challenging year for the hospitality industry, many hotels are exploring the flexible office sector and some are offering space to rent within lobby areas and bar areas. “This diversity will inevitably be a good thing for the sector in order to ensure it remains relevant and current.”
4. A record year?
While smaller businesses and freelancers seek out on-demand coworking, larger businesses are looking for flexible office space contracts in Covid-safe areas to host in-person meetings and get teams back together.
“We expect the second half of the year to be a record one for companies taking flexible space,” said Lee, citing corporates planning to “upweight flex into their portfolio” and companies coming to the end of their leases that are looking to flexible office space rather than committing to a new lease.
“All this points towards a greater demand for flex space, which we expect to fully materialise in the latter part of next year as confidence returns.”
5. City centres to bounce back
With workers sent home and many people avoiding city centres, workspaces in these areas “have a sizeable amount of availability” and may continue to be negatively impacted as operators compete financially in order to secure new customers.
That said, Lee expects the second part of the year to see a steady recovery in demand for city centre locations.
6. ‘Hub and roam’
Similarly, the future for suburban and regional spaces looks positive due to more businesses adopting a ‘hub and roam’ strategy: “We expect flexible space in suburban locations to grow in appeal and, given the lack of supply in these areas, we anticipate desk prices will remain buoyant.”
7. Focus on wellness
Sustainability and wellness will continue to be a major focus in the year ahead. Health and safety is key, and occupiers are focusing on air quality in particular.
Lee added: “What is defined as ‘good’ with regards to workspaces has altered, and will continue to do so as we move forward with a heavier weighting on wellbeing and environmental factors.”