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Half of UK firms set to move office as shift to flexible working outlasts pandemic

·3-min read
<p>A number of companies are planning to move offices</p> (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A number of companies are planning to move offices

(Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Almost half of mid-to-large size UK companies plan to move offices within the next three years as the shift to flexible working outlasts the pandemic, a new survey suggests.

The findings were described as a “watershed” moment for the future of office working and come as London’s army of property agents predict a busier than usual summer hunting new HQs for hundreds of businesses.

Of nearly 500 senior executives at firms with at least 20,000 sq ft of leased space, 89% said they will be in a position to move out in the next 36 months due to lease expiries or break clauses.

The future is very bright for the best office space

In total, 46% are “actively looking” to move, searching out better locations, upgraded facilities or more space.

A third said they would be downsizing as staff will more frequently work remotely.

London could be a net benefactor from the shift, with more than a third of companies considering moving into the capital, still a “highly prized location.”

Lower square-footages will make the rents more affordable for mid-sized firms, particularly in the IT and telecoms sectors, while the City’s reputation will help to attract and retain skilled employees.

In what will give landlords some comfort, the research by law firm Gowling WLG in collaboration with the British Property Federation, found only 3% of respondents have decided to move to remote working full-time, while one-in-five say all staff will return as normal once WFH advice is lifted.

Simply having a communal space where colleagues and clients can meet together face-to-face ranked highly, alongside the role an office plays in supporting staff development, mental health and welbeing.

The report’s authors, led by Dan Gwilliam, said: “The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, literally forcing companies and their employees out of their offices and into their homes during successive lockdowns.”

They said the narrative has shifted from a simple contest of remote working versus offices to a “more nuanced conversation” about how offices can help companies achieve their goals while enabling employees to achieve “that elusive work-life balance”.

Felicity Lindsay, real estate partner at Gowling WLG, said: “Decision makers at office occupiers will start looking for office space which is flexible and able to adapt to meet their changing needs, potentially as soon as the end of the summer.”

Chris Vydra at property agent CBRE, said of the 1.7 million sq ft of new office space under construction in the City, a third is already pre-leased.

“The future is therefore very bright for the best office space completing in 2022-2025,” he said.

Jeremy Attfield, a director at JLL, said: “Day-to-day activity among occupiers is increasing and a number of major occupiers are completing their stay- versus-go strategies, which will lead to increased activity in the second half.”

Asset manager Fidelity International today said it will allow most employees to combine home and office working. NatWest, meanwhile, says just 13% will work “mostly” from an office in future.

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