Reading Property Week’s annual start-of-the-year feature last week, it was striking how highly retail as well as the challenges from the political environment figured.
This is hardly surprising given the negativity surrounding the high street at the moment as technology and changing attitudes and lifestyles continue to revolutionise the sector.
The retail sector is not unique. While the much talked about workplace revolution has yet to become truly widespread, fundamental changes in how we choose to work could have just as acute an impact on offices.
Find out more - 2019 forecasts: what lies ahead
In research by Powwownow, 53% of respondents said they would be more productive if they could work outside the office; 70% felt flexible working makes a job more attractive; and around a third said they would pick flexible working over a pay rise. Employers are realising that they need to offer some flexibility to attract the best talent.
Meanwhile, the ONS found that the number of self-employed workers aged 16 to 24 has nearly doubled in the past 17 years, while PwC research found that 46% of human resource professionals believe at least 20% of their workforce will be temporary workers and contractors by 2020.
These statistics point to a future where people will increasingly be able to choose to work anywhere and those leading the charge are looking to combine the convenience and efficiency of working from home with the buzz and sense of community offered by a workplace.
Just as shoppers, given the choice, are bypassing town centres, many are shunning the commute to stay local. This is not surprising, given that 45% of people spend over an hour a day commuting and UK workers spend up to five times as much of their salary on rail fares as other European workers, according to a 2018 Trades Union Congress report.
Last summer, enquiries for our business centres, most of which are located out-of-town, rose 18% year on year. The vast majority of our customers live within a three- to five-mile radius of our business centres and have a maximum 22-minute commute.
Developers are starting to play to this trend, creating small, self-sufficient and self-sustaining communities that enable people to work closer to where they live. They are also bringing city-centre-standard offices to the edge of towns and cities: for example AshbyCapital and U+I’s The Future Works in Slough, Patron Capital and APAM’s refurbishment of Arlington Business Park in Reading, and Peel L&P’s MediaCityUK in Salford.
The vast majority of office schemes remain in town and city centres, but the focus is shifting from London to regional cities. As more people go freelance, set up their businesses or work remotely, demand for high-quality, out-of-town workspaces will intensify.
With Britain’s ever-growing ranks of remote workers realising they can save money, have a better lifestyle and shorter commute by working closer to where they live, changes in attitudes and adoption of technology – the factors that have had such a massive effect on retail property – could be about to transform the offices sector too.
Emma Long is commercial director of BizSpace