Offices are here to stay, as evidence proves
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Arnolds Keys managing partner Guy Gowing argues that reports of the death of the office have been somewhat premature.
This time last year, when the UK was still awaiting an effective vaccine and a second wave loomed, few would have predicted a rosy future for office life. We looked set to permanently adopt the principle of working from home, with offices relegated to places for occasional meetings. Investors in commercial office property were starting to think about alternative uses for their investments.
One year on, and the picture couldn’t be more different. The population as a whole has largely regained the confidence to get out and about, and employers and employees alike have started to realise that, while flexible working certainly has a future, working from home is far from the nirvana some commentators suggested it would be.
Interestingly, much of the demand to return to the office is being driven by employees themselves. Every day there are stories of people feeling isolated and burnt out, unable to think creatively or collaborate with colleagues, struggling to work in cramped homes during school holidays, or simply missing the social contact of co-workers.
Just recently we have seen a flurry of activity in the office market – not just in Norwich, but around the county. The sale of a 10,000 sq ft Norwich office building to an offshore engineering firm for its UK headquarters; letting of more city centre offices totalling 10,800 sq ft to an accountancy firm needing more space; and deals on St Andrew’s Business Park, Manor Farm Barns, the former YMCA building on Exchange Street and a flurry of small office lettings in Holt.
In London, some employers have found staff reluctant to return to the office. Partly this is because workers in the capital have to put up with the daily commute, and have found respite from that nightmare in their home offices. This has led to some talk of workers losing their London allowances if they insist on remaining at home.
But the picture is different in Norfolk. Alongside the relatively small commute, our economy is made up of smaller employers, who operate at a more personal level, and who are therefore keener to have their staff interacting face-to-face once again. Increasingly the default position is that workers are expected to be in the office, with flexibility to work at home as appropriate.
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This is good news for investors in offices, but it’s also good news for other businesses. The increased footfall brought about by city-based workers returning will provide a beneficial boost for retail and hospitality, both important parts of Norwich’s economy.
As Covid finally starts to recede, it’s very much business as normal in the office – and the trend appears to be permanent.
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