Martin O'Rourke

COMMENT | Out-of-city working is the future

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City centres no longer have a monopoly on providing exactly what employees want and need from their working environments, writes Martin O’Rourke of Birchwood Park.

The appeal of out-of-town

Once upon a time, the wow-factor of shiny, city centre skyscrapers and proximity to excellent transport links and amenities provided the ultimate lure for businesses.

Attitudes are shifting, largely as a result of the pandemic, and priorities have been readjusted. Suddenly, crowded and polluted city centre locations are looking less shiny than before.

Enter the out-of-town destination – offering everything a city centre can, with a few added benefits. Some sites, like Birchwood Park, enjoy landscaped exteriors and green open space, a variety of food and drink outlets and even an on-site gym, all a short walk from the desk.

Additionally, having the necessary infrastructure to support businesses and workers is absolutely vital – an area which many cities could do with improving. Having access to ample parking without the sky-high costs of a city centre multi-storey and being located within a stone’s throw of key transport links such as the M62 corridor is a draw for workers and visitors to your business alike. Birchwood Park even operates free-to-use shuttlebus services for easy access to local public transport links.

Improvements to in-office ‘infrastructure’

The infrastructure provided within an office space is just as important as those facilities surrounding the office too. Improvements in this area are set to become a big focus for businesses – something largely accelerated due to Covid-19.

In a dedicated survey undertaken with office workers at Birchwood Park, we found a huge 85% of those questioned said they felt workspaces needed to adapt over the next 12 months in order to better suit employee needs. We saw trends emerging from our research in terms of physical changes to office space too, with one of the most popular requirements focused around those looking for larger spaces for fewer people (69%), with social-distancing in mind. Additionally, our results showed a likely trend for moving away from traditional desk set-ups and towards more informal and multi-purpose meeting and working space too.

It looks as though these expectations are making their way through to decision-makers; these trends are being witnessed by those in the commercial property industry, both on a regional and national level. Our teams of expert lettings agents and consultants, including JLL and BE Group, cited flexibility in both contracts and floorspace as the biggest requirements requested by those looking for office space in the future, which is where out-of-town business destinations come into their own, often having larger spaces available which are easily adaptable to the needs of a business.

The importance of working environments

Of course, the environment in which your team works is also proven to have an impact on everything from staff morale and wellbeing, with studies showing that employee focus and productivity is largely impacted by their surroundings.

Over the past 12 months, employees able to work from home will have had the time and opportunity to create the most comfortable working environment for themselves and will expect the same level should they return to office-based working.

One of the biggest pluses of working from home for many will have been having easy access to outdoor space during the working day, so having open spaces on the doorstep of a business will be a huge draw for companies and employees, something that the city centre often cannot recreate in terms of open space and vital fresh air.

Businesses are now expected to be more in tune than ever before with the needs of their staff. Workplace wellbeing is set to stick around, and greater emphasis is being placed on nurturing a happy and healthy workforce, so we expect to see even greater numbers of businesses shifting from city centres to out-of-town in an effort to meet these needs to support both individuals and business goals.

  • Martin O’Rourke is commercial director at Birchwood Park

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