Where does the office go from here?

Author
Ian Bell
Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce and Initiative | Business West
19th May 2022

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s well publicised campaign to get more civil servants back into the office has once again highlighted the dilemma facing our members who are managing their staff as best they can in what continue to be unpredictable circumstances.

I have not heard of anyone locally following his example and leaving notes on desks saying they look forward to seeing them back in the office. In fact, the majority are showing exceptional patience and are sympathetic to workers who are keen to continue with a much more flexible working pattern than they experienced before the pandemic. One of the reasons for that is the challenge in recruitment and retention, with new recruits being able to ask for personal terms which best suit their lifestyle.

Whilst most companies are reluctant to set working practices in stone, there does seem to be a developing consensus that where possible, staff will be able to mix office and home working in a ratio which allows the task to be completed properly and enables face to face team meetings to take place when necessary.

The big question is what impact that has on the office market. If a business with 100 staff now knows that only about half of them will ever be in the office on any particular day why would they opt to continue paying for premises that may be double the size they need ? If there was a moment when they wanted to get everyone together they could just hire a large space for the time they needed.

I expect there will be many discussions going on at the moment in which Directors are pondering their future accommodation needs, and that will almost certainly mean they will require a smaller area of modern office space which can be used flexibly. Multi floor offices in Georgian buildings will become even more unpopular than they already are and it may be that the rules on their conversion to other purposes will need to be relaxed.

And where does this leave developers who are considering building new office space ? That’s something we in the Chamber and Initiative have long been calling for. It’s been a regular refrain of mine for years. But things have changed over the last couple of years and we can’t be as certain about the level of demand in the future.

Of course we want to make sure our businesses have room to grow and to enable new companies to start up and thrive. But we may need to review some of the assumptions we’ve made in the past but which might not stand up to scrutiny for the future.

If you’d like to find out more about the Bath Chamber of Commerce or the Initiative in B&NES please contact us on 01225 460 655 or info@bathchamber.co.uk.

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