How Covid has influenced office space in the North-East

COVID has normalised remote working with millions working from home, changing the commercial landscape dramatically and leaving the North-East’s workforce wondering, will we go back to the office?

New data suggests that working from home is here to stay as demand for commercial office spaces drop by half.

The data, based on a sample of over 11,000 commercial property insurance policies and analysed by insurance comparison site, shows a 49 per cent drop in insurance quotes for office space in the UK, compared with the same data in 2019.

While Tyneside-based The Opportunity Group, which works with businesses on professional training and coaching, has moved out of its space in Newcastle to a home working model, the picture is not so definite across the region.

Middlesbrough-based agency Colehouse is downscaling after a remote period.

Boss Steven Cole says he is “lucky” creative industries already have the tools they need to operate remotely, but thinks the best way forward is through a hybrid office approach.

He said: “At the time of going remote it felt obvious we were heading into another lockdown, and I think everyone knew Christmas would cause issues that would spiral into the new year, so it made sense practically.

“But sometimes nothing quite replaces being in the same room together. I don’t believe it is sustainable for us to maintain 100 per cent remote.

“For that reason we will be moving back into a smaller space with a focus on it being a creative hub that people can drop in and out of.”

Despite the uncertainly on taking on a new lease, Newcastle-based digital services firm Radial Path has moved into a bigger space.

Founder Ruth Plater says her team are “craving” being in the office.

She said: “I did consider getting rid of the office entirely and the whole in-and-out of lockdown situation of last year made it very difficult to make a decision.

“The main problems were that a lot of landlords just weren’t that flexible. I also explored various hot-desking situations or flexible spaces.

“What we could have done with was a room to accommodate us all if we wanted to pop in and out, but there wasn’t really anything appropriate.

“The team have been going mad working from home and started to crave being in the office where they could collaborate more easily with their colleagues and have some team interaction.

“We’ve also seen a massive uptick in businesses reaching out to us to and are in the process of doubling the size of the team to cope with the extra demand.

“So we decided we still need an office to go to and escape distractions in the home, for creative thinking and to meet colleagues when Covid rules allow.”

Meanwhile, Opencast Software is tripling its space after also experiencing growth during the pandemic and is using the opportunity to future-proofing against further restrictions.

Tom Lawson, chief executive, said: “The old style of office isn’t going to be appropriate because everyone has adapted to home working.

“So we are looking at moving to a hybrid model. Very few people will need a setup for being sat at a desk in a busy office for long periods coding, that was already an outdated approach. That’s likely to stay in the quiet of a home office or a place of people’s choosing.

“Instead, we’re developing a clubhouse concept for an expanded office. We are taking triple the space.

“It will contain team rooms which they can configure with stand-up desks, breakaway space for meetings and some social space. There will also be a tech showcase and learning library and lots of secure meeting pods.

“We are spec‘ing lots of glass walls to separate teams but also for post-its, scribbling and planning – these spaces will work for training and meet-ups. Then teams can also separate if we get future Covid restrictions. The office will be a place to socialise and catch up with colleagues formally and informally.

“Post Covid will be a better work-life balance and blending, but an office will be essential to keep the team spirit and ensure we can work collaboratively on the quality of our software and consulting when required.

“We are investing heavily because we are sure this will create the best hub for us to cradle our culture of good teamwork.”

Mr Lawson, whose firm is based in Hoults Yard, is “perfect” for the team and client meetings as it allows people to “enjoy social stuff if it’s a sunny day and catch up another time”.

The Northern Echo | Teesside