Where is all the Talent?

Reorganising commercial office space for a better working environment

By Chris Keogh, Associate Director

This week we attended the annual Marketing Derby Property Summit along with more than 200 delegates online and in person, a fitting hybrid event that is an indication of the way we now easily communicate and come together.

Several interesting points were discussed around Derby's economy against the backdrop of extraordinary global influences.

As commercial property consultants operating for over 25 years, we have seen how external factors affect the property sector, but never have so many global issues been condensed into just three years. As a result many advances in the way that people work and, arguably, where they work, have been accelerated as cities have experienced a dispersal of local talent.

So it raised a couple of questions here at Salloway; how will the dispersal of talent pools affect the way commercial office space operates, and what does the office look like in the future? In short, we believe this means nicer offices for fewer people.

For many sectors, such as those engaged in manufacturing, warehousing and scientific operations, employees need to be within commutable distance of the workplace meaning finding talent is all about attracting and recruiting people from the area in which the business is located.  In Derby, for instance, there is a good-sized pool of skilled engineers to draw from. But for those that can work more remotely it is far more complex as those people can be located anywhere in the world.

One speaker, Courtney Fingar, editor-in-chief of Investment Monitor, described herself as a digital nomad as she can work remotely from any location with good internet connection. This was a well raised point as long-gone are the days where the majority of office-based people work 9-5 in one location.

But this doesn't mean offices are being abandoned, quite the contrary, in fact.  We have found that the lock-down-induced hybrid and home-working models has not resulted in decreased office occupancy but more a desire to make the office a more attractive space to work in.  Many office-based businesses believe that team collaboration is a key driver for employee development, generating new ideas and generating business growth and so an office base is crucial to achieve employee interaction. 

What this means for commercial office space is that organisations are reimagining their work environment to create more flexible spaces to make them convenient and attractive for our new way of working. Consequently, a new generation of workspace is being created within existing office-building stock.

And it seems that the previously essential 'suspended ceiling and raised access floor' is no longer a pre-requisite.  We have seen occupiers and property owners looking at utilising outdoor spaces as well as indoor spaces in a way that allows for productivity together with being more adaptable and sometimes quirkier.

Addressing the delegates Sir Tim Smitt KBE, co-founder of the Eden Project said; "There are some sites that may have seen better days, but they offer an opportunity for re-imagining Derby for the future." We couldn't agree more but now is the time to make some of those already well thought out plans to come to fruition. A collective approach is needed across all stakeholders and in particular our property owners and local authorities to make our urban areas more attractive to live and work in. Free open air Wi-Fi areas and the repurposing of commercial space, for example empty retail units being reshaped into flexible office accommodation, may help to create 'pop-up' office communities generating vibrancy and economic activity in otherwise under-utilised urban areas.

It is also important to recognise that social interaction is still valuable especially when collaborating with a diverse cross section of team members, we saw this as those people who attended the property summit at Derby QUAD took the time to catch up and have informal chats that aren't always possible online.

Given that remote working clearly isn't a fad, we welcome an adapted and flexible approach to the use of office space to facilitate the best of both modern working habits and crucial interpersonal interactions.

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