The UK’s office property sector, worth £2bn per annum, is undergoing fundamental change.
Tim Meredith, a unified communications expert with Daisy Group, argues that thanks to the growth of cloud-based services and mobile devices, people no longer need a permanent desk and will increasingly work from home or utilise pay-as-you-use alternatives.
“The business world has become extremely fast-paced and organisations need to be able to react quickly to survive,” he said. “Office space, on the other hand, requires long-term financial commitment and maximum occupancy, otherwise it becomes a huge financial drain.
“Floor space is one of the biggest outgoings for the majority of businesses and yet it is largely becoming an unnecessary expense. The nine-to-file shift is dying as more businesses allow their employees to work flexibly, which means workers no longer need to be desk-bound and there is less need for fixed office space.”
He added: “The number of UK home workers has increased by 45% since the start of the millennium, and I anticipate this trend to continue. By 2035, businesses will be following the lead of freelancers and start-ups by renting fully-equipped office space or portable workstations as and when they need them. Both options are increasingly attractive because they cut real estate costs, office overheads and travel expenses.
“The mass availability of affordable tools, like video conferencing software, internal social networks and intranets, are enabling businesses to create virtual teams around the country that can collaborate, and I can only see flexible working and the trend of pay-as-you-use desk space and meeting room provision growing.”
Meredith said the rollout of superfast broadband and 4G connectivity across the UK is helping facilitate the move away from the office. Increasingly, workers are able to access software and applications that were traditionally only available at the office, from their homes via VPNs and the cloud. Meanwhile, technical ‘mobile device management’ solutions have been developed that enable organisations to monitor their remote workers’ activity.
“Removing permanent offices means businesses have to create processes and implement tools, such as cloud-based productivity apps, to monitor worker performance. A large proportion of employees will actually enjoy the freedom afforded to them and this will lead to improved morale and output,” he said.
“Whilst the office may disappear, communication and physical interaction with colleagues in close proximity will still be necessary. Organisations must ensure that staff attend regular meetings with their peers and always have the opportunity to use office facilities if needed – which is where rented or shared office spaces become viable options.”
One organisation already working without a fixed office is Nozbe, a fastgrowing app development company and creator of a cross-platform project and time management application for business professionals. The firm encourages its 18 employees to collaborate by sharing files via Dropbox; to communicate via instant messaging service Slack; and to use Skype when they require face-to-face interaction. In order to build team spirit, the business organises two employee meetings per year at a hired venue.
Michael Siliwinski, founder of Nozbe, said: “Offices are incredibly distracting places to work in. At Nozbe, we are able to start early and take breaks when we want, ensuring maximum productivity. However, it is important that we have the right communication channels in place so that everyone is aligned and has a common understanding of team activities and needs. Despite the fact we all work from home, we actually feel more connected than most workforces that operate using traditional offices.”
Tim Meredith argues that the savings associated with removing fixed property costs are a ‘no brainer’ for established businesses as they look to improve performance.
“Eliminating fixed office space means businesses can become more agile and, most importantly, save thousands of pounds which can be reinvested for their staff and customers. The next generation of workers are digital natives and at ease using the technologies available, so it really is a no-brainer to let them work remotely,” he said.