The key takeaways from Property Week’s hybrid WorkSpace Conference

The hybrid event, which took place online and at America Square Conference Centre, London, featured a stellar line-up of industry leaders and experts. Here are some key takeaways from the event.


Investor appetite


Helen Causer, office and investment lead at Argent (King’s Cross), said that investment demand was geared around grade-A space.


“It’s clear that across central London there is a really strong flight to quality,” she said. “The underlying quality of the real estate will become increasingly important.


“Another key theme is that all the audiences we are talking to – investors, occupiers, developers – want the same thing: a strong and credible ESG story, and I think that will become even more pronounced.”


Hub-and-spoke model


Leading figures from the flexible workspace industry debated the future of hub-and-spoke as one potential alternative to the traditional office model in the wake of Covid.


Richard Morris, UK chief executive of IWG, noted: “We have locations in zones three to six and also all around the home counties and beyond, where demand of our network is up 50% to 100% compared with before March 2020,” he said. “We think that’s something that will continue and persist.”


However, Charlie Green, co-founder and co-chief executive of TOG, pointed out that the regional shift was not likely to benefit every provider in the same way.


“On the hub-and-spoke issue, I think Richard [Morris] is in a unique position to push that argument because he has a portfolio in those regional locations,” he remarked.


“We’ve done our homework as a business and looked into those same locations. We looked at whether we lease or buy office buildings, and often the difficulty is that we cannot make the economics work for us. The entry pricing is too great for us.


“Then we have to think about the demand side. There is a very real need for people to work near home but, actually, will that endure?”


Occupier plans


From a landlord’s perspective, Paul Williams, chief executive of Derwent London, was optimistic about future occupancy levels.


“We have completed three comprehensive surveys with our top 50 tenants in the last 18 months,” he said. “Universally, all our occupiers are saying they expect more agile working in the future. However, they also say they want to get back to their offices.”


Kate Richardson, head of national office programme at the NHS, said that while many staff were keen to return to the office, occupiers such as the NHS were looking to slash their office footprint in light of reduced overall demand.


“We have about 3,000 offices across England, spanning 320,000 sq m,” she said. “It was much larger, but we’ve reduced it significantly from 400,000 sq m and we are reducing it all the time.”


Benefits of inclusion


Discussing how to create a more inclusive office space, Kate Smith, head of workplace and portfolio strategy at CBRE, posed an important question: “What do we mean by inclusive design and why is it important?”


Her answer was simple: “Anything you can do for a workplace that makes the huge investment in your talent greater will provide a better return on that investment.”


Smith argued that incorporating inclusive design principles not only benefited specific groups but could also lead to wider benefits for those in the workplace. “Once you are looking at how to create something for a particular group, you often produce superior outcomes for everyone,” she said.


“One example is smooth pathways. That’s great for people using wheelchairs, but it’s also great for people who use zimmer frames, those with luggage or pushchairs and even those with high heels.”


Smith ended by issuing a rallying cry to the industry. “This is the perfect time to change,” she said. “You’re disrupting the way you deliver, so let’s build this in and do better.”


Property Week (Sebastian McCarthy) -

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