Spike in office enquiries as return to work on cards

September 4, 2020

Covid-19 has seen the office industry reassess their working habits, but Partner Russell Mogridge has seen a spike in enquiries across the Solent.

Enquiries for high-quality office space across the Solent region are exceeding pre-pandemic levels as employers incorporate new social distancing norms in the workplace.

The transactional team at property consultancy Vail Williams have been inundated with calls from companies searching for upgraded facilities with extra space around each employee.

“We’ve seen a dramatic spike in office activity because of the new dynamics created by social distancing norms,” said Russell Mogridge, Lead Partner at the firm’s business space team.

“To put this into perspective, previously there would be typically one person to 75 sq ft in a building whereas the commercial demand is now for upwards of 150 sq ft per person.

“That means a company with 200 staff cannot accommodate them under one roof as before – only around 100 people can now be comfortably fitted in to ensure compliance, albeit depending on floor configuration.

“As a result, and due to a lack of supply, additional or new high-quality workplaces are being sourced rapidly in Southampton and Portsmouth and along the M27 Corridor between the two port cities.

“Since lockdown restrictions were lifted, Vail Williams has already received tens of enquiries from companies needing Grade A offices in Southampton city centre, of which there is only around 50,000 sq ft available.

“Clients are keen to lease from the tail end of this year, bringing back staff from potentially isolated home working for a myriad of reasons, including a welcoming and safe working environment, collaboration, innovation, team morale and a sense of belonging and purpose.

“Another factor has come into play as well. Businesses are looking to re-energise remote teams with quality drop-in office hubs, as well as providing a professional space for customers. After all, offices reflect brands and are therefore a marketing tool.

“On-site interaction, as opposed to virtual, cannot be underestimated for those eureka idea moments, and employers want to coax staff back from home with the attraction of excellent facilities.

“Demand in Southampton is being mirrored at the thriving Lakeside North Harbour office campus in Portsmouth.

“There is only 6% occupancy left at the campus, which comprises nearly 600,000 sq ft of offices, and we anticipate that being filled because the site has seen more enquiries and viewings of late that the preceding 12 months.”

Russell, who works out of his offices in Lakeside North Harbour and Ocean Village in Southampton, also stressed that that rents are holding up due to a lack of supply and quality spaces – headline rents in the Solent region for Grade A offices are £23 a sq ft.

He added: “Businesses are telling us they would like to have their teams in the new workplaces by the end of this year, so Q4 2020 activity will be intense for associated supply chains, including fit-out contractors and professional advisers, such as lawyers, accountants and property advisers.

“Companies are always looking ahead – they want to make 2021 a year where staff, the driving force of all good businesses, can begin afresh, leaving behind the economic upheaval, uncertainty and corrosive anxiety of 2020.”