Home Business Decentralisation: exploring the benefits of an out-of-city-centre office

Decentralisation: exploring the benefits of an out-of-city-centre office

by Jackson B

Ten reasons why moving out of the big city could improve your business

By Phil Oram, Regional Director, Crown Workspace

As the impact of a global pandemic on business, the economy and public attitudes towards work and life becomes increasingly obvious, businesses in the UK are picking up on a trend which was gathering pace even before Covid-19 took hold: decentralisation.

For as long as most people can remember, big business has been based in big cities. Hundreds of global companies squeezed into London’s square mile where you cannot build out but you can build up – with regions such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh following suit.

But in a pandemic-gripped world, and at a time when major cities are going into Category 2 and 3 lockdowns, is business in one central location really the answer?

Employees, especially following recent restrictions and localised measures to stem the pandemic, are nervous about a packed workspace, reluctant to use public transport and considering whether they would be happier in the countryside. Those fears have rendered lifts in London’s glass-faced skyscrapers almost unusable.

When you take into account the cost of office space in big cities, and especially in the financial districts of London, it’s no surprise that businesses whose lease is coming to an end are wondering whether this is the right time for a move. In fact, it’s a trend which has become clearer in recent months in the workspace design, planning and moving sector.

Some are considering moves to the outskirts of cities, others to neighbouring counties and some to other regions all together where there is space but still transport infrastructure – regions close to university cities such as Cambridge, Norwich and Oxford are popular.

For businesses currently considering moving out of the square mile in London, or searching for office space outside of a crowded city centre anywhere in the UK, here are the top 10 advantages to consider:

1 Financial savings because of cheaper rent – there’s no doubt that rent per square foot is considerably cheaper outside of the big cities, so even businesses which move to larger premises out of town may find savings are possible.

2 More space, including outdoor space – the benefits of having more space in the current climate are obvious; it makes social distancing so much easier. An office outside of the city centre is also more likely to come with outside space, which is so important for wellbeing, not just in terms of offering employees somewhere to get fresh air but also in terms of having a view from their window. Looking out over nature has been proven to have a positive effect on wellbeing and productivity at work.

3 Fewer storeys and therefore no lifts – one of the biggest issues for skyscrapers in central London during the pandemic has been the need to use lifts to reach the higher floors. Restrictions on how many people can use a lift at one time can lead to long queues, which in themselves are not good news for social distancing. Long waits to get from one floor to another can be frustrating, too. In a low-rise out-of-town office, escalators and stairs can be a good alternative.

4 Less expensive to build or refurbish – building outside of city centres is undeniably cheaper and provides fewer logistical issues than getting cranes and trucks into inner London, for instance. Even better for the environment, however, is to find buildings which are already in situ and can be refurbished.

Phil Oram

Phil Oram

5 An opportunity to design the office in a way that is relevant to your employees – companies often spend millions on refurbishment without thinking about what their employees actually need or asking them what they would like.

6 An opportunity to design-in social distancing and germ control – even if Covid-19 suddenly disappears and life returns to normal in the near future, the attitude to social distancing and germs is unlikely to leave with it. Now that society has experienced a pandemic, the need to be better prepared if it happens again is going to be paramount. Companies need to design their offices to naturally embrace social distancing and hygiene. Examples might be fire doors which can be left open to prevent employees touching doorknobs and handles – but which automatically close if a fire alarm sounds. Or built-in sanitiser stations which blend in with the décor. Companies also need to design out pinch points where people could crowd together.

7 A chance to create regional hubs – moving away from the big city can encourage businesses to let go of out of an outmoded obsession with keeping all the best jobs for their central headquarters. This practice is one of the biggest reasons that people commute and refuse to move out of cities – because they feel working in a regional office will be less well paid and less prestigious. By spreading a business around regional hubs, senior staff can work close to home and not necessarily in London without losing out. It also strengthens regional economies and encourages local people to work locally and still achieve their ambitions.

8 Potential for more natural light and cleaner air in the office – moving to a more rural area with cleaner air can be good for employee health, especially if windows can be open and air allowed to flow. This is good for the fight against germs and also good for mental health. Allowing in more natural light is also important.

9 An opportunity to reduce the length of the employee commute and embrace active travel – the UK has the longest commute in Europe at 54 minutes per day and this is bad news for employee health and work-life balance. Moving out of big city centres can make journey times shorter, even if the distance travelled for some employees will be longer. It also gives companies an opportunity to encourage and train local talent to reduce commute times even further in future. The Active Travel trend, encouraging people to cycle or walk to work, is easier to achieve in decentralised workplaces where cycle routes are less busy and less dangerous. Providing bike storage and showers at the workplace is important, too.

10 Potential for greater contact with nature – it’s been proven that having access to nature, and even just being able to see water or natural beauty from the office window, can have a positive impact on employee wellbeing and productivity. Moving out of the big city makes this easier to achieve.

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