Businesses across the region are facing huge change in the way they operate as the country continues to navigate the covid-19 pandemic.

Firms are being forced to make major decisions about office space and home-working and have had to adjust their long-term business plans to ensure they can abide by strict government regulations which will no doubt be with us for years to come.

Earlier this month, business leaders from across the West Midlands took part in a Make It Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire webinar – hosted by Staffordshire County Council leader Alan White – about the future of the workplace.

The panel – which was made up of Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Abi Brown, Richard Mounsey, a director of Mounsey Chartered Surveyors, Mat Kind, founder and director of Kind Commercial and Tony Nash, director at Stoford Developments – discussed the challenges they have faced over the last eight months.

Councillor Abi Brown talked about how the city council has adapted to a new way of working during the pandemic.

She said: “Today we probably have in the region of 30 to 40 people in our main headquarters and the rest of our staff are all working from home.

“Everybody has had to very quickly adapt to working in a different way. Today, if you ring our call centre the likelihood is you’ll be answered by somebody who’s sitting in their own home as opposed to in our dedicated call centre.

“So we have seen a big change around private business, but also in the public sector, and as an organisation we are looking at how we change our working practices much more quickly to accommodate that, but also as a result of that, to free up our own assets.”

Councillor Brown added: “We employ somewhere in the region of up to 5,000 people, and probably 1,000 people within Stoke-on-Trent directly in office-based jobs, but we’ve got no more than a couple of hundred who are expected to actually come back to the office on a five-day a week basis, everybody else will be on a couple of days a week.”

Richard Mounsey – who runs Stoke-on-Trent-based property consultancy Mounsey Chartered Surveyors – insists that there is still a need for office space.

He said: “We are seeing some quite significant office enquiries. Yes, those enquiries have changed and the requirements are slightly different from what they would have been 12 months ago, but there is still a general need for office space, and different businesses have different requirements.

“The enquiry levels that we are seeing are impacted, there’s no two ways about that; Covid has been an extreme shock to the market generally, everybody has to look at what they are doing and that will take some time to filter through into the marketplace. So where there is enquiries that people have at the moment, they’re probably considering ‘is that the right requirement?’ do they need quite the amount of space they thought they did? or do they need more space because they can’t fit the same amount of people in the same volume of space that they once had?”

He added: “So there’s an adjustment that’s happening at present which means some people are sat on their hands a little, waiting to see how things pan out, but the general consensus is, when you talk to occupiers, that they foresee that there will be a need for an office moving forward.

“I think we will continue to see enquiries coming through, but I think the quality of property will need to improve as I think people will be driven to better quality space; and possibly more flexible in the short term.”

Mat Kind, of Kind Commercial, has recently relocated his business from Birmingham to Lichfield.

He said: “When the lockdown happened we had to make a call and we made a swift decision to get out of Birmingham after being there for seven or eight years; and the impact has been positive.

“We have let some of our people work from home and we’ve given them the option to come into the office in Lichfield three days a week, giving them that flexibility – and they’ve reacted well to it.”

When asked about the future of office development, Tony Nash, from Birmingham-based Stoford Developments, said: “On the face of it, it doesn't look great for offices; demand is down to some degree, so from an investors point of view there’s not much great news out there, but of course people still want offices and the more efficient employers can make their place of work the better it will be.”

He added: “The future of office design and development is quality, not just the building itself but the surrounds of the building too. It’s got to be a great experience going to work.”

Make It Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire is the inward investment service for the region can offer support to all businesses looking to find a new office space in the region.

The online form available on www.makeitstokestaffs.co.uk/offices enables businesses of all sizes to submit a request for a list of all available offices properties matching their requirement in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area.

Catch up on the full discussion:

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