Return to the office steadily increasing – CBRE report

Office attendance rates are steadily increasing as companies encourage workers back to the office, but flexible working is here to stay, according to a new report by CBRE.

While reviewing the return to the office following the global pandemic, there is a desire by businesses to get more employees back into work. CBRE’s latest European Occupier Sentiment Survey found that 40% of companies are looking to increase office attendance, while two thirds now have a level of requirement for staff to be in, mostly (41%) for more than half the working week. Thirty-eight per cent of those surveyed said they aspire to a position of having staff mainly in the office.

However, while there is a push to increase office attendance, half of the companies surveyed said they are happy to have staff split their time equally between office and remote locations.

As a result of evolving work styles, companies are revaluating their office portfolios. According to the report, 58% of occupiers have reduced the amount office space they occupy in the past three years, primarily due to hybrid and flexible working. Almost half (45%) said they are relocating to better quality space, with a further 23% exploring this as a possibility, highlighting a flight to prime.

How companies utilise their office space is also changing. Just over half (53%) said they are re-allocating space to support new ways of working, with 46% focusing on offering collaboration space.

These changing workstyles are also directly influencing office design, resulting in a significant shift in the mix of working environments. Seventy-two per cent of occupiers have reduced the number of dedicated or assigned seating, whilst 73% have increased the amount of space for activity-based work.

Liz Bailey, director and head of office occupier advisory and transaction services at CBRE in Birmingham, said: “Current office attendance rates are very much a moving feast and not the end state, which aligns with what we are seeing in Birmingham, where there is a feeling of some normality, with the city centre seemingly as busy midweek as pre-pandemic.

“As evidenced in the report, the general reduction in office attendance has led to companies reducing the amount of space they occupy, but with a focus on better quality accommodation. Examples of this include Grant Thornton and Arcadis, which both relocated from 27,000 sq ft of space to 12,000 sq ft in 103 Colmore Row last year.

“Less space and hybrid working patterns are going hand in hand with desk sharing ratios, and as more people come back into the office this is expected to increase.”

CBRE’s research also shows that sustainability features have become the most important building consideration, with 55% stating that it influences their office choice, followed by the availability of on-site food and beverage (54%). Access to amenities, including shared meeting space, fitness and wellness facilities, and flexible space were also identified as important considerations.

“Sustainability has risen up the priority list of corporate occupiers over the last couple of years, as real estate teams look to ensure their office aligns with the businesses net zero targets,” said Liz.

“This has driven companies away from the car and into public transport linked, amenity rich property, which by its very nature tends to be city centre based. This was the case for Arup, which was looking to relocate from Solihull to One Centenary Square at Paradise.

“Access to flexible office space is also important for occupiers, particularly those who have downsized, as it can provide additional meeting rooms, project space and desks should they need it as office return rates increase.”

Dan White, head of flex advisory, Midlands and South, at CBRE, said: “Flexible office space has come into its own in the last 12 to 18 months. New working practices and a change in attitude towards working from home, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, have seen an increasing number of businesses turning – and returning – to flexible accommodation to meet their office occupational needs.

“As a result, the flex office market in Birmingham is growing. In 2022, the market grew by approximately 38%, with several new operators launching space in the city. The amount of flex office space now totals circa 647,000 sq ft. Of the new space that did open in the last 12 months, the average occupancy is 79%, demonstrating the strong demand for flex.”