COVID-19 shows virtual offices are “business critical”

Virtual offices have proved “business critical” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a newly published workplace design guide.

Rethink Design Guide, published by RIBA in 2021, includes a chapter titled ‘Workplace’ and written by Nicola Gillen.

In the chapter, the author notes how pandemics have the potential to accelerate societal and economic shifts, as societies are forced to adapt in the present and reconsider the future.

This includes the Coronavirus pandemic, which saw many different kinds of businesses from retail and leisure, to office buildings, closed down and standing empty.

Opening new channels for collaboration and remote working

The negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to rapid evolution in working practices, particularly for those in the workforce who want more flexible working conditions.

Ms Gillen writes: “The current crisis has shown that the ability to operate virtually is not only business critical, but it also opens new channels for more equal collaboration and potentially gives access to untapped sources of talent as more employees can access work from wherever they are.

“The shift of core offices towards physical meeting and collaboration spaces could accelerate, and this would most likely continue to take place in vibrant urban centres and regional knowledge clusters.”

Her observations highlight a trend that we have discussed in our recent news articles on the Serviced Office Website, away from large central offices, and towards more regional workspaces and virtual office workers.

The future of offices in cities

A rise in virtual office working practices does not mean an end to physical premises in important business districts like London, Birmingham and Manchester.

“Large cities will most probably continue to attract employment,” Ms Gillen predicts, “but the likely acceleration of remote and flexible working will decrease the time spent in core office hubs.”

Serviced Office Company have been enabling this trend for several years already, providing joined-up workspaces including Offices in London and Manchester, as well as virtual offices from the same addresses.

This means you can have physical premises, virtual offices in Manchester and London, or a combination of the two. Correspondence can be routed through to you wherever you are, and we have meeting rooms for hire on-site if you need to meet a supplier or customer face-to-face in a professional setting.

Are virtual offices the future?

Our virtual offices in London and Manchester are a way to get a professional address and geographical telephone number, without needing to be physically located in those cities – you can even have contact details in both locations while working from a third, completely remote town or city.

While physical workplaces will not vanish overnight – and again, our serviced offices in Manchester and London cater for this need too – the Coronavirus pandemic has been a proof of concept for companies that may have been putting off a shift over to remote working.

This is a unique opportunity to make that shift as the economy opens back up again, in a climate where consumers and collaborators alike will be expecting many more businesses to operate remotely and virtually.

As we move beyond the final phases of the pandemic, Serviced Office Company will be here to support the recovery, and to enable entrepreneurs to work in the ways, and in the locations, that serve your business best.

Shared offices create a flexible, collaborative place to work

Shared and serviced offices are underpinning an emerging trend towards “space as a service”, according to research published in the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

The article ‘Coordinating office space: Digital technologies and the platformization of work’ was written by Lizzie Richardson at the Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt am Main in Germany, and published in the April 2021 issue.

She looked at how digital technologies are allowing office work to be carried out in a more dispersed way, and how this is leading to an increase in shared office spaces where multiple businesses occupy the same premises, sometimes for relatively short periods of time.

This is all part of the notion of ‘platformization’, in which work is reorganised using technologies that support flexible working conditions – both in terms of time and location – and new levels of independence and interdependence among workers.

Extending the concept of serviced offices in the UK

Prof Dr Richardson writes that the ‘space as a service’ trend is an extension of a decades-long market for serviced offices in the UK and other countries, dating back to the 1980s.

“Whilst this by no means implies the extinction of more traditional models of office usage, space as a service aims to generate new forms of revenue from the demands for mobility of workers … and the perceived inefficiency of voluminous and long-term investment in office real estate (whether leased or owned) by larger companies,” she explains.

“From the perspective of the different business occupiers, the model provides a space equipped with all that is necessary for office activity that, equally importantly, enables these activities to take place in front of other workers.”

Shared office space enables communication not only within businesses, but with other occupiers of the same building, enhancing collaboration with like-minded entrepreneurs in the same local area.

Studying serviced offices in London and Manchester

As part of her research, Prof Dr Richardson made “short observations in 15 offices across Manchester, Cambridge and London”. She notes that the London serviced offices market in particular is well serviced and diverse.

Of the more than 660 flexible offices in London, over three quarters are described as small operators, a characteristic also found elsewhere in the country.

“In other cities, dedicated operators with a similar intermediary function also tend to be smaller companies, often with only one space,” her article observes.

Meeting demand for serviced offices in London, Manchester and Telford

At the Serviced Office Company, we respond to demand where we see it at its highest, and in addition to our serviced offices in London and Manchester, we are currently working hard on our biggest-ever development of serviced offices in Telford, at St James’ House on Central Park.

This adds to our serviced offices in London at Davenport House on Pepper Street, and our London Business Centre at Millharbour Court, both conveniently located on the Isle of Dogs.

Meanwhile in the north-west, our serviced offices in Manchester include Exchange Quay and just a few minutes’ walk away, our serviced offices in Salford Quays on neighbouring Clipper Quay – two different postcode districts separated by a matter of metres.