Alongside the Private Rental Sector, there is another segment of British property which can reasonably be considered to fulfil dual residential and commercial roles; where ones living abode doubles as a workspace – by Savvas Savouri

And whilst home working is hardly new to Britain, its nature is a world away from its distant largely farming and crofting days. Now, the ONS suggests that higher-paid occupations and managerial positions account for the majority of those ‘Working from Home’ (WfH). This explains why pay for home and hybrid workers is significantly higher than conventionally ‘housed’ staff. This is a significant change to the past, when home working was largely characterised by men undertaking manual agriculture or artisan crafts, or women performing similar or low paid piece work.

According to the ONS, approximately 16% of those in work across Britain operate entirely from home, up from 12% pre-Covid, and from 11% in 2014. With 28% of workers ‘hydrid’, 56% of the workforce remain everyday commuters.

Continuing with official data, we know that around 1.4m of Britain’s 4.3m self-employed are home workers and are disproportionately found in less urban areas. According to the pre-pandemic link between self-employment and WfH, the former, in London, opted to work away from home more than the national norm, very possibly because of constraints on residential space and ease of travel to dedicated workspaces.

“WfH has been particularly noticeable in Wales and London, with almost one in five workers in both regions now performing their roles exclusively from home”

Since Covid, growth in professionals WfH has been particularly noticeable in Wales and London, with almost one in five workers in both regions now performing their roles exclusively from home. The number across Scotland, Yorkshire, and the North East, is by contrast just over one in ten.

Those now WfH range widely across the socio-economic spectrum and, in some cases, involve start-up businesses for which the ambition is to move at the earliest opportunity into commercial real estate. For many of course, WfH is a lifestyle choice. It is estimated in fact that hundreds of thousands of Britons are ‘home agents’ or provide centre call services from home, capitalising on their remote access to data hubs, the internet and broadband.

Just as there are sectors not lending themselves to homeworking – for example most aspects of volume manufacturing – there are others for which it is de facto – i.e. farming and artisan crafting. As for the rapid rise in service-based sectors, advances in technology have availed these the greatest flexibility for hybrid working. Since the concentrations of these sectors varies regionally, so too must working patterns. Linked to regional sectoral dispersion is the degree of population density as yet another factor influencing spatial work patterns. Variations in the average age of those in work is also noticeable across regions.

Whilst more than a decade old, a Government commissioned study from 2012 suggested there would be a £15bn saving were more state workers to operate from home, of which £8bn represented the gain from improved productivity. None could challenge the claim that these estimates can only have increased in the years since. Ultimately, however, a balance is required. The issue is there are undeniable economies of scale and productivity enhancements, only made possible by direct interaction with fellow workers.

Now, there is no precise science to the ‘optimal’ number of days someone whose work involves interacting with colleagues needs to be, as it were, in their company. After all, a business with multiple office locations could easily see colleagues going their entire careers and never meeting. This accepted, whilst five days a week may not necessarily be the optimal for working physically alongside otherwise regionally close colleagues, zero is most certainly not.

“in the UK the five-day in situ working week is/was a comparatively new norm”

From the perspective of business owners, we should hardly be surprised by their growing calls for staff to attend the office ideally no fewer than four days a week. Less we forget, in the UK the five-day in situ working week is/was a comparatively new norm. It is/was a welcomed reduction – by most workers that is – from the labours expected of them before. There is then no reason to be shocked by a move to an office-work pattern where it is performed from home one day in five, or, say, three in ten. No reason also why businesses should not operate a key office hub emanating from which are serviced-space spokes.

Looking at matters from the perspective of competitive and aspirational staff, we actually realise that their benefit in attending ‘the office’, align with the interests of those they work for. Align because of the knowledge that persistently not being in ‘the office’ when colleagues (and yes, rivals) do attend, is a poor career choice, particularly so during one’s promotional – and most productivity enhancing – period in work.

Our workplace behaviours will not be greatly altered by the accursed virus that struck three years ago. The reality is that how we mostly worked had already changed before early 2020, doing so for a raft of reasons, not least the service-based nature of the modern British economy and advances in technology. We will, in short, return to working patterns exhibited before; a mostly hybrid form, where collective working is for most of us the most productive career driven preference, albeit not always five days a week. The modern hybrid nature of UK office work will continue to support the growth of varying occupational fit-outs, drive up demand for flexible office space, and feed the desire for longer office leases. All positive signals for the office sector of CRE.
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