The Thames Valley region has enjoyed a great reputation as a place to do business for many years – but how has the workplace changed there over the years? What does the office of today look like and what sorts of trends are we starting to see emerge?
We were delighted to speak about just that at the Thames Valley Global Summit recently, run by The Business Magazine in conjunction with CoStar, Westcoast and Ernst & Young (EY).
Here’s a summary of what our Reading-based partner Charlie Nicholson had to say at the event, which was hosted at the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre, Madejski Stadium:
“Vail Williams has been an active property adviser in the Reading and wider Thames Valley area for over 30 years now and during this time, we’ve seen the workspaces on offer and the wider area evolve a great deal.
From an industrial perspective, you can’t deny the region’s heritage from Reading’s Huntley and Palmer days of the 3 Bs; biscuits, beer and bulbs, to becoming home to the many multi-national businesses we see here today.
And it is this heritage which helped bring forward some fantastic brownfield sites for redevelopment, attracting the likes of Tesco, Harrods and Brakes Food Distribution to take advantage of defunct sites like Suttons Seeds to make way for their huge distribution centres.
For many years take up of both industrial and office space has been on the rise as businesses look to the area to take advantage of both the existing and future infrastructure and the connectivity it will offer.
But it’s not just the quality of property on offer here which pulls organisations in.
The area’s Royal credentials at Windsor, replete with all the pomp and ceremony that events such as royal weddings and US state visits provide, also plays its role – particularly for international businesses.
Japanese gaming conglomerate Konami were swayed to Sheet Street in Windsor by the marching bands and the nearby Windsor Great Park – an inspirational environment for those operating in the creative industries.
Their move acted as a catalyst for the creation of a hotbed of games developers in Windsor which in turn has attracted further inward investment.
And with creatives comes the need for an innovative workspace to inspire their creative minds.
The level of space taken by co-working providers offering different types of flexible or serviced-office provision for businesses has gone through the roof in recent years.
Companies like IWG’s new brand Spaces, WeWork, WorkLife and Fora to name but a few, are all in an expansive mood as they seek to sate the demand for collaborative workspace.
Their offer is one that is flexible for the SME, yet fitted out to the highest of standards with contemporary designs, hotel-style amenities and even self-service bars with drinks on tap.
This trend in workspace design has transformed the style of fit out in Reading whilst creating the ‘space as a service’ feel more oft experienced in London, Manchester and Birmingham.
Companies like WeWork have become the largest occupiers of space across London in each of the last 5 years and this will have a direct effect on both supply and demand. It will be interesting to see how the large rent roll coming over the horizon affects their profitability.
The creation of this sort of modern, innovative working environment is no longer confined to the creative industries or co-working spaces though.
It has started to become the norm with the large corporates too, who require more open meeting areas and collaborative spaces than ever.
We are seeing a rising trend in take-up of this sort of office space and predict that it will continue into 2019. Indeed we have already born witness to it with the new space taken by Regus at Winnersh Triangle, a Business Park we have been involved in for the past 20 years now.
Business parks like this help compliment in-town office locations, with the type of mixed-use accommodation that they can provide.
They benefit from increased car parking and swift communication links which, for Winnersh Triangle, helped attract the likes of Becton Dickinson who took 60,000 sq ft there as soon as the brand-new office building was completed.
By investing well in their amenity offering and infrastructure together with the potential to have data centres, research and development and other complimentary uses in close proximity, parks such as this maintain their relevance as cutting-edge business locations.
The same can be said over in Windsor where we are working with Legal and General on the delivery of One Victoria Street – the first speculative office development there in over 15 years.
It will be designed and built to offer qualitative characteristics which will benefit the body and mind, with shared amenity spaces and places to relax and interact with others.
Floor to ceiling height glazing on all four aspects as well as roof terraces means that people are never more than 9m away from a window and greater ceiling heights increase greater air flow.
Why does all this matter?
Well, increasingly, studies show that workplaces forged around wellbeing create happy, healthy and focused people which is great for business – they are more productive, enthusiastic and loyal to their employer.
In an age where talent pools, particularly in areas such as digital and tech are decreasing, being able to attract and retain the best talent has never been more important.
So the workplace / office environment has a vital role to play.
As our workforces age, however, this will bring new challenges for landlords and investors who will need to ensure that the workplace remains relevant for each of the generations it will house in the future.
More focus on wellness and wellbeing will be core to this as we see more and more vibrant, dynamic and healthy working environments come to market.
As we look ahead, if recent demand is anything to go by, we ought to be wary of lack of office supply in the Thames Valley pipeline.
With around two million sq ft of new office supply delivered in around 20 buildings last year across the Thames Valley and with just 500,000 sq ft in nine projects coming to fruition this year, do we risk our reputation as a right royal property hot spot just at the point that Crossrail and the Elizabeth Line arrives?
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, businesses will continue to benefit from the evolving and increasingly dynamic workspaces on offer across the Thames Valley region.”