Fergus Trim: Times they are a-changin'

WE are changing the way we live and work and our workplaces need to reflect that.

THE workplace is changing. New technologies and attitudes to work are making corporate occupiers look carefully at their current locations, what it says about them as a business and their ongoing need to attract and retain the best new talent.

There has been a lot of research undertaken on the psychology of the workplace and the influence of the different generations within it. The changing influence and demands of Generation X (defined as 34 to 46 year olds) and the Millennials (18 to 33 year olds) mean that businesses are changing the way they work.

Generation X are increasingly the decision makers, running businesses and looking to attract and recruit more Millennials. These are workers who identify less with the nine to five routine and have grown up with mobile technology, social media and a blurring of the distinction between work and leisure time.

This has given rise to a more flexible commuting pattern and hours of work, together with higher demands for amenity and quality of life. Both home and mobile working are becoming an increasing part of the routine.

This does not mean, however, the end of the office as we know it. While new technology enables flexible working practices, the concept of work retains a strong social component for most people. The office remains important for collaboration, teamwork and corporate branding.

Forging relationships and networks through an organisation and working through new ideas face to face can’t be achieved working remotely. The talent that wants to work from home on a Friday also wants their own desk, and are happy to put in the long hours in the office when necessary. The most important thing to them is being judged on results rather than the time clocked in.

Home working is seen as a one or two days a week activity while the office is just as important for the creative, social and collaboration aspects of working life. Essentially the young workforce want it all, access to smart and accessible offices, the banter within their team and the social side of the office community, while not being chained to the desk.

This environment needs to go beyond the building itself. Just as important is access to amenities, bars and restaurants, offering open space, adequate car parking and being part of a business community or cluster which can be either in or out of a city core. No one wants to waste time commuting so accessibility to the major population centres by public transport as well as by car is vital.

To meet this demand, the edge of town business park has been reinvented – no longer the remote, sterile environment of the 80s and 90s, where commuters went from car to desk and back. These days they are closer to residential centres with more people arriving by public transport while drivers have a shorter commute.

Employees work flexible hours and will get involved with on site activities both with colleagues and people from other companies on the same campus. Workplaces that can offer on site sports, events and activities, shops and restaurants and even learning facilities will offer more to a young dynamic workforce.

A model that increasingly fits this concept is the connected, polycentric city – one with several connected centres that complement each other rather than competing. Different industries start clustering together in different locations, with the different centres having distinct offers under an overarching City Region umbrella, leading to a broader, more diverse offering. This can spread the burden of commuting and public transport with an easier commute than everyone fighting to get into a single city core.

Is Newcastle a polycentric city? It can certainly be argued that way, particularly if you look at the Greater Newcastle area including the smaller town centres such as Gateshead, Killingworth and South Shields. Businesses located across a wide area crossing several council boundaries, all consider themselves to all be part of a single economic community. They are more concerned about the business fundamentals, the availability of skills and the attraction of staff. It is a positive that we can look beyond boundaries and continue to offer business a wide variety of locations across the city region and be confident that any business investment, be it on the river, city centre or a business park is helping to grow our economy and create new jobs.

:: Fergus Trim is development director of Quorum Business Park


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