Blend and Flex: The Future of Work in Exeter

In 2020 much of the UK’s office-based workforce had to adapt to working from home, absorbing not just the needs of their employers and businesses, but in many cases their families too. Although one survey reports a 20% increase in productivity during the first lockdown due to homeworking, without the support systems that the office environment gives employees, there remains a question mark over whether this is sustainable in the long term. There may be no place like home, but is home the place for work?

The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns has caused an unprecedented shift in the way that millions of people now work, ushering in the need for flexible, remote working.  Pre-pandemic working from home was increasingly being tested by companies, but many were still reticent, seeing it as potentially detrimental to business. But, as the past ten months have proved, working from home has a whole host of benefits.

Working from home can allow more flexibility, greater productivity, less time travelling and more time getting that all important work-life balance right. And with fewer of us on the roads travelling to work, home working is a huge step towards reducing carbon emissions. With some reports predicting a shift to permanent remote working for 1 in 4 companies it seems that, even with the roll out of the vaccine, it is likely that we will see a continuation of people working from home in 2021. However, with some workers reporting burn out and feeling isolated, the death knell for the office has not come yet.

Liveable Exeter spoke to board member Clodagh Murphy, Chair of Exeter Chamber of Commerce to find out more about how this global trend has impacted Exeter.

“The office isn’t dead and buried. We need to take a look at what people need from a work environment and how actually, although it’s great that flex and home working are now a thing, those incidental moments, the sense of camaraderie, belonging and achievement are things people miss working remotely.

Six months ago the conversation was around shutting down the offices, but actually, I need my office. I may not need it the way it was configured before but I need it to develop relationships with colleagues. And for those people growing and developing businesses, inducting new staff, establishing business culture - that’s all difficult to do remotely.

It is far more likely that the majority of companies will look to a hybrid solution as they seek to benefit from both the culture and collaboration of the office and the flexibility of working from home.”

Tim Wadsworth, Director of Greater Exeter Chamber and workplace transformation specialists Inspiring Spaces agreed, he said:

“Our experience is that many businesses want a return to city centres as it offers more amenity for their employees, which makes attracting and retaining staff much easier. However, property is an imperfect product – in cities and on the outskirts – choices are determined by what’s available.

Looking to the future it will be important to plan for office accommodation in the heart of the city. Having people in our cities supports economic activity which in turns drives demand for amenity. This is something that Liveable Exeter’s City Point scheme looks to deliver; mixed use development that extends ‘busyness’ and provides the city with both day and night time economies.”

Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to rethink the way we work. While no doubt challenging for organisations, even against the context of a global pandemic where many people are not just working from home, but schooling as well for example, flexible, remote working is working. In the Forever Flex report recently published by Sir Robert MacAlpine, 70% of employers wanted to retain flexible working post-Covid. The Exeter Chamber survey, released last week revealed that in Exeter, 56% of businesses reported that they were working more flexibly.

The opportunity to work outside the traditional office based model also opens up places like Exeter to a wider workforce. Clodagh says:

“Employers and employees eyes are opening to having staff anywhere. Before the pandemic less than 10% of jobs advertised as flex – this will increase, especially as technology evolves to support collaboration. Exeter is a brilliant place to locate your business, it has good transport links for the days you need to travel to the office and with the constant evolution of technology, remote working is a viable option. But it requires a shift in thinking to enable this to happen.”

“In Exeter we want to retain our talent, rather than loose it to cities elsewhere because people believe that they can’t have a good career here. We have outstanding skills and talent in this city and we need this to deliver the world class projects and infrastructure that support the growth and functionality of our city. The way to attract the best people, and keep them, is to offer them a working environment in which they can thrive and be their best. And flexible working has the proven potential to do just that, paving the way to greater inclusion, diversity.”

So, is home the place for work? Well, yes. It can be, but people need connection so the office will still remain a constant in our working lives when we can return to it. Covid-19 has proven that home working can have positive outcomes for employers and employees. It allows many of us to be more creative, more productive, achieve a healthy work-life balance and support wellbeing. Life afterall is for living. This is the bedrock for personal and professional prosperity.

Exeter has so much to offer in terms of a great quality of life. Remote working opens up doors for people currently in the city to explore jobs and careers outside of the city and also for people in other parts of the country to recognise Exeter as a viable alternative to London and the South East. And with developments like CityPoint on the horizon Exeter will have opportunities for a diverse blend of city centre working in future.

If you’d like to find out more about the future of work in Exeter, join us as we explore these issues in more depth in our Exeter: The Future Works webinar. Details of which will be published soon!

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