Middlesbrough’s Centre Square is setting for standard for office working post-pandemic. 

That is the view of two Tees Valley commercial property experts who been involved in many of the area’s biggest office developments over the past 30 years.

Their comments came after new figures show that the return to office working is gathering pace as we approach the third anniversary of the first lockdown which made working from home compulsory.  

Regional Reit – one of the UK’s largest owners of office buildings – said only 1% of more than a thousand tenants in its 156 properties had not reopened their offices.  A year ago that figure was 70%.

But in a separate survey Remit Consultancy found that offices in busy parts of London were rarely more than 50% full, with the length and cost of travel key factors in employees’ choice to work in the office or at home. 

Stephen Brown, Senior Partner with Middlesbrough-based Dodds Brown, said: “COVID accelerated a trend for working from home that the advance of technology, primarily, had already started.  Now, though, we’re seeing things even out with hybrid working becoming the preferred middle ground for many staff. But businesses – and especially those who value collaborative working – know that they must create an environment and surroundings which encourage people to come to the office.  And that’s what’s happening in Centre Square where new standards are being set.”

Six Centre Square – the latest stage of the Centre Square development was completed last month.  It was funded by the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) which has invested £9.7m in the project and now owns the building.  Middlesbrough Council also contributed a £2m grant.

Around half of the building is being fitted out in advance of the arrival of 450 staff from the insurance giant AXA UK.  There is still space available for other occupiers: more than 10,000 sq ft on the top floor and 4,500 sq ft at ground level.

David Jackson of APP Jackson & Partners said: “There are more ways to attract staff to the office than offering free pizza on Fridays.  They’ve got to be given sufficient room in and around their desk, comfortable places to spend their breaks and – as we see with Centre Square – easy access to public transport links, shops and amenities.”

He added: “Whether you’re at home or in the office you’ll probably be doing the same work.  If employers want you to spend more time with your colleagues they have to provide an environment that’s more appealing than being at home.  When you look at the offices already occupied in the first stage of the Centre Square development, that’s exactly what companies like Causeway, GB Bank and XPS are doing.”

Encouraging staff to work from the office will become an even bigger challenge with an expected change in employment law later this year.  New employees will be able to request a flexible working pattern, including working from home, from their first day rather than having to wait for six months. 

The proposal has been the subject of fierce criticism from one of the UK’s best-known business figures Sir James Dyson who described it as “economically illiterate and staggeringly self-defeating”.

Writing in The Times newspaper he said the change would “hamper employers’ ability to organise their workforce” and discourage firms investing in the UK when they had such little control over “how and where” staff can work.

For more information about Centre Square contact joint agents Dodds Brown on 01642 244130 or David Jackson (01642 791390)/Chris Black (01609 797373 ) of APP Jackson & Partners.