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01.12.2022 Back to Blog articles

The Rise Of A ‘Footloose’ Service Economy And Office Sharing In The UK

It is a well known fact that in Britain, we were pioneers when it came to manufacturing. The industrial revolution saw new innovations and significant social changes, transforming how and where we work. As an example, Britain embraced access to different raw materials, new trade routes and partnerships between both companies and countries, becoming a major economic power. It is also well known that Great Britain was a leading force during the global industrial revolution. This was primarily down to its dedication and willingness to incorporate manual labour, manufacturing and innovation as part of its society. While Britain was, and still is, a small island it was its inventors that transformed how we did business. For example, the introduction and application of steam power and steam engines shaped how we travelled and did business on so many levels.

This involved shifting the attention away from rural based industry such as agriculture towards factory based manufacturing, complex machinery and technological growth. While both industries needed a significant human labour element, it still changed how and where people chose to work and live. Most large manufacturing businesses were originally located in the heart of a city for its easy transport links when it came to importing and exporting heavy materials and products. This inturn attracted more and more people to move away from rural locations towards urban areas to capitalise on the job opportunities that came with these more central locations and growing industry. 

Shifting From Factories to Footloose and Fancy Free

As the world of business has grown, technology has improved and how we work has evolved. The introduction of automation, robotics and cheaper labour in developing countries means that Britain has seen a distinct shift away from labour based businesses towards more service and knowledge based industries. This shift and deindustrialisation sparked change in urban environments across the country. As an example, in 1978 there were more than 6.7 million manufacturing workers in the UK but this shrunk to just over 2.6 Million in 2022.

Over the past decade, the rise of this service based economy, and the associated decentralisation it caused, has driven a significant movement of population and businesses away from city centres towards retail and business parks in the suburbs.There are several reasons why many businesses have chosen to shift away from a city centre location. However, here are our top 5:

  1. There is a reduction in manufacturing and its reliance on transport of heavy goods and raw materials.
  2. Cheaper office and business space
  3. The growth of tertiary and quaternary industries
  4. Improved connectivity and technology
  5. Tailored and flexible office space

What Are Tertiary and Quaternary Industries?

Put simply, both tertiary and quaternary industries relate to service and knowledge based companies who don't necessarily have a tie to a specific location. These industries cover aspects such as health, banking, research and development. With that said, many people are unaware of these terms!

How Do Service Based Industries Impact Our Cities and Businesses?

The shift towards a more service based economy has had several impacts on our economy and society as a whole. One of the biggest issues that our cities face is the impact of decentralisation. With more and more companies choosing to move out the city centre, some cities have seen an increase in issues such as unemployment, reduced services and an increasingly stagnant atmosphere. However, it is important to note that the government and local councils are taking steps to address this and bring ‘life’ back to our city centres. For example, councils are:

  • Offering grants, reductions and incentives to companies moving into a city location to help counteract the ‘premium’ which can come with owning/renting a city central office location.
  • Creating affordable housing and great facilities to encourage people back into the city to live and work.
  • Actively supporting modernisation in cities to keep up with the shift in transport and technological needs.
  • It is also important to note that Covid also had a significant impact on both people and businesses based in our cities.

What Is A Footloose Business?

A footloose business is a very simple term for any business that is not tied to a specific geographical location. Typically associated with knowledge and service based industries, footloose businesses mark a new wave in how and where we choose to work. When thinking about a footloose business many people think of smaller, independent companies, consultants and contractors who move about as part of their job. However, this is far from the case and most modern businesses could be thought of ‘footloose’.

The Impact Of Covid On Businesses

During covid many companies were tested and forced to be more flexible. Most employers and employees had preconceptions about flexible working, working from home and how successfully this could be done. However, the resulting lockdown due to covid forced many to reconsider and challenge this attitudes when it came to flexible working. With most businesses trialing more flexible and remote ways of working to see whether this worked for them and their employees alike.

Why Office Sharing Can Transform Your Business Regardless Of Your Size, Industry or Location!

There are many preconceptions regarding the size of a company and its office location. These include:

  • Associating office sharing and coworking spaces with a city centre location.
  • Thinking of coworking spaces as large, utilitarian/‘cold’ office spaces with rows and rows of desks.
  • Only large businesses can have suburb based offices, such as business and retail parks. 
  • Rural based offices are typically for smaller businesses or have limited facilities.
  • Having an office (regardless of your business size) is expensive and can be an unnecessary cost.

This could not be further from the truth! As we saw during covid, remote working did not suit everyone, while others dreaded the thought of returning to a traditional 9 to 5 office job. While each has their own advantages and disadvantages it is important to remember that these are not the only options available to you, your business and your employees. Having and maintaining an office is daunting and as a result you want to ensure that you are making the most of the space you have. 

An ever increasing number of employees desire a more flexible form of working as standard. Unfortunately this often results in empty desk space in your office which then raises concerns over unnecessary overheads. However, as a business, this shift in working attitudes shouldn't be seen as negative. In fact, many businesses are capitalising on these changes and using this workplace revolution to help their business grow and succeed. “But how?” We hear you ask. 

By embracing office sharing! Sharing office space is a great way to:

  • Gain extra income.
  • Offset and reduce your overheads.
  • Trial new locations.
  • Better support staff who do not want to, or cannot, commute to your main offices.
  • Share expenditures such as amenities, facilities, services (e.g receptionist) and technology.
  • Attract new, highly skilled staff (even if they are primarily based outside of the UK)

However, there is one key benefit that many companies overlook or do not utilise fully when it comes to sharing office space (regardless of whether you are the primary office owner or someone coming into another businesses’ office space). The world of business is continually evolving, regardless of what industry you are in. As a result, it is essential to ‘put in the work’ in order to stay up to date and be successful. This can take a variety of forms such as using new tools and programs or expanding what facilities and services you choose to offer.

There is no denying that this is no small feat but you can make it easier on you and your business through sharing office space and embracing a coworking lifestyle. Choosing to share office space with companies who are in the same, overlapping or complementary industries can transform how you do business. Regardless of how many companies you share with, or their size, there is always opportunities for skill sharing, collaboration and networking when sharing office space. 

Ultimately, how and where we do businesses is changing and you must evolve to survive. As we become an increasingly knowledge and service based society, remote and flexible working are becoming standard, office expenses continue to rise and clients have an increasing range of demands. But you are not in this alone! In a nutshell, sharing office space and embracing coworking help you cut costs, expand into new geographical areas and better support staff all while providing a platform for collaboration and networking. So what is there not to like?

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