22/10/2010

By Neil Darwin, Director of Economic Development, Opportunity Peterborough

The office is the one place outside of the home in which many of us spend the majority of our time. Yet all too often, instead of being a space designed to stimulate creativity and allow staff to realise their potential, the average British office is guilty of being unsustainable, unproductive and environmentally uninspiring.

At Opportunity Peterborough, an economic development company driving sustainable economic growth in Peterborough, we understand the role and importance of location, environmental credentials, local culture, as well as the immediate ‘feng shui’ in today’s office environments. Modern offices need to move beyond ‘token’ sustainability and understand the importance of meeting employees’ desire for truly environmentally friendly, open spaces that cater for wellbeing as well as productivity - therefore acting as a powerful incentive for staff retention and attraction.

Location, location, location

Where you decide to base your business is fundamental to its ultimate success.

In the 1980s and 90s, large, out-of-town business parks were popular alternatives to city centre offices. They offered the benefits of low cost, spacious opportunities for development that appealed to mobile commuters living on the outskirts of cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester.

However, the revitalisation of city centres throughout the UK, coupled with carbon reduction initiatives means these out-of-town models may be less sustainable than the city-centre alternatives.
Increasingly, offices need proximity to public transport hubs, so city centre locations close to train and bus stations are easier to travel to and more environmentally sound than mass parked saloon cars in a business park.

Moving offices back into the city centre breathes new life into urban centres. Business activity breathes new life into a city after the decline in their role as being the focus of retail activities due to the competition from out-of-town shopping complexes, supermarkets and internet shopping.

At Opportunity Peterborough, we are encouraging businesses to come back to the city centre as we believe this offers the most efficient and cost effective solution for both companies and the environment. It minimises a company’s carbon footprint and reduces its exposure to carbon taxes, which will inevitably come into force at some stage in the future. Furthermore, in light of the recent recession, which has seen many retail spaces in town centres come onto the market, there are fantastic opportunities to find city centre premises which are suitable for your needs.

Local culture

After-office hours activities are also an important consideration: a vibrant cultural offering, shopping, schools and housing availability in an area have a big part to play on the ability to attract the best staff.

In Peterborough, for example, we benefit from a diverse workforce and a rich culture, generated by our community’s heritage. This is increasingly transmitting into positive culturally-led business activity.

Office Feng Shui

The look and feel of an office can dictate the kind of candidates that you are able to attract, yet for too long the British approach has been to simply put a plant in the corner. Typical British sensibilities may baulk at the model spearheaded by Microsoft of a playful, buzzy space, with pogo sticks for staff to play on and areas dedicated to creativity. But in my opinion this model makes the office more conducive to generating a positive and successful office environment.

In the modern era, the office needs to be thought of as an extension of the home. Many companies who have won awards for their offices boast anything from kitchens, saunas, swimming pools, and roof terraces. A well-designed office maximises space, and improves productivity. There are numerous studies that clearly demonstrate the correlation between modern, light office space and staff creativity and productivity. An obvious advantage is retaining and attracting the best staff, especially during difficult economic conditions.

Sustainability

There is currently a lack of Government leadership on how businesses can develop in a sustainable way. It is for businesses themselves to take the initiative. Examples range from companies working on simple ideas like travel plans to installing wind farms on the roofs to help with energy consumption.

The recession has forced most businesses to focus exclusively on their bottom line. Now it is time for business leaders to expand their considerations and think about what constitutes the right environment for their employees. As we wait for the much anticipated upturn and employment opportunities return to more positive levels, it will become vital that employers can offer the most appealing working environment to ensure they attract a quality workforce.

Peterborough is fast becoming one of the most exciting areas for investment in the UK and is working to attract investors into the region and raise its profile as a sustainable business-friendly environment. Originally established in 2005 as an Urban Regeneration Company, Opportunity Peterborough is a not-for-profit company working in partnership with the city council. For more information please visit: www.opportunitypeterborough.co.uk

Neil Darwin is the Director of Economic Development, Opportunity Peterborough. Neil has worked for a range of authorities within their Economic Development functions, including Milton Keynes, Bedford and Ashfield. He is currently the Director for Opportunity Peterborough, the City’s Economic Development Company.