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The Word 'Office' Is Now Banned In Birmingham

PwC are taking 150K SF at Hermes' Paradise development, Birmingham. But don't dare call it an office, says PwC Regional Chair Matt Hammond.

As Birmingham's city centre office market powers toward another year with 1M SF take-up, Hammond discussed what the future of the not-office should look like at Bisnow's Birmingham State of the Market event.

The answer? Forget cars, think young, and never, ever, use the O-word again.

Birmingham State of the Market event: PwC Regional Chair Matt Hammond (with microphone)

Workspaces, workplaces, collaboration zones, quiet spaces … the last two years has seen growing reluctance to use the word “office” in Birmingham. Now PwC have taken the next logical step and declared the word dead. An ex-word. This word has ceased to be.

Debating the future of the workplace at the Bisnow Birmingham State of the Market event, Hammond took aim at a host of other O-word shibboleths. Forget the space, he argued, think about the people who will occupy it. They will not own cars, they will probably have a strongly international flavour, and they will not be sitting still.

"It’s all about abandoning old myths about the way we have to work,” Hammond said. “The average age of the U.K. workforce at PwC is 28. So we rely on young talent – and a key story for us in Birmingham is recruiting the young rather than going to the expense and heartache of relocating staff from elsewhere.”

“At the same time we have to think about plural careers. The next generation — and the generation still in school who will be starting work when HS2 arrives in Birmingham — may have five, six, seven careers over their working lives, and Birmingham needs to be a place where they can develop those careers.”

Hammond argued that the O-word just can’t accommodate the new ideas.

“As Hermes well know, we banned the word ‘office’ in the specification for our new base because as soon as you use that word people have a lot of subconscious connotations about what it means,” he said. “Our designers have set themselves the task of out-googling Google [on the office design] and ultimately it's all going to be about collaboration, about getting used to using technology in another way,” Hammond said.

“For instance, it is very important to us that our new base will be next to Grand Central and New Street station because the next generation are not going to be car owners."

In 10 Years It Will All Be Different

Hermes Real Estate Executive Director Ben Sanderson and Ashby Capital Chief Executive Peter Ferrari

And the property industry reaction is what? According to Hermes Real Estate Executive Director Ben Sanderson the response must be to recognise that everything will change.

“In the next five to 10 years one of the fundamental structural points we have to acknowledge, in all cities, is that we are going to need less office space than we do today – and more leisure and residential," he said. Cities need to reflect that — I think Birmingham is doing that — but we must also build flexibly. Planners must be flexible on change of use. Because whatever vision we have today for the workplace will be different in 10 years’ time in ways that we can’t even anticipate."

Hermes — trialling a new coworking concept in Newcastle, and soon in Birmingham — have taken the lesson to heart. That means allowing a work ecosystem to develop in Birmingham which allows for career changes and flexible skills. Importantly, Birmingham must not rely on overspill from London.

“We need to get away from the idea of relocations from London. London casts a huge shadow and nothing much grows in a dark shadow. We need to think about what’s here in the Midlands that allows people to have a good life and develop flexible skills,” Sanderson said.

Offices On A Different Plane

Left to right: Amanda Clack, CBRE Head of Strategic Consulting; Ben Sanderson, Hermes Real Estate Executive Direcotr; Peter Ferrari, Ashby Capital Chief Executive; Matt Hammond, PwC Regional Chair; and Charles Toogood, GVA Senior Director

So much for the big picture, how is today’s Birmingham market responding, asked panel moderator CBRE Head of Strategic Consulting Amanda Clack? Is it just about adding amenity — or is something more fundamental going on?

“We’re all talking about the workplace of the future, coworking, amenity provision, concierge services, trying to broaden the range of occupiers — and it’s refreshing, we’re all operating on a different plane and we have more of this to come,” GVA Senior Director Charles Toogood said.

Ashby Capital Chief Executive Peter Ferrari agreed. “Enlightened landlords are getting much better at getting close to their customers,” he said.