B4 Property Day: A view from Oxford Innovation on demand for workspace

Oxfordshire’s property market took a significant blow when COVID-19 struck this year, but a growing sense of optimism has emerged across our network of Innovation Centres as signs of a recovery begin.

Oxford Innovation’s ability to offer dynamic workspaces that promote collaboration, employee wellbeing and unrivalled flexibility, should not be undervalued at this time. With new ways of working continuing to evolve, a safe place to cultivate business growth is key to economic recovery and crucial in preventing start-ups and growing business from being swallowed by the pandemic.

When Lockdown 1.0 forced millions of people to construct makeshift home offices, Oxford Innovation was challenged to stay open safely to ensure ‘essential workers’ remained operational.

The Wood Center
The Wood Center

Across Oxfordshire – and further afield – we manage space for office and lab-based businesses working on COVID tests and vaccines, NHS departments, businesses responsible for developing specialist PPE and those working on the new Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre at Harwell.

We undoubtedly took a hit on occupancy across our portfolio of 26 Innovation Centres (nine in Oxfordshire) due to companies making the most of our flexible licence agreements either by moving out or downsizing within as little as a month of lockdown being announced.

It became evident that businesses were struggling, leading to our decision to extend Oxford Innovation’s one-to-one business support service to all in our network. As Innovation Director, my role transformed from offering strategic growth advice to business survival! I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to support a significant number of businesses across Oxfordshire to access the many and rapidly changing government schemes and importantly, to reassess their cash flow enabling them to focus on their value proposition.

Alex Greenhalgh Spintex
Alex Greenhalgh Spintex

Lockdown 2.0
We have all matured in our approach to the pandemic and we have seen increased business confidence. The innovation space that had been lost originally, has now been filled by new or expanding businesses and in some cases, let to the original occupants.
Over the last four months, for example, we have witnessed unprecedented interest in office and lab space across two of our Oxfordshire centres, both owned by The Oxford Trust. Enquiries have been up by 130% for The Oxford Centre for Innovation in the city centre and up 486% for The Wood Centre for Innovation in Headington’s Health and Life Sciences District.

On the whole, offices have remained occupied, footfall has maintained and businesses are keen to keep going. Our daily mantra has become ‘open and safe for business’.

Tim Ballance ColdQuanta
Tim Ballance ColdQuanta

What next?
People have been exploring all sorts of novel ways of getting out of the house and its associated, child, Wi-Fi or animal interruptions. Not to mention the strain on mental health from being couped up.
We are hearing much more of a yearning for face-to-face time, whether that’s working in the same room as a colleague on a complex project, meeting new members of staff or just generally being there for one another. A flexible workspace now triumphs over a restrictive and costly fixed-term lease and a culture of employee presenteeism has rapidly become out of date.

Oxford Innovation is continuing to evolve and we are expanding our offer to include corporate co-working options that are more about connecting people and less about property. The way businesses make use of an office may have changed forever, but dynamic workspaces are here to stay.

By Dr. Wendy Tindsley, Innovation Director

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