Between the lines: Flexibility is key to Brexit survival

Nobody can predict the impact of Brexit on property values, says Richard Morris. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Nobody can predict the impact of Brexit on property values, says Richard Morris. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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The EU referendum Leave decision has left British business in a state of flux. As the political wrangling continues it is clear that the definitive economic and trading picture will not emerge quickly. Formally leaving the European Union will take two years from the moment Article 50 is invoked but analysts have no concrete timeline as to when that process might begin.

Businesses are challenged with plotting a course through this uncertainty, no easy task when the rules may shift at any time. But there are strategic decisions that make immediate sense, particularly around business premises.

Put simply, there couldn’t be a worse time for businesses to commit to property investment or long-term leases. Nobody can yet predict the impact of Brexit on property values, so purchasing office space becomes a big risk. Similarly, tying the business in to five or 10-year leasing deals makes little commercial sense. What looks like a sensible location for trading today may change radically over the next few years. It may well be the case that today’s centres of industry will shift and evolve, potentially leaving fixed-lease businesses stranded and far-removed from the talent pool. Indeed, leaving the EU is expected to drive the UK into developing business relationships with other parts of the world – will such relationships require businesses to adapt their global footprint?

For many businesses, the answer is to think more flexibly about location and workspace requirements. The network of professional workspace throughout the UK and across the globe is vast.This is space that can be rented on an as-needed basis – for as little as an hour at a time – and which enables businesses to react swiftly and cost-effectively to market turbulence.

Pre-Brexit, there was already a noticeable shift in mindset away from a fixed-location, 9-5 way of working towards more flexibility. The latest generation of professionals regard flexible working options as a must-have rather than an option. Co-working hubs are thriving, playing host to employees from different firms who work side-by-side in environments that encourage networking. If anything, the Brexit vote is the catalyst to further speed this process and to spur yet more businesses into re-imagining their working patterns.

Undoubtedly, the current business climate makes strategic planning difficult. Having the capacity to flex workspace is essential as business adapts to change. Ultimately, businesses cannot afford to wait for macro-economic data to filter through from those setting the agenda. Instead, forward-thinking businesses are manoeuvring to flexibly ride out the current storm and to be in position to benefit from any future opportunities.

l Richard Morris is UK CEO of Regus, the office space group