More than 500 businesses were last month quizzed about their future workspace priorities as part of the Addleshaw Goddard Scottish Business Monitor, produced in partnership with the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde.
Internet and digital connectivity would be the main priority for 95 per cent of respondents compared to 40 per cent who cited strong public transport links and 15 per cent who favoured a city-centre location.
More than a quarter of companies expect to permanently reduce their office footprint, even though about six in ten say homeworking has affected workplace innovation and culture, and nearly half say it has had an impact on productivity.
To counter this, 42 per cent of organisations have invested in new technology to aid productivity in the last year – and about the same proportion say flexible and collaborative space will be key to their new physical place of work.
The survey, which launched in 1998, examined business sentiment in the first quarter of 2021, plus firms’ outlook and expectations for the rest of the year. It is published weeks in advance of official growth data on the Scottish economy.
Alison Newton, partner and co-head of real estate at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said: “Activity in the real estate sector is busy in terms of businesses looking at where they want to be, and the type of space they want to work in. We have also been working with a number of investors active in the Scottish market.
“Organisations, while experiencing some real challenges, also have the opportunity to reflect not just on their day-to-day working practices, but also the space they want to occupy so that productivity, staff health and wellbeing, and sustainability, are built into their businesses.”
Financial outlay was also a key factor – with nearly three quarters of those surveyed saying the cost of space would determine future location decisions, as businesses look to strengthen their balance sheets or build capital reserves as the economy recovers.
Ms Newton added: "While some businesses will say that they want to reduce the amount of space they occupy, it may in fact be a change to the balance and style of use of the space which is needed, rather than the extent of the footprint.
“The survey results illustrate the dilemma in that businesses say productivity has been impacted by working from home, but are not sold on a clear return to the workspace – existing or newly featured.
"There is a real balance to be struck in terms of engaging with staff to understand how and where they want to work, and the commercial or operational needs of the organisation. There are a number of landlords starting to work with new tenants to help provide a platform for that balance.”
Separately, new data from flexible and commercial office space operator IWG has revealed a major increase in demand for office space in commuter towns – with Stirling seeing a 31 per cent year-on-year increase in the first quarter of this year, for example.