Will Harrogate staff go back to offices and what do businesses think of it

Recent surveys show the majority of people forced to work at home during Covid are in no rush to return to working in an office - but what do Harrogate businesses and business leaders think the future will look like here?

Friday, 4th September 2020, 5:25 pm
Flexible approach is paying off - Robert Fearnley, director of 55 Grove Road, which offers serviced offices in a stylish converted chapel off Skipton Road.

One Harrogate business which believes that offices have a future, even in these trying times, is 55 Grove Road.

Office working: What 55 Grove Road says

Under director Robert Fearnley these serviced offices in a converted chapel off Skipton Road have adopted a flexible approach to working in offices from the beginning.

Mr Fearnley spent £1.5m developing 55 Grove Road three years ago after spotting a gap in the market for high-end but economical contemporary office space in Harrogate.

With an ethos of creating inspiring workspaces for anyone from sole operators to SME businesses, the entrepreneur was keen to welcome back tenants as soon as the Government said it was safe, too.

Not only has he implemented a comprehensive new cleaning and social distancing regime throughout his range of various-sized office suites, he even introduced a rent freeze during lockdown.

Mr Fearnley said: “Although there has been welcome support from the council in Harrogate, we decided to introduce our own measures to support our tenants through these unprecedented times

“Many of our tenants who have been unable to work in the offices have been given a rent freeze to help them through it.”

As a man who believes offices don’t have to be bland and boring, Mr Fearnleys’ approach appears to be paying off.

Some businesses may not yet have returned to 55 Grove Road but recent weeks have seen a growing wave of new tenants arriving to make it their home.

Office working: What Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce says

Sandra Doherty, Chief Executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: “I am personally interested in how people see the return to work option after working from home.

“For some, the relief from commuting will have been the biggest benefit of their working lives.

"No amount of missing the camaraderie of work colleagues and problems finding a quiet space in a busy home will make up for the bliss of not having to brave the roads or public transport.

“For others, the welcome back to the office environment will provide the structure and sense of purpose they need to feel back to normal.

“It is important to think about all different types of both businesses and people.

"Perhaps it’s time to look at ways to enable both to happen, so that the best of both worlds could be gained.”

Office working: What Raworths says

Zoe Robinson, managing partner at Raworths, Harrogate-based solicitors, believes virtual meetings are here to stay.

She said: "Like many businesses, we adapted quickly to a new way of working to make it as safe as possible for our colleagues and our clients.

"Most of our teams have been working remotely since the start of lockdown although a skeleton staff continued to come into the office throughout to support the rest of the business and maintain client service.

"Meetings have been taking place virtually, something that I can see continuing beyond the pandemic.

"However, sometimes clients have needed to meet with us in person, which required creative thinking and there were times when we had people signing legal documents through the window or over a car bonnet!"

"We reopened the office to the public at the beginning of July and involved all employees in this process.

"We had to put a cap on the number of people actually working in the office to enable us to maintain social distancing.

"Our significant on-going investments in IT means that the majority of our people can work effectively from home without compromising on client service.

"I am proud of everyone at Raworths for successfully adapting to new ways of working and continuing to deliver excellent client service during what continues to be a very challenging time.”

Office working: What Truth Legal says

Andrew Gray, founder of Harrogate firm Truth Legal, whose staff have returned to work at Victoria Avenue, believes it is in everyone’s interests to go back to normal.

He said: "Pre-Covid, for most knowledge workers – particularly lawyers, for whom I can speak about – it was farcical that so many were forbidden to work from home

"During and post-Covid, many businesses have gone too far. Harrogate businesses must find a middle-ground.

"If all professionals are now home-workers, then the main factor which will determine for whom you work is pay. Many jobs will therefore be outsourced to cheaper countries.

"Though home-working new people to an organisation will struggle to bed-in. Any existing cliques will continue.

"Through home-working, the culture of an organisation will slowly perish.

"The duty of any professional person is to train the next generation. Such training cannot all take place by Zoom, email or telephone. This training - often by osmosis - must take place in person.

"Too many employers are making the mistake – which isn’t easily fixed – of thinking that their junior staff can learn their profession adequately from their spare rooms."

Office working: What Harrogate BID says

Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) interim manager Simon Kent said: “People coming back to work in offices within the town centre will be one of the key drivers in reinvigorating the local economy.

“Those in retail and hospitality have been back at work for a while now and have shown how it can be done safely and responsibly.

“However, many businesses have proved working from home is possible and for a number this will continue as the norm, and 70 per cent might well be an accurate figure.”

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