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Reimagining office parks of tomorrow

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to affect the future of work – permanently. There has been a fundamental shift of worker preferences for quality of life, work, play, and how to balance these aspects together. As a result, we are seeing the redevelopment and growth within suburban business parks exploding to meet the new demands of the workforce.

As developers of one of the UK’s largest office parks – Cobalt Business Park in North Tyneside, we have to be ahead of the curve and anticipate potential new office requirements of the future.  We are home to some of the UK’s biggest employers including Procter & Gamble, Sage, Jaguar Land Rover, Newcastle Building Society, Accenture and EE.

We are witnessing first-hand a changing world of work that puts health and wellbeing, collaboration and engagement at the forefront of decision making. Hybrid and agile working is the new normal and it brings many benefits for staff and employers, such as a better work-life balance, as well as improving employee retention and reducing business costs.

At Cobalt, we are seeing staff and businesses returning to the park and getting back to pre-Covid levels.  They are keen to collaborate in person and meet colleagues that they have not met offline or seen during the pandemic. With site wide staff engagement now more important than ever, we’re supporting businesses based here with a programme of regular events and activities.

Having access to green open space is a growing prerequisite for staff and employers and Cobalt Park is well-placed to support this need – sitting adjacent to a 39-acre bio-diversity park and incorporating 5 miles of off-road bridleway. The park’s environment with mature ponds and abundance of wildlife supports our occupiers’ wellbeing agenda. We have also enhanced seating areas to allow for outdoor meetings and developed a network of walking meeting routes to encourage staff to be more active when on site.

North Tyneside Council are committed to making the area carbon net-zero by 2030 and have committed to sustainable cycling infrastructure which includes the region’s first Dutch style roundabout due to open adjacent to the park this summer. With all these measures introduced we are seeing demand for cycling to work growing as staff look to travel to work more sustainably. We offer a fleet of pool bikes, together with free bike loans and free bike MOTs and take up of these facilities are at an all-time high.

We are seeing a shift in businesses repurposing their space with more hot desks, relaxed meeting areas, utilising available outdoor space, improved collaborative space and breakout areas. Furthermore, investment in EV charging points, cycling storage, shower and changing facilities are high on our occupier’s sustainability investment plans.

Most recently BT has embarked on a major makeover of their base at Cobalt and once complete, it will be the largest custom contact centre in the BT estate, creating a sustainable workplace for the future for their 1,500 EE colleagues.

Other major employers at the park are also embarking on refurbishments to their office spaces, including Newcastle Building Society and DXC Technology.

Business parks have really come into their own over the pandemic: particularly those set with a well-designed biodiverse environment like Cobalt. By providing a greater mix of uses and focusing on a meaningful, sustainable agenda that promotes health and wellbeing for their occupants, we can accelerate the idea of becoming more localised, drawing parallels with the idea of the ’15-minute city’, where everything one needs is within a quarter of an hour, either by foot or bicycle.

It’s a reimagined world of work and one that will bode a brighter, greener culture of office life in the future.

Guy Marsden is a founding director of Highbridge Properties PLC

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Highbridge’s Cobalt Park is the largest office park in the UK. It employs over 14,000 people and is home to numerous global brands including Accenture, Jaguar Land Rover, SAGE, DXC and Proctor & Gamble.

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