ENQUIRIES about “high-quality” office space are exceeding pre-pandemic levels as employers incorporate social distancing in the workplace, a property consultancy has said.

The response comes despite widespread talk of big employers requiring much less room in offices.

Since August, employers have been able to decide whether staff should be in the office – but Covid-19 security has kept many workers at home.

But property consultant Vail Williams said its transactional team had been “inundated” with calls from companies searching for upgraded facilities with extra space around each employee. Businesses were also looking for high quality “drop-in hubs” for remote workers.

Russell Mogridge, lead partner at the firm’s business space team, said: “We’ve seen a dramatic spike in office activity because of the new dynamics created by social distancing norms.

“To put this into perspective, previously there would be typically one person to 75sqft in a building whereas the commercial demand is now for upwards of 150sqft per person.

“That means a company with 200 staff cannot accommodate them under one roof as before – only around 100 people can now be comfortably fitted in to ensure compliance, albeit depending on floor configuration.

“As a result, and due to a lack of supply, additional or new high-quality workplaces are being sourced rapidly in Southampton and Portsmouth and along the M27 Corridor between the two port cities.

“Since lockdown restrictions were lifted, Vail Williams has already received tens of enquiries from companies needing Grade A offices in Southampton city centre, of which there is only around 50,000sqft available.

“Clients are keen to lease from the tail end of this year, bringing back staff from potentially isolated home working for a myriad of reasons, including a welcoming and safe working environment, collaboration, innovation, team morale and a sense of belonging and purpose.

“Another factor has come into play as well. Businesses are looking to re-energise remote teams with quality drop-in office hubs, as well as providing a professional space for customers,” Mr Mogridge added.

“After all, offices reflect brands and are therefore a marketing tool.

“On-site interaction, as opposed to virtual, cannot be underestimated for those eureka idea moments, and employers want to coax staff back from home with the attraction of excellent facilities.

“Demand in Southampton is being mirrored at the thriving Lakeside North Harbour office campus in Portsmouth.

“There is only six per cent occupancy left at the campus, which comprises nearly 600,000sqft of offices, and we anticipate that being filled because the site has seen more enquiries and viewings of late that the preceding 12 months.”

Mr Mogridge, who works out of offices at Ocean Village in Southampton and Lakeside North Harbour in Portsmouth, also said rents were holding up due to a lack of supply and quality spaces. Headline rents in the Solent region for Grade A offices are £23 a square foot.

He added: “Businesses are telling us they would like to have their teams in the new workplaces by the end of this year, so Q4 2020 activity will be intense for associated supply chains, including fit-out contractors and professional advisers, such as lawyers, accountants and property advisers.”

“Companies are always looking ahead – they want to make 2021 a year where staff, the driving force of all good businesses, can begin afresh, leaving behind the economic upheaval, uncertainty and corrosive anxiety of 2020.”

The Office for National Statistics revealed last week that 57 per cent of working adults had travelled to work in the previous week, while 20 per cent had worked solely from home.