Work practices may have changed due to Covid-19 with more people than ever working from home but multi-nationals and other large companies will still require office space and cities like Cork can capitalise on such demands, Cork City Council chief executive, Ann Doherty has predicted.
Ms Doherty said it was quite clear that Covid-19 had altered how companies work with many firms now happy to allow their employees work remotely from home but she fully expected companies to still require large offices that give them a physical presence in a city or a country.
“Work practice has changed. I think we’ve all gone over to one side of the slide where everyone is working at home but I think it will come back to a more measured position,” said Ms Doherty, who is overseeing Cork’s cityscape change as new office blocks shoot up along the north and south quays.
"I was on a webinar recently with colleagues from Australia and they were saying the biggest risk for companies, public and private is the lack of innovation - magic happens when people come together, when you bring people together - you can't do that on a virtual platform."
The decision by Google last September not to proceed with plans to rent additional 19,000 sq metres of office space for up to 2,000 people near the Sorting Office in Dublin's docklands sent shock waves through the commercial office sector in Dublin and beyond.
One source familiar with the plan told The Irish Times at the time that it was simply not a good time for companies to invest in commercial office space “while they are looking at what the future of works looks like”.
The tremors of that decision were felt in Cork where commercial property developers have major plans to expand the city's available office space but some reassurance was felt last month when it emerged Apple had agreed to lease 3,500 square metres of new office space on Horgan's Quay.
According to The Irish Examiner, Horgan's Quay developer, Clarendon Properties and BAM have agreed a deal with Apple, which already employs 6,000 people in two other locations in the city, to take the top three floors of one of its HQ block to initially accommodate 350 to 400 extra employees.
Ms Doherty said that from speaking to office block developers with product to offer in Cork, they remain confident that there will be demand for the 100,000 square metres or so of office accommodation which has or is just about to come on stream, primarily in the Cork Docklands.
“Speaking to developers in the city who have product, what they are saying to me is that it is tenanting and companies still want to have a strong presence so that their people can still come together even though it may be more a blended solution,” she said.
“I think in terms of space, companies will probably be a little more generous to their staff in terms of space so we will see the same footprint but with different usage so there may be more meeting space but there will be a different blend of solution.”
Ms Doherty said that she would not be pessimistic for the future take-up of office space in Cork which will continue to attract major companies who will want to have a physical presence in Ireland as an English speaking country within the European Union.
“Yes, Covid has had an impact on how people work but we are not talking about what happened in in Cork when Fords and Dunlops closed down in the 1980s or what happened in the last recession - we have a really strong market share in big clusters of companies and that’s not going to change.
“And those companies will attract others - years ago, for example, when you did a degree in IT in Cork, you went to Apple or EMC whereas now there are 19 companies in Cork in that space and it’s the same with the life sciences so we have really strong clusters that will attract people.”
While most of the 100,000 or square metres of office space in planning has been built out to date, some developments remain to be completed including two blocks being developed by O'Callaghan Properties at Navigation Square on Kennedy Quay and the iconic Prism Building near Parnell Place.
Ms Doherty instanced the Prism Building, which is being developed by Tower Holdings, who are also building a 34 storey hotel on the Port of Cork site, as an example of an office development being tailored for a diverse market, aiming to attract smaller companies to a city centre location.
"The Prism is Tower Holdings Group's first development in Cork - it takes its inspiration from the famous Flatiron Building in New York - it's a 15 storey high development and will act as a gateway between the city centre and the new business district in the docklands.
“It will comprise 6,000 square metres of office space designed for small occupation and will cater for the bespoke demands of foreign direct investment companies and local blue chip indigenous companies and speaking to the developers, they are fully committed to it.”