The quality of the working environment is now playing a major role in recruitment decisions, according to a leading Birmingham office agent.
Ross Bendall, director and head of office agency at Lambert Smith Hampton, says that many companies in the city report that having quality offices can make a real difference when it comes to recruiting the right people.
"In a tight market for recruitment, employers, particularly in the professional sector, are realising that they have to offer a good quality working environment to attract the best," says Mr Bendall, who is based in LSH's Birmingham office.
"This is borne out by the general city wide move to better office accommodation, especially to brand new grade A accommodation, which we have seen professional firms undertake over the past 18 months."
Key moves in the office market last year which underlined this were the relocations to 35,200 sq ft at 134 Edmund Street of Anthony Collins Solicitors from St Phillips Gate and Clarke Willmott from Civic House on Great Charles Street - taking 17,656 sq ft.
"At Lambert Smith Hampton, we also moved into one of the best addresses in town at Interchange Place, and 1 Col-more Square too, soon filled up with professional firms," says Mr Bendall.
Companies are prepared to pay well for such good quality space, he says, adding: "In the cases of Anthony Collins and Clarke Willmott at 134 Edmund Street, they are paying in the order of £26 per sq ft - getting on for double what they were paying for their former premises.
"In addition to recruitment they know that good quality buildings in a prime location will also have a positive impact on their profile and client base."
It is not just the location and look of the building which is key for recruitment, according to Mr Bendall's colleague, Darron Owen, associate director in LSH's building consultancy team, who specialises in managing office fit-outs.
Mr Owen says: "Quality offices are as much about the interiors - spaces where people actually want to be and can happily spend time productively.
"As well as immediate access to the latest modern technology, use of natural light and intelligent artificial lighting systems which can be adjusted to meet the individual requirements of desk-based staff are important.
"Open-plan spaces, with kitchen and leisure areas help internal communication and can also engender a team sprit, while break-out areas meet the need for meeting spaces, privacy and a place for quiet work.
"It is vital to take into account individuals' needs when it comes to designing their workstations, so that they have the tools to perform their jobs, but also so that they feel comfortable doing it.
"Using modern space planning techniques in new buildings means that employ-ees can have the room they need, plus these additional benefits, in less space than in older lower specified buildings. So, while occupiers may be paying a higher headline rent, overall property costs can actually be less."
The experts' comments on the benefits of a good working environment are supported by the publication earlier this month of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment's (Cabe) report Better Places To Work, which found that quality offices can have a positive impact on employees and on business performance.
"Providing a pleasant, professional and convenient place of work can increase staff morale and satisfaction, which in turn can increase productivity and improve recruitment and retention," says Mr Owen, quoting from the report.
He says: "The Cabe report makes the valid point that much of the working population spends spend nearly half of their life in offices, but decent workplaces are still the exception rather than the norm."
In Birmingham, the report singles out the Custard Factory as an example of a vibrant mixed-use development scheme that has acted as a catalyst for the regeneration of the whole Digbeth area and a focus of the media and creative industries in Birmingham.
Mr Bendall agrees, saying: "The Custard Factory is a great example of an out-ofcentre working environment, as it offers everything workers need in one place.
"However, the new office buildings in Birmingham city centre, benefit from their proximity to retail and leisure facilities and to the hub of the public transport network.
"The report is good news for the further development of offices in Birmingham as it actively favours in-town brownfield sites over out-of-town greenfield sites.
"Planners already have the power to insist on design quality and sustainable developments, and this report will help provide specific guidance on future office developments.
"The new grade A space which has been created over the past few years has mark-edly improved the quality of the working environment in Birmingham.
"The challenge for developers is to ensure that the ongoing and future office developments follow the Cabe principles and continue to create first-class working environments."