Despite the threat of an impending triple-dip recession, the UK's economic mood appears to be lightening.
On a nation-wide scale, the country's services sector is helping to bolster economic growth which is in turn dampening fears of a return to recession. A key indicator of output, the Markit/CIPS survey shows that the services industry grew more quickly than expected in February, beating forecasts and recording the best results since September 2012.
The services sector is the biggest element of GDP, and due in part to its performance, many forecasters now believe that the economy is set to grow marginally over the first quarter of 2013, which would technically keep the UK out of recession.
According to various confidence surveys, these results appear to be generating a boost in business optimism. As part of its monthly Business Trends report, accountancy firm BDO recorded a slight uptick in optimism, while the FSB recorded an increase in confidence among SMEs from its 'Voice of Small Business' Index.
Such sentiments were also echoed by flexible workspace operators during the latest BCA Board meeting, held on Thursday 7th March. While it is apparent that there is still an overall feeling of caution, BCA Executive Director Jennifer Brooke noted signs of 'increased confidence' among business centres and their clients, and a general wave of positivity rippling across the SME sector.
The flexible workspace industry, part of the services industry, is also showing signs of promise. Outside of London, there is a general sentiment that the UK's workspace industry is 'rumbling along' with seeds of growth beginning to sprout in various parts of the UK.
As a case in point, global workspace supplier Regus recorded a 72% rise in full-year profit during 2012, and saw its share price rise as demand increased for its range of work environments. While some of its growth and future expansion plans are focused on the U.S. and Asia, the company has placed renewed interest in the UK - and is helping to highlight the value of flexible workspace given its planned takeover of MWB Business Exchange.
The acquisition process, during which Regus added an extra £25.6 million to its original £40m bid to thwart a counter-bid by Pyrrho Investments, has placed Regus close to securing MWB Business Exchange, its nearest UK rival. If successful, the company plans to add all 61 UK-based MWB business centres to its portfolio as part of a wider target to launch another 350 worldwide business centres in 2013.
By 2014, the company hopes to control 2,000 flexible workspace locations globally. Investec Securities analyst Andrew Gibb commented that the company is 'on the front-foot for growth' and projecting a 'sense of confidence'. While Regus is a specialist case study given its global spread, its confidence is expected to create a ripple effect to other workspace operators and industry suppliers across the UK.
Regus is one of several flexible workspace providers that are investing heavily in changing workspace trends. Businesses of all sizes are adapting to a more mobile workplace, and are beginning to adopt alternative working methods such as drop-in business lounges, shared office space and coworking locations.
With this in mind, Microsoft expert Daniel Langton recently claimed that 'anywhere working' methods could save the UK economy a phenomenal £45.3bn in lost productivity every year, and due to the positive effects on employee motivation and loyalty, said it could also reduce absenteeism by a further £