Despite the proliferation of remote working, one-third of regional hubs such as enterprise centres and co-working spaces have lost tenants permanently.

This is according to a new nationwide survey by the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC).

In what is another barometer of the calamity caused by Covid-19, the survey results show that while 84pc of enterprise centres and remote working hubs have tenant businesses that have closed temporarily, a worrying 33pc have tenants who have gone to the wall permanently.

“With home working establishing itself, we foresee city-based companies providing budgets for remote workers to find a desk close to home”

The survey also found that two-thirds of all centres are under pressure to provide tenants with financial relief and worryingly one-in-seven still have inadequate broadband in place to enable remote working. 

The survey found:

  • 1 -in-3 centres have tenants that have closed permanently (33pc)
  • Over 4-in-5 centres have tenants that have temporarily closed (84pc)
  • Nearly 5-in-7 centres have unused co-working facilities (68pc)
  • 98pc of centres have seen a decline in revenue with a quarter suffering a drop of between 50-80pc in revenues
  • 92pc have a decrease in occupancy

This has led to a call to action for how the regional hubs could be employed in the “new normal” as restrictions ease.

Putting regional hubs to work post-Covid

Large group of people at an event.

NACEC members meeting at Galway Technology Centre in February.

But there is a silver lining potentially for regional hubs as many businesses and public bodies realise that remote working will be the new norm and the vast office footprint of the past will be significantly reduced.

NACEC, which directly supported 1,800 businesses employing 5,500 people before the pandemic, found that their member enterprise centres, along with other hubs operating in the sector, could potentially have in excess of 10,000 vacant places for use by businesses including SMEs and multinationals.

Facilities come in the form of hot desks, digital labs, maker spaces, fab labs, kitchens and wet labs which can help generate a new generation of lean start-up companies and existing rural SMEs as well as be a significant and attractive resource for multinationals and the civil service to allow increased remote working opportunities for their employees.

NACEC has calculated it would take a dedicated fund of just €5m investment in the sector to help enterprise centres and co-working hubs to adapt their facilities/services to get their tenants / external clients back to work, and find more creative ways to support the communities they serve, such as. remote working for the wider community and deliver relevant services to their viable tenants/clients.

The study found that 63pc of centres see opportunities to increase parts of their operation and increase co-working capacity as many people newly-introduced to working from home find it less productive and socially isolating as well as being frustrated with broadband quality.

83pc of centres responded to the crisis by providing free facilities to community voluntary and business groups to support the production of PPE and foodbank services as well as free peer support, mentoring and online training for business and community organisations.

“We are ready to do our bit in assisting the country and its regions to support Irish business and create jobs post-pandemic,” said Gary O’Meara, chair of NACEC and CEO of Meath Enterprise.

“The current crisis has shown us that flexible working will rise in popularity and enterprise centres and hubs have already been to the fore in providing innovative and low threshold access to time-share facilities and office space as part of a post-COVID-19 restart and acceleration programme. Through combining access to space and equipment with specialist training and development programmes, they could support start-ups and SMEs with low-cost entrepreneurship business models and work more closely with remote-friendly corporates.”

O’Meara continued: “The crisis has brought remote working into the mainstream, and it increasingly accepted as a realistic proposition by many employers and employees who previously may not have been open to the workability of remote as a viable alternative. We see our case and offer strengthened in that regard. We envisage co-working will increase as businesses downsize to reduce costs. 

“With home working establishing itself, we foresee city-based companies providing budgets for remote workers to find a desk close to home. However, a small number of hubs are struggling to succeed and need financial support to offset the current drop in incomes,” he said.

Pictured at top: Gary O’Meara, chair of NACEC and CEO of Meath Enterprise

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 19 May, 2020

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