2016 could be the first year that European office employment levels surpass the previous peak of 2008, according to Colliers International’s latest research ‘EMEA Offices: Is Flexibility the Future?’.

The report shows that office-based employment levels in the EU have grown by 5 million, representing a 4.3 per cent increase over the last 10 years and surpassing the previous peak of 2008.

“An increase of only 4.3 per cent may seem marginal,” said Guy Douetil, Head of EMEA Corporate Solutions for Colliers International “yet, if you take into account the significant impacts of the trend towards outsourcing and offshoring in the EU, the global financial crisis from 2008 to 2012, and the impact of austerity on both the public and private sectors, the outlook for office employment in the EU is actually a positive one.”

The research shows the extent to which outsourcing of services has had a positive impact on certain areas of the EU, including South-Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics, which all reported growth of between six and 15 per cent, albeit off a low base. The report also highlights that the UK & Ireland have seen significant growth in office-based employment in the last 10 years, reporting a 9.8 per cent increase between 2005 and 2015.

Damian Harrington, Head of EMEA Research, said: “This growth has been driven by the ability of these liberal economies to react to change, re-balance and attract private sector investment. It also reflects their more flexible approach to employment, with both contractual and self-employment increasing post global financial crisis in order to help spark an increase in employment. There has also been positive growth in the Nordics for similar reasons, with the tech sector playing a major part in the transformation of these markets.”

However, the report clearly shows that there are winners and losers in the EU when it comes to employment growth. In Western Europe for example, growth has been far more muted, showing only a 1.8 per cent increase in office-based employment. And in Southern Europe, there has been negative office-based jobs growth since 2005, with a decrease of 4.6 per cent.

Harrington added: “Germany has recovered but has been held back by a lack of capacity in the labour force. Whilst, France is in a similar muted growth position, but has been held back further by an inability to increase flexibility into employment.

“In Southern Europe, jobs growth has been more problematic. Spain and Italy have been hamstrung by restrictive and inflexible labour laws and both of these major economies, alongside smaller economies of Portugal and Greece have unwanted youth unemployment rates above 40 per cent. The good news however is that, due to regulatory reforms making it easier for firms to operate more flexibly, a turnaround for these Southern European counties is in the offing.”

Greek market
In Greece, outsourcing of services has become an increasing trend during the last few years. In an effort to minimize risks by relying on the expertise of external partners and to reduce costs from the release of space from facilities, we witnessed an increasing number of companies are following the proven successful example of leading markets and are turning to outsourcing departments such as HR, Marketing, IT, Finance. 

As with the rest of Europe, Greece as well has witnessed a significant increase in other forms of flexible employment. Particularly after 2009, part-time jobs, sub-contracts and temporary fixed-term positions have taken over the Greek market as an attempt for companies to be able to adjust to the economic reality and to establish a more favorable business framework. However, these alternative ways of employment haven’t had the expected rejuvenated impact to the Greek employment, which was more a result of the overall economy.

In terms of space flexibility, until recently Greece was set to working in a traditional office base environment. However, we are now slowly starting to observe a more positive turn to new ways of working. “As market fundamentals and a shift towards shared-desking drive lower space requirements of approximately 10 sqm per workspace (until recently in Greece 14 sqm), this could see modern office space vacancy/availability rising across a number of markets, without the need for any new supply”, stated Ana Vukovic, MD of Greece & Serbia.

International companies are engaging the trend of desk sharing and reducing space. “Our experience in integrated advisory and space planning services for office occupiers in different markets” continues Ana Vukovic “shows that working practices differ markedly by country and corporate culture. Still, what the office markets in Greece, Serbia and Montenegro have in common, which is also the reality in core European markets, is that office occupiers are set for major space saving in the foreseeable future”. 

Colliers International report concludes that flexibility, collaboration and an ability to embrace new ways of working cultures in the workplace is key to the growth potential of EU countries. As more mobile and technologically savvy employees come into the workforce, it is expected that the orientation towards new ways of working will continually improve across Europe.