Edinburgh can be UK's tech magnet if it shifts office stock into top gear

Edinburgh has a tech sector worth £1.14bn and the city has seen jobs increase over three times the UK average between 2014 and 2017.

August 01, 2018

It's no secret that we've been talking up Edinburgh's tech credentials for a number of years. In fact, there will be many who are tired of hearing how impressive our tech scene is, especially compared to other major UK cities. 

But we can't deny the facts. Edinburgh has a tech sector worth £1.14bn and the city has seen jobs increase over three times the UK average between 2014 and 2017. This is an incredibly exciting time for the city as it transitions from a traditional hub for finance to a digital world-beater. 

In June, our capital city came out on top as the best place for tech companies looking to scale up, access funding, and do business in, according to a Government backed report examining the UK's tech landscape.

In partnership with JLL, The Tech Nation 2018 Report revealed that Edinburgh tech companies had the highest approval rating in the UK when asked to assess how good their city was for "doing business" - a combination of sub factors including access to finance and talent.

Edinburgh's tech community was also more positive than anywhere else in the UK on opportunities to scale up locally. 87% of Edinburgh's tech community rated the opportunities for high growth digital companies to scale up in Edinburgh as positive, followed by London (79%), Birmingham (71%) and Leeds (70%). 

Although 62% of Edinburgh's tech community are satisfied with local access to affordable workspace, one of the main challenges which now faces a burgeoning tech industry in Edinburgh is the room to accommodate continued growth of the sector.

Edinburgh is evidently a great place to be for tech firms and very popular for millennials to move to. Aside from opportunities for growth, access to finance and getting down to business, there is also real value when it comes to the annual cost of running an office, especially when compared with other big UK cities. 

The key issue for Edinburgh is building enough new Grade A offices, and refurbishing existing stock quickly enough to meet this rapid demand as companies are started and continue to grow.

There are speculative Grade A buildings in construction across Scotland, many of which are being built for functionality and with tech occupiers in mind. These include Cadworks in Glasgow, which is expected to be the city's most sustainable building once it completes in 2020. Spanning 94,000 sq ft, it will feature Scotland's first cycle ramp for direct access into the building for those arriving at work on two wheels.

If the way we travel to work has shifted, how we actually work has undergone a revolution in recent years. Email, video conferencing or Skype, home-working and smart phones have altered the concept of nine-to-five working, making the office a much more fluid working environment.

In response, occupiers are being smarter about creating environments that fuel productivity and attract the right talent. Build the right working environment and the office can be a crucial part of your recruitment battle. But get it wrong and it can be a long standing reminder of your under-investment and lack of planning. 

Especially true of Edinburgh, where the technology sector has boomed over recent decades, developing space to accommodate a new generation with different ways of working has been a challenge which developers have met with relish. 

With a myriad of young, ambitious companies in Edinburgh at different stages in their trajectory, demand for flexible space which allow firms to scale up as and when they need it has grown apace. Great examples of this are Codebase, one of Europe's biggest tech incubators, and Spaces Lochrin Square, which offers flexible co-working space in the heart of the capital.

In recent years, corporate occupiers in Edinburgh have also found solutions to make the office relevant - agile workspaces which go beyond the traditional open plan office, to take into consideration how people work in 2018. For example, quiet booths for confidential calls; collaboration areas; relaxation space; hot-desk space with laptop docking stations; dedicated eating spaces; inspirational zones, and so on. 

But this also means stripping back traditional ceiling tiles and dividers to meet modern tastes. Increasingly we're seeing defurbished stock come to the market with exposed services, allowing occupiers to make their own mark.

Once perhaps a mainstay of tech trailblazers alone, these stripped back working environments are also being embraced by the more conventional professional and financial sector businesses, showing that this isn't a fad, but a complete culture change in how we go about our working weeks.

The future is certainly bright for Edinburgh as it transitions from a traditional city into a modern European capital packing a mighty punch - producing some of the most productive and profitable tech employers in the world. 

The momentum is palpable, but if we want to see Edinburgh shift up the gears and really get up to speed, we need an even greater emphasis on nurturing this talented community and building the support mechanisms, and work spaces, for it to continue flourishing.