But although they were forced to keep offices open that lay empty, the help from government never came.

In recent weeks, however, signs of life have returned to the flexible workspace market. So is the sector out of the woods – or are just some parts of it staging a recovery?

The consensus is that it is too soon to call but that there are some promising signs.

“I think it’s still very early days, but there is certainly cause for optimism,” says Jane Sartin, chief executive of the Flexible Space Association.

“The prime minister’s statement [encouraging people to start returning to offices] added a degree of clarity and it was a good step forward. People are starting to plan ahead a bit more now. Schools going back will be the next big step.”

She adds that members of the trade association have reported a significant increase in requirements in recent weeks and that there are three noticeable trends.

“There are corporates wanting elements of flexible space to add to existing offices,” she says. “Then you have SMEs seeking one-to-two-person offices because new businesses are always born out of difficult times.

“And the third trend, which we’re seeing a lot more of, is businesses looking to move to a regional hub-and-spoke model.”

The Office Group (TOG) co-founder Charlie Green says enquiries have increased significantly in the past four weeks and are also starting to convert into in-person viewings.

“It’s very encouraging,” he says. adding that demand is not just coming from companies seeking flexible space as a response to the impact of coronavirus.

“More enquiries are coming from corporates and companies coming from traditional leases than we’ve seen before,” he says.

Sam Dawson, global head of flexible transactions at Kontor, says it too has seen a steep increase in activity. “There’s been a change from general enquiries to genuine requirements,” he says. “We’re getting back to the numbers of enquiries that we were seeing before, and we’re [at] multiple viewings a week now.”

Growing appetite

Dawson adds that the average size of requirement from businesses looking for flexible workspace desks has increased from pre-Covid levels, suggesting appetite for the product has grown during lockdown.

“Typically, we’re looking for between 40 and 150 workstations regularly at the moment, which is higher than the average before coronavirus.”

Despite the ongoing market challenges, TOG is looking to tap into growing appetite from companies for flexible workspace.

“We have one eye on growth opportunities moving forward, but we’re taking our time and trying to understand the market,” says Green. “We are watching more than doing at the moment, but when we’re sure that demand will significantly increase and we will be attracting a wider market, then there will be a very exciting opportunity to grow.”

He adds that he anticipates forming more partnerships with landlords “who want access to the flex sector, but don’t necessarily have the operational expertise”.

However, he warns, while there is a sense of cautious optimism, there will still be pain to come for some businesses. “Events like this tend to flush out the companies that aren’t on solid foundations,” he elaborates. “Those that are will make it through, but even then it is still painful. I’m an optimist by nature, so I’m confident we’ll trade through this, but I think everyone has some pain still to come this year.”

In short, businesses are not out of the woods yet and even for those that are heading the right way, there could be significant obstacles in their path.