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RIBA Future Trends February 2023: Architects’ optimism on workload spikes despite fears current EU trading arrangement harming profession

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published the latest Future Trends survey results, a monthly report of the business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession.

23 March 2023

In February 2023, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index recovered by a remarkable 16 points to +5, showing the first signs of optimism in months. The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive (+3). However, architects reported more pessimism about the impact of the current EU trading arrangement on their work than when first asked in 2021, with one in five architectural practices expecting a negative effect on their coming workload.  

Since last month, the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index has jumped by 16 points to +5. This is the first time the index has been positive since July 2022. Over the next three months, 28% of practices expect workloads to increase, 24% expect them to decrease, and 48% expect them to stay the same.  

The outlook among small practices (one to 10 staff) has risen 14 points to a zero (0) balance, indicating workloads are expected to hold steady. Medium and large practices (11+ staff) are increasingly optimistic, with a combined figure of +31, and large practices (50+ staff) tending to be most positive about future work. 

The outlook for future work has improved across the country. London is the only region with a negative view of future work (-2) after falling into negative territory last month. The south of England rose by 22 points to zero (0) after seven months with a negative outlook. The Midlands and East Anglia (+21), the north of England (+14), and Wales and the west (+7) all saw their outlooks improve this month.  

All monitored work sectors remained negative, but three of the four sectors have improved. The private housing sector (-1) improved again this month, rising by 9 points. The sector has risen by 20 points since the recent low point of -21 in November 2022. In February, the commercial sector (-2) rose by 5 points, the community sector (-9) rose by 4 points, and the public sector (-11) fell by 2 points.  

In terms of staffing: 

The RIBA Future Trends Permanent Staffing Index remains positive, albeit with a slight softening of outlook, falling by 2 points to +3.  

  • 10% of practices expect to employ fewer permanent staff over the coming three months, 13% expect to employ more, and 77% expect no change. 
  • The expectation for increased staffing levels is concentrated in medium and large practices, and outside London and the South.  
  • Medium and large practices (+26 combined) remain positive about recruiting staff. 
  • Small practices (-2) anticipate decreasing staffing numbers. 
  • Staffing outlook continued to improve in most regions. Staffing outlook in London (-2) returned to negative territory and the South of England (-10) has also deteriorated since January. Other regions are faring better. Wales and the west (+7), the north of England (+7), and the Midlands and East Anglia (+10) still expect growing staff levels. 
  • The Temporary Staffing Index (-2) rose by 4 points.  
  • Levels of personal underemployment have fallen slightly this month, with 18% reporting personal underemployment, compared to 20% in January.  

Our results show a deteriorated opinion of the current UK-EU trading arrangement and a widely shared view that this is hampering the profession.  

In February 2023, 20% more architects expect the UK's current EU trading arrangement to lead to a decrease in workload rather than an increase. Only 1% see it leading to an increase in workload. 

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis Adrian Malleson said:   

“EU trading arrangements aside, February's RIBA Future Trends report marks a welcome return to positive territory for the RIBA Future Trends Workload Index.  

It has been a difficult and uncertain few months for many practices, so recent market stability is welcome. With a recession still on the cards for the UK and ongoing obstacles in the profession, the coming months are likely to remain challenging. 

However, the near term prospects for architects look better than they have been for several months. Confidence is growing, with some practices reporting an increase in enquires, more new commissions, and an uplift in clients deciding to move ahead with projects. 

We will continue to report our findings to the government and work with other built environment bodies to monitor trends.” 

Notes to editors: 

  1. Media contact:  
  2. Completed by a mix of small, medium and large firms based on a geographically representative sample, the RIBA Future Trends Survey was launched in January 2009 to monitor business and employment trends affecting the architects’ profession. 
  3. 237 practices took part in the February 2023 survey.  
  4. The survey is carried out by the RIBA in partnership with the Fees Bureau. Results of the survey, including a full graphical analysis, are published each month
  5. The definition for the workload balance figure is the difference between those expecting more work and those expecting less. A negative figure means more respondents expect less work than those expecting more work. This figure is used to represent the RIBA Future Trends workload index. 
  6. The definition for the staffing balance figure is the difference between those expecting to employ more permanent staff in the next three months and those expecting to employ fewer. A negative figure means more respondents expect to employ fewer permanent staff. This figure is used to represent the RIBA Future Trends staffing index. 
  7. To participate in the RIBA Future Trends Survey, please contact the RIBA Practice Department on 02073073749 or email The survey takes approximately five minutes to complete each month, and all returns are independently processed in strict confidence. 
  8. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a global professional membership body that serves its members and society in order to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. Follow @RIBA on Twitter for regular updates. 

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