Workspace

Where next for flexible offices and what can heritage do to help?

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5/28/2021

By Clare Bailey, research director, Savills

Much has been reported about office life being different when we return to the workplace with greater flexibility and design at the forefront of driving this change, but for flexible offices are we also going to see a difference in the types of office buildings being occupied as the hybrid working model takes shape?

Workther’s Flexmark report states that 27% of those surveyed think suburban and regional growth will be the biggest change in flexible space going forward, with areas outside London already beginning to respond to demand. It is this trend of businesses combining suburban working with more conventional city office working that is likely to be the catalyst for a greater variety of flexible office spaces becoming available. Cafes and pubs have started to open up their space for start-ups and freelancers in order to diversify their business stream. In fact, Young's pubs have introduced ‘Work from Pub’ packages throughout their chains that offers convenient and cost-effective short-term desk space during quiet times of the day. Each participating pub is fully equipped with free Wi-Fi, charging points, quiet spaces and, crucially, unlimited tea and coffee. Never before has the pub been so productive.

A drive for more suburban working will also help to support local communities. Hatcham House, a community workspace hub in South London is a prime example. Set in a beautifully restored building, the ethos of the space is coined as ‘combining the focus of a corporate workplace with the convenience and joy of community belonging.’

The use of more historic buildings in suburban areas that offer some form of heritage and cultural belonging not only help to reinvigorate communities but according to Historic England, links to a place with history can improve a sense of wellbeing - creating spaces that enhance the physical and mental health and wellbeing and connect us to our community. In fact, a new survey from Millennials and Historic Preservation: A Deep Dive Into Attitude and Values, shows nearly all (97%) of millennials, the nation's largest generation, appreciate the value of historic preservation. In line with this 'Pandemic generation' (old enough to be conscious of the full impact of COVID-19 on their lives, but not old enough to remember life before 9/11) also put value on the history of the building they work in.

In the 1990s, many old high street bank buildings were converted to wine bars; their banking halls offering high, vaulted ceilings and period settings. However, in 2021, we are seeing the repurposing of some of these more historical buildings that no longer serve a purpose, into flexible offices, which is playing a vital part in helping many high streets to survive. The Tea Building, in Shoreditch, London, was a very early example of this. Lipton tea vacated the building in the 1970s and with a long period of under-use, the property was bought in 2001 by Derwent London, who transformed the building into a flexible and studio space. What Derwent demonstrated was that older buildings can be adapted and re-purposed for modern work. Other key examples across London include the Old Baths community facility owned by Hackney Council, which will provide much-needed studio and co-workspace for

businesses, creatives and the community. In addition, The Record Store is an exciting redevelopment that provides over 60,000 sq ft of office and studio space in the heart of Hatton Garden, Farringdon. This landmark Central London redevelopment will spread over six floors and house a brand new co-working lounge and stylish restaurant.

The trend has also grown outside of London with The Tramshed, located in a Grade II-listed building on the edge of Grangetown that was once the old tram depot for West Cardiff, now offering a 1000 capacity multipurpose performance venue, 30 live/work residential apartments, co-working / flexible office space/tech hub, plus a Boutique 40-seat cinema and The Waiting Room café/bar. The Guild, in Bath, is another great example, offering 3,500 sq ft of creative workspace and meeting rooms, housed in the Grade I listed former Tech College at the Guildhall.

As the trend for repurposing existing buildings into flexible office space continues, we are also seeing former libraries and workingmen’s clubs, which have historically been left empty, redeveloped to create co-working space. Bethnal Green Library is currently being upgraded with a start-up workspace and gallery. Flexible office space has even found a home in former industrial premises, which have been re-worked to offer high-quality space, yet still retaining their industrial vibe. Turner Prize-winning practice, Assemble, converted former manufacturing premises in Walthamstow into Blackhorse Workshop — a public, shared workshop for local makers and craftspeople.

There is no doubt that the flexible office space of the future will have a vital part to play at the heart of local communities not only in terms of the service it offers but also what it can do to help revitalise and re-use existing space that holds cultural and historic significance. Fundamentally, these spaces will need to be comfortable with a nod to community and collaboration. Local town centres could hold the key to providing these healthy, flexible, convenient workplaces, particularly for residents of the new homes delivered in these more suburban local authorities.