Could flexible workspace save the UK high-street?

Flexible workspace

It is not just the COVID-19 pandemic that has triggered significant changes to the UK high-street as we know it. From 2011-2019 data already showed a 10% decline in high-street footfall, as bricks and mortar retailers felt the impact of the increasing shift towards online shopping. 

However, neither this evolution, nor the more acute impact of the pandemic, mark the ‘death of the high-street’. This is simply the beginning of a new era for commercial centres. One innovative way that retail landlords are already beginning to adapt to this changing landscape is by transforming their assets into flexible workspace, a model which is in high demand from tenants. 

A changing workforce embracing flexible workspace:

A survey of over 3,000 workers reveals that less than one in ten would like a full return to the office once restrictions are fully eased. However, 78% said they would like to be in an office for up to two days a week. Therefore, the opportunity to work in a flexible workspace that is designed to provide employees with a variety of spaces, services and ways to work is more appealing to many workers than a traditional office. 

It’s little wonder then that a range of landlords are looking to transform their space into more useable and useful workspace, giving it a whole new lease of life and flexible workspaces in towns and city centres allow people to work with ease from the heart of where they live. 

Why retail space? 

For landlords in local hubs, pivoting to flex workspace presents some attractive offerings. High-street retail dwellings are in the perfect location for flex workspace – already set up with good transport links to the city centre, many of these large dwellings have plenty of nearby amenities and local workers eager to escape home offices. 

Importantly for landlords, flex space is also more reliable. While declining footfall was inevitable and increasing before COVID-19, the demand for flexible office space was conversely expanding at a growth rate of 11%. 

What are the hurdles to consider?

When transforming a retail building into a flexible workspace, it’s important to consider what makes a suitable office environment, as this is rarely the same as what makes a suitable retail space. From natural light to consistent WiFi, it is vital that landlords embracing a change, have these critical elements in place. 

In addition to technology, supporting workers’ wellbeing is a key priority. Niki Fuchs, Managing Director of Office Space in Town believes that flexible workspace must be “conducive to positive job satisfaction and overall wellbeing”. The incorporation of social space, cafes, restaurants and even creches are all facilities that support workers’ wellbeing. 

Kinder to workers, kinder to the environment

Giving workers the opportunity to return to a more local, flexible office environment is not only positive for the high-street and retail landlords, it has wider benefits for society as a whole. 40% of adults have reported a decline in their mental health when working from home for long periods of time, with 37% admitting to finding it hard to wind down following a day of home working. Having spaces on local high streets that workers can escape to for short periods offers the best of both worlds for post-pandemic working. 

This approach could also be a new tool in the fight against climate change, cutting down lengthy and often unnecessary commutes. According to the Suburban Economic Study, allowing people to work closer to home could save an average of 411,000 commuting days per year by 2029 –the same as 65 transatlantic flights between London and New York every year.

Converting retail assets into flex workspace has the potential to rebuild reliable income for retail landlords, rejuvenate UK highstreets and facilitate a happier and more autonomous workforce. Not to mention aiding in the reduction of carbon emissions during a pivotal moment in human history. In the post-COVID-19 world, this could truly be the face of a new working culture, not just in the UK but globally.

Author: Richard Morris, director at technologywithin