It’s been a chaotic year. Our routines have been turned on their heads and life has been at a standstill. Like most of us, landlords have been thinking ‘what’s next?’
You will have heard much discussion about the future role of the office. Coupled with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast on unemployment reaching 6.5%, it is clear that as in the recession of 2007 to 2009, there are challenges ahead — but there are huge opportunities if you are willing to think outside the box and take a risk.
I work with a lot of landlords and landowners to help them diversify and transform their offer. Like many of us, they had been coasting along without needing to radically change their offer — ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ — which is a great strategy so long as it is working. But challenging times call for drastic measures.
With businesses falling into bankruptcy, or consolidating what they have to keep afloat, landlords have been left with vacant space. So, what do we do with it?
To me the answer is clear, and the government has half nailed it with the slogan ‘build back better’, to which I would add ‘…together’. What I mean by this is that prosperity at this time requires give and take, and by empowering or creating opportunities we provide both parties with the ability to flourish.
I have recently worked on Worting House, an incredible space in the Hampshire countryside. It is glorious, and for the past 30 years it has provided office solutions for businesses to thrive. It has ample office space, co-working spaces and meeting rooms along with the mod-cons needed for a business.
But what makes its special is partnerships with local businesses. For example, the coffee shop is run by a local entrepreneur and not by the centre itself, and this partnership approach has allowed both parties to succeed.
Another example of how Worting House allows local enterprise to flourish is its plans for a nursery on site. If, like me, you are a parent, you’ll understand the importance of childcare, and this service will unlock enterprise especially from women — recent PwC research shows a humongous £6trn would be actualised if women in the UK were able to work as flexibly as their counterparts in Sweden.
This thinking is very much in line with Henry Ford, whose approach after the Great Depression of the 1920s was to create industry that paid employees handsomely and therefore drove custom. By creating opportunities for people, they were able to live well and buy his cars.
Applying Fordism today calls for landlords to work with local enterprise to ensure there is space to flourish. Customers that grow with you, whose DNA originated in your space, will be loyal to the landlords that gave them that chance.
Co-working breeds just such business-to-business opportunities. I’ve seen it for myself through workspace provider Venture X, whose clients work with one another as a consequence of sharing their space. Creativity breeds opportunity, which is why landlords are continuing to shift towards this model.
Zoe Ellis-Moore is founder of Spaces to Places