Could community based workplaces be a catalyst for high street regeneration?

village masterplan

Commerce is alive with excellent, insightful articles and ideas for this reimagined post lockdown work place. Many addressing the need to work away from the office to de-densify the work place.

Workplace densities and increased rents over the past few decades have meant office space per employee has reduced significantly and many organisations just don’t have spaces large enough to accommodate 100 % occupancy,  even before considering increased distancing.

As such, many of the solutions cited to address the future office, combine office working with some element of home working.

Whilst there are benefits to working from home:

  • ability to complete individual work
  • personal creativity
  • losing the commute
  • sense of being part of a local community
  • flexibility to plan family/personal time around work time…

There are definite downsides:

  • reliance on screen time
  • isolation – lack of social interaction
  • Lack of delineation between home and work
  • poor ergonomics and lack of workplace infrastructure
  • building relationships
  • loss of ‘water-cooler’ opportunities
  • loss of real contact with the business community …

Employees and employers have recognised there are benefits to WFH but there is growing recognition that social interaction and face to face communication is essential for workplace cohesion. Post Lockdown and more long term workplace models provide balance and flexibility. All have some form of home working as a key part of the future workplace.

The reimagined workplace

This is clearly explained in the Woods Bagot study: reimagined workplace.

“The WFH experience will see HOME forming an extension of the WORK more so than ever. The challenge is how to execute this while ensuring organizations have physical time together to build their culture,” the group writes in its white paper titled Where do we work from here?.

The primary focus of this and many other ‘future workplace’ studies is the impact on the office, overlooking perhaps what is actually happening in people’s homes to support effective working.

Home working is only effective when home is fit for purpose – the ironing board as a desk is not an urban myth.

During this period of home working many people working in their rented or childhood bedrooms , those struggling with poor broadband, unfit task chairs that’s even before we touch on home schooling and all that comes with that.

The biggest group this has had most negative impact on are the millennials. The very people whose talent organisations are keen to recruit and retain.  This group, according to McKinsey in their study on employee experience, are the ones looking for meaningful work with variety and support on the job.

The draw back into the workplace is stronger for those missing social interaction and with poor home working settings.

So could it be more effective if it becomes working locally to home?

Community nodes

The Woods Bagot satellite model: a decentralized HQ where people work in smaller satellite community based office closer to home, is of particular interest in developing further.  This model not only provides environmental and work life benefits, but also a much needed lifeline for those struggling to work at home.

Although not suited to all organizations (key to any successful change in the workplace is it supports the personality of the each organisation) but this particular model is something worth exploring further – not just for the benefits for the organisations and employees but for the potential to benefit the struggling high street.

A local high street office

To an architect who has designed many corporate headquarters the correlations between workplace design and urban design are noticeably similar.

The workplace as a ‘village’ is an effective device to explain the make up of a modern office. Primary and secondary circulation, node points, collaboration spaces/ hubs, landscape – sense of community.

By positioning workplace hubs in the heart of the high street or village there is potential to shift the fortunes of the high street and at the same time provide the much needed support services we have come to expect in the workplace gyms, coffee shops, restaurants, dry cleaning services, lifestyle services, green spaces.

With the additional benefit of business owners paying lower out of town rents for their office space.

A positive new chapter for the high street

It’s no secret that with the growth in online shopping the local high streets have been in steady decline over the last decade or so. With vacancies rapidly accelerating  in the last 12 months, many retail units, both larger and smaller, are standing empty.

Worryingly the government has raised the idea of allowing conversion of office to residential under permitted development, risking stagnating the high street and creating poor housing stock. With robust objections to this from the president of RIBA, thankfully the proposal has gone quiet, for now.

More positively recent and temporary changes to planning made the change from retail to office easier, as they now fall into the same planning classification E, making this change much easier to navigate.

Numbers of retail units will naturally reduce somewhat, adapting in their offer; community based, showrooms with on line back up and artisanal/local offerings.

I predict that along with the hub offices other workplaces will spring up closer to home;

  • Start ups – 2020 was the highest year on record for start ups
  • Serviced office spaces or hubs – WeWork model or community led
  • Hybrid working office, retail, workshop – smaller companies sharing spaces

Around these new work villages will spring the coffees shops, gyms and ie the infrastructure of the corporate office on the high street.

To make this work landlords do need to be persuaded to think more flexibly about their rental agreements in support of green shoot companies. We can live in hope.

The idea is not for the high street to become a corporate bubble but to highlight the opportunity to kick start regeneration, breathe life into the local high street and ultimately benefit the community.  Dovetailing into recent government policy for the high street.

Government funding

In December 2020  The Government announced £830 million funding boost for high streets.

Funding has been identified from the Future High Streets Fund to help 72 areas in England to support recovery from the pandemic and help transform underused town centres into vibrant places to live, work and shop

£830 million funding boost for high streets – GOV.UK (

Additionally The High Street Heritage Action Zone programme will deliver £95 million of funding via Historic England. More than 60 heritage high streets

£80 million boost to towns – GOV.UK (

A symbiotic future for the high street and workplace

Although this funding is a significant contribution to the regeneration of the high street, it is limited and already earmarked for named high streets across the uk.

With the lessons learned post lockdown and the re considered workplace. There is a fantastic opportunity for a significant number of employers to create purpose designed satellite hubs.

Not an altruistic pipe dream but an achievable goal.

Satellite working closer to home in hubs, will save on rent, support flexible working, improve workplace community and in doing so has the potential to be the catalyst for the reenergising of the high street.

In short this is perfect timing and a perfect fit.