Landlord flexibility and adaptable workspace supports businesses back into premises and recovery from Covid-19

Adaptable business space and flexible landlords are laying the roots of opportunity for growth and bounce-back from the pandemic as businesses return to physical premises.

The Real Estate Live UK webinar ‘British Independent Business in 2021 and Beyond’, held in partnership with Aviva Investors and Barwell Business Park, discussed the evolving commercial landscape emerging from Brexit and COVID-19.

Colin Lawrence-Waterhouse, Asset Manager, Aviva Investors, said: “One message from the businesses we engage with is that adaptation is key, whether to the pandemic, Brexit, or what’s coming down the road, and not just in terms of business itself but how staff work and operate, the equipment they use and from our side, real estate – how will the property flex as the business does?”

Eight businesses joined Barwell Business Park in 2020 – a 10-year record – driven by growth in the e-commerce sector and businesses changing their operations as lockdown continued.

Barwell Business Park’s flexible leases and high specification refurbishments proved to be pull factors.

Faster lease timescales ensured companies could quickly move in and start operating, whilst Barwell’s Trade Up initiative enabled businesses to expand on the park without waiting for a lease event. A more flexible approach to alteration works also enabled occupiers to make some non-structural changes to their workspace without the need for a “lengthy, formal landlord consent” process.

Colin added: “Our industrial, hybrid and office units at Barwell are typically left open plan for an incoming business to configure to suit their individual use. Every business operates differently and needs a different layout to operate most effectively. This will be even more essential post-pandemic, as occupiers evaluate their working practices and consider how staff will return to the workplace.”

Lee Manning, Chief Operating Officer, United Business Group, said physical premises remained vital and may evolve.

“If you’re an expanding company, I believe that in a few years’ time you will end up with more office space but it will be a hybrid mix of shared working space and individual pods,” he said. Lee also suggested that for businesses adopting a more standard working from home model, demand may increase for office space rentable by the hour to facilitate meetings or quiet working.

Duncan Brown, Assistant Director of Regeneration, Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, said demand for office space in Kingston was outstripping local supply, and the council was seeking to invest in this area.

A COVID-19 recovery task force has also been established, launching programmes around green recovery and distributing £40million in grants to the borough’s business base – which is 80% micro-companies.

The council has 20 live sensors tracking movement in Kingston town centre to actively support social distancing and is considering closing streets to create more space for people as well as food and beverage vendors.

In terms of town centre retail, Kirsten Henly, Chief Executive, Kingston First, said footfall in Kingston had been outperforming similar centres in Greater London and the UK, thanks to attractive spaces and amenities, and local loyalty from those working from home.

However, she said more work was needed for businesses to recover from the 2020 lockdown, adding: “Independent retailers absolutely need financial support, not just a business rate holiday. We need a fundamental review of business space and that is key to sustainable town centres and the business mix in them.”

Before the pandemic, Kingston upon Thames had a high proportion of residents who left the borough for work.

With working trends likely to change post-lockdown, Andrew Goodacre – CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association, may benefit the borough.

He said: “Many of us are now homeworking, we’ve seen an increase in a greater propensity for local stores and we expect this to continue into 2021 and beyond.”

To watch the session in full, visit Real Estate Live’s YouTube channel. Click here.