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  • How can we make workplace more accessible?

  • Should we balance uses between city centres and peripheral towns and neighbourhoods?

  • What happens at the ground floor of High Streets if it’s not purely retail?

The pandemic has thrown up many questions that challenge the status quo of the city centre office zone. It has also magnified some of the fundamental equality issues facing society.

Rising unemployment levels disproportionately impact women both from restrictions on female dominated sectors like education, physical retail and hospitality, and the increase in care demands for children and other relatives. Worldwide, women are responsible for 75 percent of all unpaid care and domestic work and this brings with it significant demands that lead to time poverty, restricting the ability to commute to city centre workplaces where many more prestigious job opportunities are based.

Over the past 18 months we have become more aware of how inaccessible the city centre office can be without the technology and infrastructure to work remotely. This necessity is not new; disabled people have campaigned for decades for better remote working access due to often inaccessible public transport and historic buildings in city centres. By approaching access through the lens of the social model of disability, the focus is placed on the barriers created by the built environment; and this extends from small design details in buildings all the way to urban planning.

As design and construction professionals we shape the built environment around us. Decision making and design has to come from diverse perspectives. We see all too often the adverse impact of design that has not considered all users.

Now is the time for change. As we begin to return to workplaces it is crucial to consider how we rebuild some of the structures that have fuelled the inequalities noted. Making workplaces more accessible and local to diverse communities removes some of the barriers associated with the city centre, and creates access to a wider talent pool, a critical consideration for the many sectors suffering from skills shortages.

With mounting pressure to meet future employees’ expectations of issues such as diversity and inclusion, social responsibility and purpose, along with growing movements like B-Corp, businesses must appraise their premises locations in terms of access for potential employees and opportunity to give back to society through local regeneration. 

Workplace should be considered as a solution in the recovery of high streets and local communities. This concept is a key component of our work with The Scottish Government on A Vision for the High Street. Workplace will play a far greater role in town centre regeneration than previous decades and we should all be open to this change.

When repurposing the abundance of existing vacant retail space on our local high streets, introducing workplace has many advantages. Research tells us that living in close proximity to derelict and vacant space has a negative impact on wellbeing and mental health. Repurposing retail for workplace makes visible a vast array of job opportunities to young people of all backgrounds as they move around their local area, increasing the ‘see it to be it’ effect.

Threesixty are currently designing a new studio space in the centre of Inverness which will combine two ground floor high street units. The result will be a workplace that directly communicates our work to the outside world and provides space for friends to visit at lunch or our staff’s children to do their homework after school. The ground floor of new commercial and residential developments may often be the least profitable floorplate, so there is real opportunity to refocus this space as a truly accessible extension of public urban life encompassing retail, workplace, leisure and community space.  

In 2020 Threesixty supported me to enter the BCO NextGen Design Competition: The Post Pandemic Workplace. The entry, titled ‘Scattered Space’, went on to be one of the winning projects. The piece is an inclusive, people-first vision for workplace environments in 2025 told through the experiences of three fictional characters. Watch the presentation at the judging event here.

Using the Scattered Space model city-based organisations build an agile network of peripheral premises to best serve their employees’ lifestyles. Businesses will retain a city centre Hive connected to several High Street Hubs. The Hubs offer a local, private, secure workspace within vacant retail units; the missing link between working from home and the city centre office. Employees of medium and large city centre businesses tend to cluster in peripheral towns and neighbourhoods so the leasing and operation of the Hubs are flexible to be able to relocate in response to employee numbers and locations.

In 2025, local Hubs will reduce the need for excessive commuter travel, allowing people to conveniently walk or wheel to work. Adaptive reuse of the abundant vacant space on our high streets is the only sustainable approach. Reducing mass travel into the city, Scattered Space networks will lower carbon emissions, enhance personal work/life balance and reinvigorate town centres across the country.

 We are looking forward to taking the ideas within Scattered Space forward in further research this year, both internally within our practice and in collaborative projects with like-minded organisations. Our collaboration with Construction Scotland Innovation Centre for the NearHome pilot project puts the concepts into practice within a sustainable, open source, modular solution. 

‘To re-establish the connection between love and work…scatter workplaces throughout the areas where people live’ (A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein).

Gina Colley

Gina Colley

Architect

As a general design enthusiast, Gina loves taking on a new challenge. Particularly interested in accessible and inclusive design, she always ensures a people-first approach. From modelmaking to DIY, she loves making things by hand, approaching everything with positivity and creativity.