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Landlords Share Blame For Manchester's Slow Return To Work

Landlord social distancing protocols are helping to hold back the return to work as Manchester City Council plots a new course for the city centre.

Manchester’s office market is experiencing a slow and patchy post-summer return to work. Analysis of 100 city-centre businesses surveyed across sectors showed that the smallest companies have the largest percentage of employees back in the office. Businesses with 1 to 10 employees have 63% back at work. The survey reveals 45% expect to return to work in September and October, but as many as 41% are either postponing a return to city centre desks until January or do not know when they will return.

A council document points to “landlord building guidance and protocol” as one of several factors holding back the return to the office. Landlords’ response is listed among other “key concerns” including commuting, exposure to COVID in the workplace, childcare and corporate policy to working from home.

Research quoted by the council document shows the effect a return to the office could have on city centre amenities and retail. Of those who have returned to work 86% are using coffee shops, 58% using retail, 42% using restaurants and 40% using bars.

Without a return to the office city centre retail and leisure footfall is severely down, despite a very modest rise in the last week of August, the same document reveals. Overall, city-centre footfall is down 38%, but this ranges from 67% down in Exchange Square, a higher-value area used by office workers, and as little as 26% down in more utilitarian Market Street.

The council’s answer is for the Manchester economy to focus on sectors likely to bounce back fastest, like digital and technology.

A new report, the latest in a series from recently installed Strategic Director for Growth and Development Louise Wyman, points to quick wins in fast-recovering sectors. The council will then use those as the basis for appeals for government support.

“The Economic Recovery Plan prioritises ensuring businesses are able to continue to operate in the short term and that investment and development can be kick-started and supported,” the report to councillors said. It places an emphasis on improving digital skills to help improve employment chances.

Bloc (formerly Lowry House), the future of Manchester workspace?

Developers are already answering the call. Lowry House, Bruntwood Workscentral Manchester workspace, is to become Bloc as work begins to revitalise the Marble Street building into what the landlord calls “a productivity-boosting urban oasis”.

The makeover is part of the workspace provider’s £50M Pioneer transformation programme. 

The Bloc rethink will involve technology to monitor and optimise air quality, a state-of-the-art wellness suite — that will host yoga and fitness classes — and a cascading garden in the foyer, with living walls throughout. This will all be introduced as Bruntwood Works aims to bring balance to business.

As part of Bloc’s effort to promote a work-life balance, sleep pods will also be provided to help workers with rest and rejuvenation. 

Renovation works are already underway to develop a ground-floor annex that will include the addition of 180 new flexible desks, 12 new spaces in the coworking studio and 12 modern meeting rooms that have fully integrated high-tech audiovisual equipment. This follows the refurbishment of the serviced suites on the upper floors, which have all been redesigned to mirror the building’s new concept.

Bloc is Bruntwood Works’ third Pioneer building following the transformation of Blackfriars House and 111 Piccadilly in Manchester

“Now more than ever, the flexibility of the space and level of service we provide is crucial in supporting our changed ways of working, particularly as our customers bring their teams back together and return to the office,” Bruntwood Works chief executive Ciara Keeling said.

Completion is due in spring 2021.