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 Innovation in space usage is driven not only by use case demands, but availability.  And we can see that availability is increasing.  The general increase in space offered for sublease amid the pandemic is to be expected as companies needed less room with workers being home-based. So we are talking about the reuse of existing built spaces.

Reuse of vacant office space could also give a new lease on life to the neighourhood while supporting the local economy, and enable people to stay close to their choice of living space—all the while helping preserve the social and cultural heritage of a region. We are seeing a mix of health, education, entertainment, leisure, arts and crafts and green spaces. Some old shops could become housing in a mixed use environment.

One of the more interesting leisure examples I have seen recently is an active entertainment area, including an indoor go karting centre, in a former South West London shopping centre in Wandsworth.

Startups that repurpose unused space have seen a surge in usership. Innovative startup companies look to make use of empty offices while employees continue to work elsewhere, including working from home during the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic-oriented trend, driven by businesses downsizing and relocating, is expected to push vacancy rates up in cities, and with incentives also on the rise, this will ultimately put pressure on values. 

Some high street retailers are trying to divest some of the retail space as online shopping causes less footfall. Up to 45 percent of of John Lewis’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street had gotten permisssion in October 2020 from the local council for reuse as office space as the company tries to stem its coronavirus losses and return to profit. Timing on that might not have been so terrific….  But according to a recent BBC article,  the UK has lost 83% of its main department stores in the five years since the collapse of the BHS chain. The figure highlights the extent of the upheaval in the High Street as the Covid pandemic sped up changes in shopping habits.

So how can this value be realized in an alternative way?  After all, The Refinery, a luxury hotel in NYC, used to be a Garment District millinery and the Tate Modern in London was once the Bankside Power Station…  This is not a new concept, but new use cases.

So let’s focus on new use cases.  Some new innovation examples come out of our need to exercise and to store, all limitations of our home spaces:

  • Silofit was stared two years ago to repurpose small office spaces by turning them into “micro-gyms” that can be rented by the hour. 
  • US  peer-to-peer storage marketplace Neighbor lets individuals and businesses rent out their unused space for storage purposes—something like the “Airbnb for storage.”

Pandemic oriented use cases come from a need to get closer to the customer for fulfillment.  Ghost kitchens and other food companies using unused commercial space as distribution centers, so produce can be closer to its final destination.

We are also seeing folks creating communities and cohorts to get closer to each other (within social distancing and reason) when larger resources are not available.  For example, New York-based edtech startup SchoolHouse uses commercial space for some of its “microschools.”

Community building as a use case is also on the rise.  Beside education, health care and wellness have led some interesting use cases. This is a good article on reuse and healthcare, albeit from a US perspective.

So what CAN’T we do at home that requires a physical location that can absorb the available office spaces?   Creative labs and maker studios come to mind, especially combined with distance learning.

What is the commonality of these new use cases?   And how will this concept grow?