VIDEO | The flexible future of offices

Join FORE Partnership, Knight Frank, and tp bennett for a state-of-the-market roundtable discussion and a look around Hana’s new space in Windmill Green, Manchester.

Flexibility has become all-important in the offices world: flexibility of lease length, of the amount of space or desks occupied, the amount of services a company uses.

With sponsor tp bennett, Place North West brought together a panel of experts from across the industry to look at all things flex in the office market – what is hot and what is not, and to make forecasts about where the trend might be heading.

100 Year Logo Number 1Panel

  • Tom Beard, director of building design & delivery, Hana
  • Leigh Dimelow, head of Manchester studio, tp bennett
  • Leanne Wookey, interiors director, tp bennett
  • David Porter, partner and Manchester office head, Knight Frank
  • Aurélien Collignon, associate director, FORE Partnership
  • Chaired by Paul Unger, publisher, Place North West

Edited highlights from the discussion above. For full video see below

Key questions

  • What changes has Covid led to in the office market?
  • Where is coworking / flex market right now?
  • What is the right solution for fitting-out a building ready for flexible options?
  • To what extent are big occupiers looking for flexible solutions?
  • How can flexible spaces be delivered sustainably?

Main takeaways

  • The rise of co-working has moved customer service and “front of house” up the agenda for the wider sector
  • Companies are looking to align with flexible operators that reflect the values they respect
  • There will be a bounceback after working from homer in lockdown three as people want to get back into towns and cities
  • Increasingly, developers are prepared to partner with flexible operators from early in the project
  • Expectations have changed: the lines between home, learning and work have blurred


FORE Partnership’s development of super-sustainable, super-connected Windmill Green in Manchester has attracted, among others, CBRE’s co-working arm Hana. What’s the story so far? FORE’s Aurélien Collignon said: “From the start our intent with Windmill Green was to design from the inside out: ‘what is it about, what are the needs of the people here?’ We’re extremely pleased with the outcome, it’s one of the few buildings that actually looks better in reality than in CGIs.

“We wanted an element of flexible working from the get-go, so thought about the ground floor, a feature staircase, amenities on the top floor, a terrace.

“Co-working in itself isn’t the answer to anything, it’s a means to get to an outcome. It might be that a customer’s want is for round-the-clock exercise, or better access to showers or other amenities. We’ve made mistakes, learned and versions 2.0 and 3.0 will improve further.

“Flexible working is answering a lot of questions for companies: two thirds of UK businesses have some flexibility in what they already do – you can’t ignore two thirds of a market.”

Windmill Green Roof Garden

Windmill Green roof garden overlooking Manchester Central


tp bennett’s Leanne Wookey said: “The beauty of co-working is that whether you’re a startup or blue chip, there’s an element that can help you: some companies couldn’t have achieved their growth without it. It’s still evolving, but what’s become clear is that quality and wellbeing are fundamental, along with flexibility.

“The rise of co-working mirrors that of the build-to-rent market, where people are buying into an experience and community that you might not get with a standalone home. Windmill Green has embedded itself into its community, and its values have attracted Hana and others. Wellbeing has been the biggest driver.

“Quality tech and connectivity is fundamental as a driver: lockdown showed how much many of us underestimated the importance of good connectivity. We use tech to run our homes and lives – we’re a tech-driven generation.

“Human contact is important and as people reassess in business, and in the conversations we have about workspaces, the constant is that the office won’t disappear, but an alternative version of itself allowing fluidity is appearing.”

Tp Bennett Hana ©Hufton+Crow

Hana’s space at Windmill Green by tp bennett. Image: Hufton+Crow


Hana’s Tom Beard continued: “The deals we’ve done at Windmill Green are testament to the building, its design and the co-working model.

“In how we work, it’s about being a partner to a developer, someone who might have seen flexible spaces as a competitor in the past. Starting that partnership early in the process gives you the ability to do more.

“There’s a level of expertise and data we hold that can be put to use early on, and let developers concentrate on what they do best.

“We’re also seeing large organisations wanting to get involved early. Factoring flexibility into design will be key for everybody.”


Nine months on from the first lockdown, are occupiers taking any space at all, flexible or otherwise? David Porter of Knight Frank said that the picture’s brighter than many might think.

“Overall, the Manchester market had a far better 2020 than had been feared. Office take-up for the year was in excess of 800,000 sq ft, not disastrous by any stretch. Sentiment remains quite strong.

“One thing that’s often overlooked with co-working is it has a place in any cycle – when markets dip, companies downsize; when they grow, it provides grow-on space. The flexible market’s coming into its own, and with uncertain years ahead flexibility will be a big part of planning.

“We’ve seen traditional landlords follow the likes of Hana with their own models, while the focus on customer service from co-working operators has influenced the wider market. Real estate’s a big part of talent capture and we’re producing better and better buildings all the time.

“We’re positive on the return to offices. There are serious concerns for people missing interaction, especially recent graduates who should be learning every day. When we reopened in summer, with no obligations, our office was full every day.”

Windmill Green Reception


Leigh Dimelow from tp bennett concluded: “There has to be flexible design from the outset, such as with the number of toilets, giving the ability to extend without having to rip stuff out – that really helps developers and co-working operators.

“When it comes to returning to work, we shouldn’t panic and look for knee-jerk answers. Don’t change the way we work forever on the basis of a short period of time.

“I can see organisations coming out with a full hybrid of office/home with an even balance: people want structure, doing tasks at the right time and in the right environment.

“Over the last decade offices have become more homely anyway, and as universities have also evolved, people are graduating with expectations of their environment: the lines between home, learning and work have been blurred.”

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

Great discussion, interesting takeaways, thanks all

By Julian Sharpe

That roof garden is pretty cool, and will have some fantastic views in a couple of years as First St develops further

By Anonymous

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