The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many people think about work, for a myriad of personal and professional reasons. 

This period made us think about how we work and how long we take travelling from home to office. For the first time, our social and working lives played out online – on video chats with 40-minute time limits. Kitchen tables became desks and we got a taste of working from home.

Many in the creative sector were already used to flexible working, with occasional work-from-home days or working from cafés. This was more permanent and we were unable to leave home for long periods. 

It’s said that it can take anywhere from 18 to 250 days for new habits to form and so, for those fortunate enough to work from home, new routines and rituals were built. For those with children, used to juggling the school run with a commute, the increased flexibility offered a reprieve. There were positives for many in the enforced restrictions. 

Two years is a long time to reflect on anything. It’s understandable that a large portion of the population are now considering how they work and where they work from.

Is there a compelling reason to head back to workspaces post-Covid? 

Perhaps those workspaces that hold the greatest appeal to return to are those that adapted during the pandemic. The British Council’s mapping of hubs in England found:

Hubs are demonstrating an incredible degree of resilience and imagination, having pivoted business models and discovered new ways to engage their communities. The nimble and entrepreneurial nature of many hubs means they are spotting and moving on a range of opportunities emerging in their specific hubs in response to the pandemic.

That focus on engagement is important as people felt unable during lockdown. We were unable to connect, to information, colleagues or our working community. At Baltic Creative, in person pilates sessions were replaced with virtual lessons and learning events switched online. This allowed people from across the world to dial in and share their stories. There is nothing like the connection of face-to-face events, but online events offered ways for people, who may ordinarily feel excluded, to access content and community.

Hubs have a vital role in the post COVID-19 recovery of towns and cities

What are the opportunities and lessons for creative hubs, two years on from the start of the pandemic? What permanent changes can be made in the way we work?

While the opportunities cited are often unique to each hub, we observed some patterns across the sample: digitalisation, galvanised partnerships and collaborations, place-based initiatives, policy alignment (a number of cities and regions have launched strategies and frameworks for developing the creative and cultural sector, which present opportunities for partnership and investment). Hubs recognise that they have a role to play in the recovery by continuing to listen and work with the local community, revitalising high streets, responding to changing working patterns, and contributing to urban development.

Mapping Creative Hubs in England, British Council 

People are looking for meaningful reasons to return to the centres of cities and towns, beyond simply returning to work. Hubs are often key stakeholders in the places they call home; plugged into the needs of the area and networked across the community, they are primed to respond to this need. 

The opportunities around the edges

For many in the creative and digital industry, flexible working will become the norm. But for many people, working from home simply isn’t an option, or suitable for the work that they create.

Conversations around the 15-minute city are becoming louder as we think about post-Covid places. Are there opportunities for creative hubs to provide satellite spaces on high streets? Allowing workers to work close to home for part of the week and in their central location on other days?

An evolving offer

The changes in working patterns also offers opportunities to create new flexible tenancy models. Flexible tenures are likely to appeal to freelancers as well as remote workers whose businesses have gone fully remote. 

The technology requirements for workers in the creative and digital industries have also changed over the pandemic. Many more of us now use video conferencing instead of holding face-to-face meetings. Can creative hubs invest in technology for both workers and organisations to host secure and private virtual meetings… or even large scale virtual events? 

Maintaining the digital offer

The British Council recognised that ‘while the physical world of hubs has expanded, so has the digital world, with many virtual hubs on the rise.’ Even those who predominantly offer physical spaces have expanded their digital offer. Accelerated by Covid, hubs have fostered online communities too with digital events and support.

At Baltic Creative we upped our digital game. We introduced an online Covid hub and online business supports and wellbeing events, that have continued post-Covid. Designing a toolkit to share with other hubs, we looked into the barriers tenants experienced with the shift to remote working; and, how this changed the way they did business and networked within their community. This work gives a valuable insight into how hubs can look into hybrid working and grow their offerings in the new world of work.

Community, community, community

For businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs, community and connections are important, for the health, growth, and wellbeing of their business and staff. In a hybrid world where it’s easier to be lonely, the networks, communities and opportunities for collaboration that creative hubs provide are vital.

Hubs are able to respond to these needs for hybrid availability and community building, and have proven that they can adapt. ‘Confidence is highest in terms of working with the community and developing relationships and networks’ notes the British Council.

With scope for flexible tenancies and combinations of online and offline communities, hubs can respond better to the needs of modern workers and local communities. To show how workspaces need to adapt to our changing society and the future of work.

Creative Hubs Connect

Baltic Creative has partnered with the Creative Hubs for Good programme to be key drivers for good across the region. The partnership includes Mereka Connect, an organisation in Malaysia, who developed the platform alongside five other Southeast Asian (SEA) countries. Facilitated by the British Council, the partnership connects Liverpool City Region’s digital and creative organisations with businesses in SEA, creating opportunities for trade, learning and collaboration. 

Sign-up here to join the platform and start connecting!

Copy and research provided by Wordscape.