Remote Working: A path to an adaptable economy agenda, 17 February 2021

View the agenda and information from this virtual event.


Introduction The LGA hosted a roundtable on the topic of Remote Working: A path to an adaptable economy. The purpose of this roundtable was to provide high level thinking from councils around the effects of remote working for local communities and the challenges and opportunities it brings to local economies.
The key findings

Colleagues at the roundtable highlighted the points below as being some of the key changes, opportunities and challenges that have come out from remote working:

  • There has been a culture shift towards remote working in the long term amongst local authorities, but this presents challenges in integrating new staff
  • Remote working can allow businesses to tap into a larger talent pool
  • Local authorities and businesses will need to consider how to provide digital infrastructure and equipment to enable all staff to work remotely
  • Remote working will drive larger footfalls in town centres and rural areas which may lead to a demand for workspace hubs in these regions
  • Remote working limits collaboration and networking. City centres will still have a role to play in connecting people and creating networks.
  • The market for workspaces may move towards flexible multi usage spaces

These points are expanded below.

There has been a culture shift towards remote working in the long term, but this presents challenges in integrating new staff

The feedback from colleagues at the roundtable was that their staff have responded positively to remote working and it is seen as a long-term option. However, there was a mixed discussion on this issue with colleagues feeding back that discussions amongst senior management have been more overt in some local authorities more than others. Where conversations have been less overt, it was suggested that there may be some concerns about integrating new and younger staff and conveying the culture and working practices of the organisation. Where these conversations have been more overt, the overwhelming feedback from staff has been in favour of continuing to work remotely but through a blended model where staff work from home 1-2 times a week. Younger staff were particularly keen on this model to allow for social integration into the office.

Remote working can allow businesses to tap into a larger talent pool

It was suggested that remote working would mean that recruitment would not be limited by regional locations. Businesses can increasingly recruit from a larger talent pool. This would particularly benefit rural and smaller towns who would be able to compete more with urban centres which have traditionally attracted a larger and more diverse pool of talent. Therefore, staying competitive in the recruitment market may necessitate a shift towards remote working. From an employee perspective they can also move away from urban areas into rural areas, which could support the economic growth objectives of these regions.

Local authorities and businesses will need to consider how to provide digital infrastructure and equipment to enable all staff to work remotely

Some rural and coastal regions have experienced challenges with their digital connectivity which has highlighted a need to ensure that these areas are equipped with higher broadband speeds. However, in these challenges there may be opportunities for rural and market town businesses and local authorities to compete with large urban cities in this avenue as well. Some regions have already benefited from the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme to improve connectivity. There could also be an opportunity to generate a talent pool of local digital providers.

Local authorities will also increasingly need to consider how to support staff to work from home by providing equipment to work remotely. However, some staff may find that they are not able to accommodate office equipment in their home or is otherwise not suitable for working from home on a long-term basis. This could lead to a rise in demand for remote workspace hubs in town centres. 

Remote working will drive larger footfalls in town centres and rural areas which may lead to a demand for workspace hubs in these regions

The group highlighted that that there may also be a demand for smaller workspace hubs to enable flexible working away from city centres. Before the pandemic, there were questions around the future of market towns. However, since the pandemic, it was noted that some regions had seen higher footfalls in town centres than city centres after the first lockdown in July and August.

It was suggested that there may be a long-term trend towards employees preferring to commute to smaller workspace hubs in their local town as opposed to commuting to city centres. There may be opportunities for businesses based in urban centres to develop satellite office spaces or workspace hubs in town centres to match this demand. 

Remote working limits collaboration and networking. City centres will still have a role to play in connecting people and creating networks.

It was agreed, however, that the impact of remote working has varied from sector to sector. In regions that have large manufacturing sectors, there was a concern that remote working would create a divide between the office-based workers and front-line workers. The creative industries sector, which is particularly reliant on innovation and collaboration, would also benefit from a workspace. City centre regeneration plans will need to be multi-faceted to respond to these different demands.

Colleagues shared there had been a trend in rationalising council stock before the pandemic and this has now been accelerated. As part of future regeneration plans, empty council offices and public sector buildings could be repurposed. These could be repurposed to provide multi usage spaces to accommodate different businesses who have downsized but would still provide a space to drive collaboration and networking.

Repurposing office buildings would be a low-cost option to local authorities, and it would enable cities to retain their character.

The market for workspaces may move towards flexible multi usage spaces

It was suggested that the workspace market would need to adapt to create environments where people want work. An example was shared of a local authority that manages a workspace hub for creative industries in its city centre. Since the pandemic, new businesses have rented spaces in this hub and it has attracted usage amongst younger demographics. This highlighted that there is a demand for these types of office spaces.

Some further examples of innovative workspaces for businesses and entrepreneurs were shared below:

It was anticipated by colleagues that the designs of workspaces may move towards flexible, multi-dimensional spaces rather than traditional silos office spaces to accommodate different remote working and flexible work patterns.

LGA support offer and additional resources

The LGA has recently released guidance for councils to deal with empty shops. This guidance is for councils faced with challenges around vacancies on their high streets and in their town centres and provides an overview of potential methods to tackle it:

The LGA will be hosting more roundtables as part of our Economic Growth Support offer. For more information on all of our upcoming events and publications on Economic Growth please visit the Economic Growth Support Hub webpage.

If you would like any more information about the LGA’s economic growth support offer, please email productivity@local.gov.uk