How Yorkshire businesses can connect in the post-Covid world

As innovation becomes ever more critical to unlocking post-pandemic growth for our region, communities which are specifically designed to foster innovation have a vital role to play, writes Dr Martin Stow, Director of University of Leeds’ innovation hub Nexus.

Why tech-enabled hubs and business communities are increasingly important
Why tech-enabled hubs and business communities are increasingly important

When Nexus recently worked in partnership with CBI Economics to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on UK businesses, we expected to see confirmation of a major shift to hybrid working models.

What we also saw, from the small and medium-sized businesses surveyed across the country, was a clear vision for the role of the office in the future – as a focus for team building, strategy days and vital innovation planning. The power of communities and the wider networks they provide, was seen as essential to fostering knowledge-sharing, collaboration and innovation.

The vast majority of businesses who responded to our Revolution of Work survey, said they planned to adopt hybrid working models, with only 5 per cent expecting to work entirely from an office in the future.

“While remote working has enabled workers to manage their work more flexibly, it has made innovation more challenging”

But 70 per cent of those companies surveyed said remote working had a negative impact on brainstorming sessions and 83 per cent on those valuable “water cooler” conversations, when ideas are shared and new relationships formed, which can be the key to network expansion and business growth.

Business owners in our region and across the country will be even more focused on the social and networking benefits of future office space and will prioritise workplaces which are designed to create the best environments to deliver collaborative working and shared ideas.

Anna Leach, CBI Deputy Chief Economist, commented: “Employers have considered the positives and challenges which have arisen during remote working and compared them with the potential benefits offered by offices and workplaces. While remote working has enabled workers to manage their work more flexibly, it has made innovation more challenging.”

Tech-enabled hubs and business communities, which are the catalyst for collaboration between entrepreneurs and leading academics, are becoming increasingly important as businesses seek to optimise their innovation, scale fast and generate products and services which deliver real impact.

They can cater for firms at any stage of growth. Whether they are spinouts, start-ups, high-growth companies, or established industry leaders. A culture of collaborative working is at the core of these hubs and the communities and wider networks they create and nurture.

The Revolution of Work report found that 64 per cent of businesses thought that remote or hybrid working made it harder to expand their networks.

Established communities of like-minded businesses, with innovation at their core, are therefore becoming increasingly popular with businesses seeking to increase connectivity and tap into networks and resources nationally and internationally.

The report also revealed that some 93 per cent of businesses plan to adopt hybrid working models in the future, with employees working both in a physical workplace and from home.

Developed and connected innovation ecosystems will be increasingly essential to help those businesses capitalise on the very best support available.

That could be advice from seasoned entrepreneurs on the best way to acquire and retain customers, for example, or working with partner organisations on research and development. It could also be about access to the right skills and talent or tapping into a rich and abundant start-up support community. Working with universities can also open up major opportunities for early-stage businesses to work with world-leading experts.

The complexity of the emerging needs and challenges of society today, demand cross-disciplinary thinking and collaborative business communities play a fundamental role in creating the innovations which will help meet those challenges, deliver growth and increase our competitiveness on a global stage.