A note from Marty Reid: It’s good to be back

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We might need one-way systems, hand gel dispensers and a lot less seating in socially distanced meeting spots, but last week Engine Shed felt alive again as we got to see and hear first-hand people working together again.

“Creative collisions” is a term I like to describe the new idea, collaboration or solution to a problem that comes about when two people meet serendipitously in one of our many great innovation spaces in the city. It was brilliant to feel that happening around us again.

In a traditionally scientific and data-led approach to gain some broader insight, I asked some of the Engine Shed community for one word that described how they felt about time spent back with their peers and colleagues.

“Energising”, “motivating”, “collaborative”, “fun”, “exhausting”

The positives in the new ways of working

A lot has been written and discussed recently about how the world of work has changed during the pandemic. A common theme is that in the early days of lockdown, many businesses saw productivity of their employees unexpectedly increase. We have heard of teams with a collective drive to progress in the face of adversity, business making the most of increased connectivity by taking up new technology and many examples of individuals benefiting from flexible working for the first time.

As time has gone on however, startup founders and leaders of larger organisations have shared evidence of a sharp reverse of this trend. Projects that depend on creative, collaborative work have slowed down. People who were getting by with difficult working environments at home have started to feel the strain. Flexible working has become ‘always reachable’ and ‘always on’.

But at a loss of social capital

New, positive ways of working have been challenged with a decline in social capital as the sense of belonging, bonding and informal networks that rely on personal interactions have weakened.

Looking ahead, our business communities, policy makers and city institutions need to try and capture the best of both worlds to help us all move forward.

Let’s keep the sense of normality, connection and laughs when a child or pet invades a work scenario like a video call…but let’s not let that be because we feel obliged to schedule calls all day.

Let’s maintain flexible working and trust employees to deliver in schedules and from locations that are best for them, but let’s not assume that everyone should check emails or take calls on a day off.

Let’s bring people together again in safe spaces to facilitate creative collisions, but make sure those who can’t join aren’t left behind.

As a personal note, I’d like to thank our team for their great work through tough times over the past few months. The Engine Shed team (up for a Bristol Life Civic award next month) have come back together to bring the centre back to life in a way that I believe that will give people the confidence to work together again safely.

Our tech Incubator SETsquared Bristol (named Europe’s top accelerator during lockdown), transitioned our business support programmes online when businesses needed it most; as one founder put it to me, “as if there had been no disruption at all”.

It’s good to be back.

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