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Cambridge Ahead says hybrid working threatens innovation



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The opportunities for meeting new people and maintaining innovation-fuelled growth in the new hybrid working environment are under threat, say Cambridge Ahead commentators following publication of new research.

Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre is Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead. Seated from left are Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water; Harriet Fear, Cambridge Ahead chair ; Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald; Dame Julia King; Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy; and David Cleevely, NECE steering committee chairman Picture: Keith Heppell
Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre is Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead. Seated from left are Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water; Harriet Fear, Cambridge Ahead chair ; Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald; Dame Julia King; Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy; and David Cleevely, NECE steering committee chairman Picture: Keith Heppell

The research – part of the New Era for the Cambridge Economy (NECE) project – found a major shift to remote working, with time spent in the workplace falling to 2.5 days on average in the last six months (down from 4.7 days on average before the pandemic). On average, that was expected to increase to three days over the next 12 months.

The result has been a reduction in the opportunities for people to connect beyond their immediate team, while collaboration between teams and with other organisations was “more likely to have worsened than improved”.

Cambridge Ahead consists of 48 members, including Arm, AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge, and represents a working population of approximately 40,000 individuals across a variety of sectors and industries.

Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre is Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water. Picture: Keith Heppell
Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre is Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water. Picture: Keith Heppell

Unveiling its report at Storey’s Field Centre in front of assembled guests last Thursday, the organisation found that hybrid working is “better for the environment and for the organisation’s productivity and financial position, but worse for collaboration, professional development, company culture, recruitment and some people’s wellbeing”.

Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead, said: “We know that Cambridge’s strength as a high-growth economy lies in its networks between individuals and organisations, which drive cross-fertilisation and creativity. Now, as people spend more time working from home, either in the area or increasingly elsewhere in the country, the nature of the networks that have fuelled the Cambridge eco-system is changing.

Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald, at the NECE launch. Picture: Keith Heppell
Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald, at the NECE launch. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s this kind of impact that we’re looking to spot and address through our New Era for the Cambridge Economy – NECE – project. We’re investigating how new behaviours driven by the pandemic may change the way the Cambridge economy functions, and identifying what needs to happen to put our city – and others like it – in the best position to thrive sustainably.”

Dr David Cleevely, entrepreneur, Cambridge Angel and chair of the NECE Steering Committee, said: “We can’t underestimate the role that chance meetings have played in Cambridge’s ability to pursue ideas that change the world. Increasingly, we may need to process-engineer our serendipity, finding new ways to ensure we continue to work together, design space and connect in the city of ideas.

Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre are, seated from left: Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water; Harriet Fear, Cambridge Ahead chair ; Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald; Dame Julia King; Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy; and David Cleevely, NECE steering committee chairman. Picture: Keith Heppell
Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre are, seated from left: Alex Plant, director of strategy & regulation, Anglian Water; Harriet Fear, Cambridge Ahead chair ; Charlene Rohr, technical director at Mott MacDonald; Dame Julia King; Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy; and David Cleevely, NECE steering committee chairman. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The NECE project is an example of influential organisations coming together in a high-growth city to adopt an anti-fragile way of thinking and operating – not just attempting to become more resilient and robust, but also seeking to use a shock like Covid to learn, adapt and improve our economy and quality of life.”

Of those looking to boost collaboration over the next 12 months, most effort is focused on supporting culture through encouraging behaviours and setting policies. Very few plan to change their workplace locations, create new spaces, or reconfigure interiors.

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