Steve Edwards, Centre Director: Horses for courses and buildings for people

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Steve Edwards

There I was about to write a blog on how great it has been since we reopened Engine Shed and welcomed people back into the office and meeting spaces in SETsquared Bristol. After months of strict lockdown and the summer exodus, September started with a reaffirmation of the joys and benefits of face to face human interaction. We are a startup incubator and that has a huge relevance to the type of environment we live in. We are a place of collaboration, optimism and energy. The revolution may be conceived in the spare room but it is realised in the supportive bubble of other startups, and with the input of experienced, expert advice.

We reopened our Engine Shed home to the public on the 3rd of August, under the safest social distance and hygiene guidelines, without really knowing what would happen and expecting a slow start. However, the demand has been incredible and the buzz around the building back almost to the levels pre-COVID.

The serendipitous meetings and reminders of people we’ve not seen for a while is there. The corridor chats that share the inconsequential snippets that shortcut decisions and get things moving are back again. The human joy of having a relaxed chat about the latest must-see Netflix show on the way to Harts Bakery for something hot and tasty, instead of last night’s leftovers, is a thing to behold. And for some of us, the commute is even a joy, getting out into the fresh air for a while, getting new stimulus and a chance to refocus before getting into work mode. But most of all, we are back in the optimistic bubble of ambitious founders realising their dreams.

And then the government guidelines change back to recommending people work from home if they can. So, the question is; should we encourage less working in the SETsquared Bristol office now?

There’s no doubt that lockdown showed us that remote working has incredible benefits in terms of ease, time and cost savings. As a tech incubator it’s brilliant that technology has enabled our new way of working. In many instances it’s even more productive to work from home than in an office when head down, desk work really needs to get done. According to McKinsey research, 80 per cent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 percent that they are as productive.

BUT, and there’s a big but…We have been making things work, with a community spirit and a make do and mend attitude. Goodwill and ingenuity have meant that we can get through this together in the short term. Although, as entrepreneurs, is this make do and mend approach sustainable and the best solution for what we actually need? Can a startup business create their culture entirely online as they grow? We have been working well online based on the fact that we’ve built up a social relationship from years of standing around in the kitchen making coffee. Can we build that social capital without having those ‘get to know you’ chats or the even more unexpected chats at the bar whilst waiting for your round at the company or incubator party?

More than anything, COVID has shown us that one size does not fit all in terms of how and where we work. We’ve spent some time finding out how our members want to interact and have found it’s a pretty even 50:50 split of those who are keen to interact in person and those who will happily stay in the spare room permanently. It does depend on home and relationship circumstances, what job you have and how you personally need to engage. Some younger businesses are keen for the social interaction and sleeves rolled up benefits of the office, whereas some of our more established advisory leaders can happily support their businesses by advising on Zoom.

As we get closer to winter and possibly stricter regulations, I continue to encourage our members to blend the remote and in person ways of working to meet their needs, whatever they may be. Solving problems collaboratively is of massive importance to growing a new innovative business. By breaking the mould of conventional office working practices, COVID has given us the opportunity to design working practices to our needs, taking advantage of tech and space as it’s required. Video calls are great but 3D, in person interaction is wonderful, so SETsquared Bristol will remain open for as long as it’s safe and wise to do so. I hope that we’ll be a key virtual and physical support to help our members get the most out of a new normal way of blended working.

I look forward to seeing you soon, be it in person or online, and helping tech innovation businesses thrive.


Find out out more about SETsquared services here. Ready to grow your business? Apply online.


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