The UK has long held an international reputation for it’s science and technology sector. More recently the UK Government has further recognised the need to and the importance of increasing investment in this area as outlined in its Industrial Strategy. Looking to and learning from other leading world economies who have invested heavily in science and tech such as the US, China and Israel, the Government has made bold commitments to increasing spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP laying out it’s Roadmap for UK R&D and the potential for an ARPA-style approach to funding innovation, similar to that of DARPA in the US. These measures clearly illustrate the level of confidence in the role that the science and tech sector can play in the UK’s economic recovery.
We’ve all experienced the impact that science and tech businesses have had on our own lives and that of our economy during the covid-19 pandemic which has led to the triple-digit growth in usage of videoconferencing software to facilitate homeworking, streaming platforms and gaming apps. We saw many companies rapidly evolve and pivot their business models at scale and pace, responding and adapting to the ‘new normal’. The likes of molecular diagnostics businesses Yourgene Health and QIAGEN, the establishment in just 6 weeks of one of the Government’s Lighthouse Labs at Alderley Park and tech businesses such as DiceyTech and Energym using their 3D printers to make much needed PPE for the NHS.
But what is it that these companies need from their workplaces that’s different from any other business? Everyone is looking for affordability and flexibility and these are no different in that regard as they grow and contract with market forces. Super fast, super resilient broadband has long been expected as standard but with more and more companies producing terabytes of data from their mass specs or next gen sequencing labs, we’re seeing increasing demand for access to multi gig diverse connectivity, close to data centres, and fully anticipate 5G and WIFI 6 becoming expected as the norm. We’re also seeing increased importance placed on sustainability with demand for low carbon workplaces, following the likes of Microsoft who recently announced plans to offset all the carbon they had generated since they were founded and have placed carbon reduction at the heart of our ‘smart-enabled’ building concept due to launch later this year.
But it’s the specialist infrastructure that these companies need that’s the stand out and that’s why for many science and tech businesses the workplace is not dead but is very much at the epicentre of their growth plans. Businesses requiring labs, NMR equipment and makerspaces, simply cannot get that by working from home. The role of the workplace has long been considered by some to be about access to a desk or printer which can be easily replicated at home, but the need for specific equipment and the infrastructure to accommodate it helps to refocus where the value of the workplace truly lies.
As a leading property provider to the science and technology sector, we see this specialist infrastructure act as the magnet around which sector-specialist communities coalesce. And then it’s about how we support these clusters and communities to grow. Providing the access to finance, talent and new markets and creating the places and spaces that present and encourage opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of ideas. The workplace provides those physical spaces for those physical interactions that one cannot get from behind a computer screen. The workplace is also where a company’s culture is created; where you onboard, train, develop and shape your people. Humans are social animals and we’ve all seen the adverse impact that prolonged periods of working from home can have on mental and physical wellbeing and how quickly this can be countered by a return to the workplace, particularly those that also offer gyms, cafes and health and wellbeing initiatives. The role of the office shifted long ago and it’s more people’s view of the workplace that is outmoded as opposed to the workplace itself.
Equally it’s as much about the power of place; that sweet spot where the innovation district overlaps with the innovation and place ecosystems and the role it can have on driving the economic growth and recovery of our cities. Innovation districts were once just the domain of high-end tech businesses but it’s these businesses that are now responsible for the disruption of our entire economy. That is why we’re continually innovating our product and business support offer to accommodate this ever increasing demand.