Putting down words today feels pretty different to pre-Covid years. Yet the compulsion to reflect on the year that has passed and what’s to come – is stronger than ever. As is the overwhelming need to acknowledge the achievements of our business community at our centres in Sunderland, Washington and Darlington.
We’ve certainly racked up some new experiences during this rollercoaster year. As a social enterprise the BIC’s core purpose is to strengthen North East businesses, and we’re keen to draw on what we’ve learned to get 2021 off on the right footing so we can support entrepreneurs in the best way we can.
Here are our top five takeaways from 2020…
1. The office is not dead
Although some of us retreated to the safety of our homes at the beginning of the pandemic, it wasn’t long before many realised that working from home permanently wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Many soon craved the normality of the office, the connection to others and the clear separation between work and home.
A blended approach to home and office working is emerging as the new normal, meaning perhaps a few days in the office and a few at home (if our work permits). The BIC has always been responsive to the needs of our tenants and now we need to be more flexible than ever, to offer the business space needed as requirements change. We’re also expanding our co-working space to cope with the growing demand from freelancers, sole traders and employees of larger companies who need a professional and safe work base.
2. Work/life balance REALLY matters
This enormous homeworking experiment has brought into sharp focus the importance of health and wellbeing. This isn’t just a nice-to-have for employees – it’s fundamental to the success and viability of a business. Cramped conditions and isolation are common complaints from many working from home, leading to rising levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems such as back and neck pain.
As a landlord, we’ve learned that we need to create business spaces where companies and employees can really prosper. We can make a difference to everyday experiences that have a profound effect on how people feel and operate. Thoughtful planning of office layout, the personalisation of space, optimisation of air and light quality and a connection to nature and green spaces all make a difference. Access to services such as a café and childcare facilities also promotes that all-important work/life balance that is key to maintaining productivity and creativity.
3. Nothing can kill the human need to innovate – not even a pandemic
Challenging times like these stimulate innovation from businesses that not only need to adapt to survive but also begin to solve new problems and spot opportunities. Covid has meant many businesses have prioritised innovation projects they’d had on the back burner and the grants we’ve been able to provide via our Innovation Programme have propelled those plans forward. Kind Call, a platform that closes down the accounts of the deceased, an idea prompted by the experience of Julie Wilson after the death of her mother is a prime example.
Our occupancy level remains a very healthy 90% and that’s a reflection of the sustainability and resilience of the brilliant businesses that are based here like Onyx Scientific. While we’ve been sad to say goodbye to a handful of tenants, we’ve welcomed a range of innovative new businesses such as small batch bakery Bread& and we’ve helped many others, like Yusen Logistics and Cellnutrition to expand.
4. Where there is change, there is opportunity
Whenever there is a downside, there is always an upside. The regrettable reality is that some people will be facing redundancy and job insecurity in 2021 but this will lead to new opportunities for many. Our Start-Up Team are dealing with daily enquiries from people who are keen to explore the option of becoming their own boss and this is a trend we’re pleased to see as the self-employed will become vital to our economic recovery.
5. Problems are best solved locally
We all very quickly learned the importance of local as the pandemic took hold – local shops, local community and local support. This translated into an uptick in the number of people and businesses putting down plans to improve their neighbourhoods through socially-motivated business. Our social enterprise experts have been run off their feet helping to support the start-up and growth of all kinds of social enterprises responding to the needs of their communities, offering everything from counselling to food co-operatives. A wide range of existing companies are also exploring how to change to this structure to achieve their social objectives and become more sustainable by accessing funding aimed at Covid recovery.
Although 2020 was a challenging year, here at the BIC we are grateful for the lessons we’ve learned. We go forward into 2021 with a renewed sense of responsibility to support the North East economy to come back stronger than ever.