A Smarter Working Revolution in the Golden Triangle

by | Feb 14, 2020

What a difference a new decade makes! It feels as soon as we clicked over to 2020, suddenly we had our eye on 2030. In amongst the looking backwards and looking forward articles, I came across ‘Why the 2020s will be the Remote Working Decade’ by Chris Herd.

If the 2020s are the decade where we truly embark on the journey towards ‘Smarter Working’, then we need a map to get there. I thought it was about time I gave an update on the WorkLocal experiment I kicked off in September last year. There has been some great progress on a number of fronts and we need your support.

Smarter Working Herts

Map showing the triangular geography of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Hertfordshire in the middle.

Hertfordshire recently launched their draft Local Industrial Strategy. A unique selling point for our region – and one that helps locate us for folks outside the UK -is that we are in the middle of the Golden Research Triangle of Oxford, Cambridge, London. Given our proximity to London and the level of skills in the region, the figures on productivity in particular are actually quite surprising – that is, Herts is performing below the national UK average. The reasons behind this are complex, however they also present amazing opportunities in the county in terms of the changing nature and places of work in the future – I have outlined the ideas below as part of the consultation process.

A key starting point for this is for the county to work with stakeholders to develop a Smarter Working Herts Vision, a signal that we are open to and actively encourage this kind of work innovation in our region. It fits well with increased flexibility in the workplace as well as the polycentric nature of our county.

Components of the vision could be:-

  • Establish a diverse network of physical spaces for coworking, especially around the idea of coworking as a key component of the high street.
  • Ensure that the digital infrastructure exists to support smarter working and to facilitate the discoverability and accessibility of different spaces
  • Ensure that the societal/organisation conversation around smarter working develops. In particular, I have a great local collaborator in Oliver Thompson from Smart Working Revolution, who along with his business partner, Ruth Gawthorpe, are particularly experienced facilitors of this pillar.

Herts Smarter Working Corridor

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As well as an overarching strategy and communication thread, we think it’s also important to ‘just do it’.

We are conscious that a coworking space needs to be economically viable, but sometimes the data just doesn’t exist to show the scale of the target market – enticing folks off their kitchen table to come and work locally, whether they are entrepreneurs or have a corporate role and working from home for one day a week.

The plan would be to run a pilot to test out ideas and the business model. We’re having some great conversations in St Albans, Watford and Letchworth respectively – three very different propositions, but all have potential.

Learning from Others

The coworking movement is not new, so thankfully there are a lot of folks out there with a decade or more of experience to draw from. Too numerous to mention all the people we have spoken to on our journey (you know who you are!), but I particularly wanted to call out the fabulous Jamie Russo of Everything Coworking.

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I took the plunge and joined her Coworking Startup School – a great set of online resources and access to a cohort colleagues at every stage of the coworking journey. It’s made a huge difference to my knowledge and to know where I need help. Interestingly enough, most of the cohort are US-based, but this shift in the future of work is global and the similarities between geographies are remarkable.

One learning in particular is about the importance of building community and we have an excellent local collaborator Mark White of YourTown to guide us in this regard.

Next Steps

It feels like we’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s just the start. We’re on a journey to getting some pilot spaces up and running and I’m really interested to hear from you, particularly if you are local to St Albans, Watford or Letchworth.

A busy decade ahead and looking forward to helping move us towards Smarter Working Herts 2030!

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