The Entrepreneurs’ Forum says its members are looking at creative working solutions as businesses plan their return to the office.
However, many are keen to continue with a more flexible approach to working by blending home and office working to achieve a wider range of economic and social benefits.
One such company is managed service provider Atlas Cloud, whose staff have just returned to its Newcastle offices, having worked remotely since the start of lockdown.
Its chief executive, Pete Watson, said: “It’s an unusual scenario for us because we sell remote solutions and have had a lot of people and customers working from home.
“Much of the feedback from staff surveys showed they were missing the relationships they had in work. Although they found some of the basic tasks easier to perform at home, the majority felt creative work is best carried out face-to-face. It’s important that we can offer both scenarios so we can keep our staff safe and happy.”
Several Forum members have highlighted the benefits of personal workplace interaction.
Newcastle-based Onyx Health, which provides commercial and marketing support to SME healthcare businesses, has grown significantly during lockdown, resulting in them taking on extra staff.
Despite this, managing director Karen Winterhalter, believes collaborative working in the same workspace is essential, adding: “No WhatsApp group or Teams meeting can replace the creativity or the energising and motivating of staff that takes place when you are all together in your place of work.”
Staff at Darlington-based engineering firm Ardmore Craig, which delivers a range of services to the offshore oil and gas, renewable and marine sectors, has been socially distancing on its site over the last three months, as and when required.
Andy Stevenson, managing director, said: “A lot of our clients and suppliers only had a short period of closure and therefore our team were able to service their needs whilst abiding by social distancing guidelines and procedures.
“We are beginning to bring people back to our offices on a part-time basis, to educate them on the social distancing processes and will then look at committing to a full return date over the next couple of weeks.”
The easing of restrictions has also seen the return of many retailers. Newcastle’s NE1 Business Improvement District (BID) has been encouraged by the initial positive public reaction, despite the introduction of social distancing measures.
Adrian Waddell, chief executive, added: “People have been keen to get back out. We now have to look beyond the crisis and, as a city, look at new and innovative ways to support that interaction between customers and business.”
Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “Our members represent many different sectors and industries with their own challenges and opportunities. Recently, we’ve seen some members return safely to the workplace while others are considering a permanent working from home policy for their teams.
“This is a unique circumstance and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-policy’ but, regardless of industry or sector, the return to the ‘new normal’ and what the ‘new normal’ will look like is a common conversation topic among our members and partners and has been the focus of many of our recent events.
“The lockdown, while not without its challenges, has accelerated the growth of many different industries and sectors, unlocking new opportunities in others. As entrepreneurs, our members are resilient, agile, and innovative, and I know they will build upon this, and the individual lessons learnt throughout lockdown, to create strong and sustainable businesses.”