Cambridge companies square up to innovation stagnations Covid has put serendipitous collaboration at risk in the ‘city of ideas’

Covid has put serendipitous collaboration at risk in the ‘city of ideas’

Thursday 31 March 2022, Cambridge, UK

New research has highlighted the challenge of maintaining innovation-fuelled growth in the new hybrid working environment.

A survey of current working practices carried out by Cambridge Ahead a membership organisation of nearly 50 major employers in the city – found widespread concern that hybrid working has reduced the opportunities for people to connect beyond their immediate team. Collaboration between teams and with other organisations was more likely to have worsened than improved.

The research found a major shift to remote working with time spent in the workplace falling to 2.5 days on average in the last six months – down from 4.7 days on average before the pandemic. On average, that was expected to increase to 3 days over the next 12 months.

Hybrid working was seen to have been better for the environment and for the organisation’s productivity and financial position but worse for collaboration, professional development, company culture, recruitment and some people’s wellbeing.

Of those looking to boost collaboration over the next 12 months, most effort is focused on supporting culture through encouraging behaviours and setting policies, management activities such as better co-ordination and communications, and adoption of new technology. Very few respondents were planning to change their workplace locations, create new spaces, or reconfigure interiors at this stage.

Commenting on the findings, Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead, said:

“We know that Cambridge’s strength as a high-growth economy lies in its networks between individuals and organisations, which drive cross-fertilisation and creativity. Now, as people spend more time working from home, either in the area or increasingly elsewhere in the country, the nature of the networks that have fuelled the Cambridge eco-system is changing.

“It’s this kind of impact that we’re looking to spot and address through our New Era for the Cambridge Economy (NECE) project. We’re investigating how new behaviours driven by the pandemic may change the way the Cambridge economy functions, and identifying what needs to happen to put our city and others like it – in the best position to thrive sustainably.”

Dr David Cleevely, entrepreneur, Cambridge Angel and Chair of the NECE Steering Committee, said:

“Cambridge companies have a long history of achieving huge competitive advantage through innovation, from commercialising scientific breakthrough to reinventing business models. We can’t underestimate the role that chance meetings have played in Cambridge’s ability to pursue ideas that change the world. Increasingly, we may need to process engineer our serendipity, finding new ways to ensure we continue to work together, design space and connect in the city of ideas.

“The NECE project is an example of influential organisations coming together in a high-growth city to adopt an anti-fragile way of thinking and operating – not just attempting to become more resilient and robust, but also seeking to use a shock like Covid to learn, adapt and improve our economy and quality of life.”

Key findings include:

  • Survey respondents reported employees spent 2.5 days a week in the workplace on average over the six months to November 2021 (down from 4.7 days before the pandemic). Respondents expected that to increase to 3.1 days on average over the next 12 months.
  • More than half of respondents reported that at least some employees were now allowed to choose where in the country to base themselves, and more than a quarter said some employees were allowed to base themselves abroad.
  • While just over a quarter thought collaboration within their team had improved, the same amount thought it had worsened. Getting on for half thought collaboration between teams within their organisation had deteriorated, and more than a third thought collaboration between organisations had worsened.
  • Respondents were optimistic about the future, expecting a positive impact on all the factors measured in due course, suggesting that people see the current time as a period of transition.


A more detailed summary of the survey conducted by Cambridge Ahead is available on request. The data was collected in November 2021, across a sample size of 97 respondents.

Cambridge Ahead is a consortium of businesses and academic members who share a common goal in achieving sustainable growth for Cambridge and the surrounding area. Cambridge Ahead is comprised of 48 members, including Arm, Astra Zeneca and the University of Cambridge, and represents a working population of approximately 40,000 individuals across a variety of sectors and industries.

The New Era for the Cambridge Economy (NECE) project aims to identify how the pandemic is changing the way the Cambridge economy functions. Led by Cambridge Ahead, and with the involvement of many of the city’s top businesses, academic institutions and local leaders, it aims to not only equip Cambridge to seize opportunities and tackle challenges, but also design a process that other high-growth cities can follow to change-manage their own economies.

Media Contact Information: 

Caroline Brown, The Scale Partnership

+44 7866 713335