When the pandemic forced swathes of the global workforce to leave their office buildings indefinitely in March 2020, long-term remote working capabilities were collectively and efficiently mastered almost overnight. This raised some big questions: do offices need to be headquartered in global hubs? Will employees still travel to them? What will this mean for the future of our major cities?
For tech companies and many other businesses, these questions and the perceived threat of people leaving cities in their droves could be a major cause for concern. The first rule of startup success is to follow the money and the talent – but as time marches on, it is becoming increasingly likely that, rather than a series of dramatic exoduses, our cities will remain relatively unaffected when it comes to maintaining their status as tech hubs.
VCs have made clear that London will remain a “critical node” in the UK tech ecosystem. Indeed, research suggests that people are feeling more, not less, drawn back to the hustle and bustle of urban life as the impact of long-term remote working and enforced isolation begins to take its toll.
A survey by workplace efficiency expert Leesman revealed that 55 per cent of people still working from home feel disconnected from their colleagues. If people don’t move and the money doesn’t disperse, then the tech companies are unlikely to relocate in greater numbers either. However, this doesn’t mean we won’t see an acceleration of new UK tech hubs emerging in 2021 and beyond. Digital innovation has never been more integral to the UK and wider global economy and, in a case of all boats rising, locations that were already on track to become digital hotspots pre-Covid could be set for a major boost.
As hotspots such as Dublin to Cambridge continue to thrive, there will be other, less obvious locations ready to display their digital credentials. Emily Wright
A tech investment powerhouse, this is the third most-attractive city in the UK for funding behind London and Manchester, with digital companies raising £240 million here in 2019. The city’s tech businesses boast a combined turnover of £7.9 billion and employed almost 25,000 people in 2019. While it is unlikely to rival London, Bristol has long been considered a trailblazer in the development of robotics and autonomous vehicles. This, combined with the benefits of cheaper house prices, could see an influx of tech companies in these specific sectors.
If companies ever were to abandon London in considerable swathes, this region offers a similar access to funding and talent. Now officially one of the fastest growing digital cities in Europe, tech firms here secured an almost fourfold increase in investment from £48 million in 2018 to £181 million in 2019, according to research from real estate firm BNP Paribas Real Estate. Then, in August 2020, MediaCityUK – home to 250 media and digital businesses and the jewel in Manchester’s digital crown – was named the first “connected neighbourhood” in Europe, only the second in the world alongside the Hudson Yards development in New York. Defined as an area that provides “frictionless connectivity” across the whole estate with high-speed outdoor Wi-Fi, a connected neighbourhood must comprise a number of buildings on one site that have all been awarded the highest rating available by WiredScore, the global rating scheme for digital connectivity in real estate.
This small Berkshire town is unusually fertile, with more than 15 times the average level of digital tech compared to the wider UK, according to Tech Nation. Home of the UK HQs for both Micro Focus and Vodafone, the latter employs so many people in the local economy that it provides free shuttle transport to and from its main campus for employees. It’s evidence that smaller commuter towns have the resources to be named tech hotspots, and represents a growing number of tech-rich areas that could see an uptick in post-pandemic activity, as people who live nearby consider working closer to home.
Fast emerging as a major tech player with NHS England, NHS Digital and the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Networks all based in the city. The city already accounts for around a fifth of all the UK’s digital health jobs, with the surrounding region home to 63 per cent of all health-tech ecosystem businesses, according to the Local Enterprise Partnership.
With total deals worth £425 million between 2015 and 2018, Tech Nation named this Hampshire-based town the fourth-best place for tech investment in the UK last year. With rail journeys starting at 43 minutes into London Waterloo, this commuter town location is in a prime position to be one of 2021’s big tech hub winners.
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