The vibrant business community in Leeds is undoubtedly one of the best parts about working within our city. Whether you’re an established brand, or a start-up, with events like Leeds Digital Festival, to seminars run by brands like Clarion, or our own connective expertise events – there is an established community of businesses that support one another, and the local economy through networking, sharing and collaboration.
It’s one of the things that has hit us so hard as a community with COVID-19, as this collaboration has unfortunately had to be scaled back, with networking restricted to Zoom calls and LinkedIn comments. However, as we start to see the green shoots of normality returning, I wanted to reach out to our network who have supported us in the past, either as suppliers or through events and collaboration to find out how they have adapted.
What this has revealed is that although we’ve all had to change our ways of working, this business community is as vibrant as ever. Finding out how businesses have adapted their strategies and approach across a variety of sectors to not only sustain business revenue, but to deliver growth shows the strength of the community in Leeds, and as things start to return to normal, I think there’s a lot to look forward to.
Find out what local businesses have been up to below:
Mel Parker, Founder – Graft
Graft is now back in the office two days a week, and although we are missing our Grafters so much, we are not asking people to come and meet us just yet. As soon as it’s safe however, we will do, as our offices at Spaces are all set with all the correct measures for social distancing and being extra careful.
Like many businesses, we’ve had to adapt almost everything that we do. We have had to rely on video interviewing as opposed to face-to-face, using Teams and Zoom, which has been a big adjustment for us as we value face-to-face time with our Grafters so much.
We have had to pivot to what the market needs and have been doing more in the senior markets, as well as finding the region’s most talented graduates. We have however, found that our SMEs are still hiring and showing great grit in the face of the pandemic. I am really proud of our SMEs in Leeds who are truly the backbone of the industry, and have continued with growth and job creation. In turn, this has kept us busy and we are now neck-and-neck with previous year’s trading and showing signs of surpassing it, which I could never have imagined in that first week when COVID-19 started to take hold.
In my experience, everyone has offered support to one another and collaborated. If it hadn’t been for the start-ups and SMEs right here in Leeds who have bolstered around me and Graft, I don’t know where I or Graft would be, and that is the power of our vibrant Leeds community.
“We have found that our SMEs are still hiring and showing great grit in the face of the pandemic. I am really proud of our SMEs in Leeds who are truly the backbone to industry and continued growth and job creation”Mel Parker, Graft
Charlotte Scott, Marketing & Events Manager and Entrepreneur Coach – NorthInvest
Like many businesses, NorthInvest has quickly adapted to keep and maintain momentum from the start of the year. From virtual pitch events to online investor cocktail evenings, helping entrepreneurs put together teaser pitch videos and collaborating with partners, lockdown has surprisingly brought us all closer together as a community. On a wider level, lockdown seems to have encouraged a more holistic approach to business, in addition to more authenticity, and human aspects.
There’s a sense that while companies are just as ambitious, there are certain aspects of life – children, pets, homes – that were dismissed from the working day before. Acknowledging these and allowing individuals flexibility to work around them has introduced a new, much-needed change in business culture, and an agility that will no doubt foster entrepreneurship moving forward.
We haven’t gone back to the office yet, but are looking forward to seeing familiar faces in Platform when we do – a Zoom will never really replace a face-to-face conversation!”
“Recent months have brought a more authentic, human aspect to doing business. There’s a sense that while companies are just as ambitious, there are certain aspects of life - children, pets, homes - that were dismissed from the working day before.”Charlotte Scott, NorthInvest
Jenna Clarke, Business Development Manager – Avenue HQ
During this time, our team worked safely from home, which was made easier by all of our systems being cloud-based, and regular Zoom catch-ups with all the senior team! As we operate a business based on flexible working and short-term private offices, we’ve definitely been experiencing a quieter time on-site. However, as government advice changes and people adapt to the ‘new normal’, we’ve seen many people come back to Avenue HQ, or even join us for the very first time.
We have seen that businesses are now looking for more flexibility, as long-term contracts of huge spaces just aren’t practical anymore. Therefore, we’re seeing a surge in enquiries where businesses prefer a smaller base to start with, which is scalable.
We’ve been taking all necessary steps to ensure our community, team, and members can come back to work safely. This has included closing the building whilst we made important changes such as undergoing a COVID-19 risk assessment and installing HQ (Hygiene and Queuing) points to help our members navigate the new working world.
In order to encourage more people to rejoin the vibrant Leeds business community, and shake the dust off their workwear, we need to throw away the rule book and become more adaptable! For now, gone are the days of long-term plans and long-term commitments. We need to be able to pivot and suit clients’ needs for a changing world, all whilst ensuring we can still provide the reliable service that we’re known for.
“In order to encourage more people to rejoin the vibrant Leeds business community, and shake the dust off their workwear, we need to throw away the rule book and become more adaptable!”Jenna Clarke, Avenue HQ
Mike Jeffs, Chief Commercial Officer – Hark
Remote working has been part of Hark’s culture from the beginning, so in that sense we may have found it easier than others to adapt to being a fully remote team, which we did on the 16th March this year. We’ve now reopened our office to small groups on select days. This means people have the option to work safely from the office or home and have a change of scenery if they’d like to.
Our adaptive approach has been working really well for us, and we’ve had some positive feedback about how we’ve communicated changes and kept our team up-to-date throughout the last few months.
From a wider business perspective, we remain relatively unaffected by lockdown. Our biggest customers (supermarkets) have been in high demand which means we have had stability, but where we did notice a change was with site visits, which is a key part of our sales process. Not being able to visit customers, meant some asset connectivity projects have been delayed. Our response to that was to pivot and develop a solution to the challenge of ‘how can people use the Hark Platform without the site assessment?’ In a 10-week period we designed, developed, marketed and sold our energy analytics module which drives insight from industry standard meter readings. Seeing and being part of that process was pretty inspiring, and is one example of how we’ve become more connected as a whole team.
In the last few weeks, we’ve already been getting more leads for our solutions than pre-lockdown. In the short to mid-term, we’re expecting that to increase as the demand for remote monitoring and control of buildings and assets continues to build. Long-term, this will grow in an effort for supply chains and manufacturing to become more flexible and resilient.
Leeds is a city capable of great change but one with great heritage, the city skyline tells you that. I think as businesses we need to continue to show our business community that same grit and determination that the city is known for, just as we did before, putting the Leeds technology scene on the map. Leeds is just as ambitious and vibrant, but perhaps in different ways than we noticed before.
“I think as businesses we need to continue to show our business community that same grit and determination that the city is known for, just as we did before, putting the Leeds technology scene on the map.”Mike Jeffs, Hark
Amanda Cook, Director – DesignTonic
We have always encouraged home working for those who are able to, so the switch for us from office to home was able to happen quickly. However, with a large amount of the team being site-based we were presented with a wider decision. Our ability to make quick decisions as a team and with some small investment meant that we were able to continue to keep our sites open safely.
We decided very early that our way to navigate through this was to ‘keep talking’, not just as a team but to clients and the local business community. Hearing what other local companies were doing, spending longer talking, not rushing, but having quality conversations has been a surprise plus point of homeworking. Leeds has an amazing pool of start-ups and SMEs which makes you feel part of a strong community. We have enjoyed watching how the community has supported each other. Our message throughout was one of positivity and collaboration, which was echoed across the region.
We are now back in the office and have several live sites. We have helped several clients plan a route back to the office through clever space planning, sanitising options and removing unnecessary touch points. Whilst homeworking will remain, clients are keen to be back into the office, as they have missed collaboration.
We believe that the office will thrive with companies looking for better space, not less space. Desks may become less important, but home-from-home breakout and third spaces will grow.
On a side note, we are extremely pleased for our client Leeds United on being promoted to the premiership. This is such positive news for the city, which will undoubtedly now attract extra investment.
“Leeds has an amazing pool of start-ups and SMEs which makes you feel part of a strong community and we have enjoyed watching how the they have supported each other throughout this time. Our message throughout was one of positivity and collaboration which was echoed throughout the region.”Amanda Cook, DesignTonic
Roger Hutton, Joint Managing Partner – Clarion
Collaboration is at the core of Clarion, both internally across the business and within our client and business community. Our culture is extremely important to us, and is one of the aspects that we have been keen to maintain despite suddenly being based remotely.
We have embraced online communication tools and have run a comprehensive programme of employee updates and social virtual events which has ensured we maintain and continue to evolve everything that is great about the Clarion culture. We also wanted to make sure that our clients had a platform for discussion and collaboration with like-minded individuals and businesses, so we have replicated our external-facing event programme hosting a series of virtual discussion groups and webinars, bringing together people from across our community to share insights and knowledge.
Going forward, we definitely see a place for maintaining virtual communication forums, but we most certainly look forward to being able to welcome guests and our team back to our office.
“We wanted to make sure that our clients had a platform for collaboration with like-minded businesses, so we have replicated our external-facing event programme hosting a series of virtual discussion groups and webinars bringing together people from across our community to share insights.”Roger Hutton, Clarion
Tim Grice, CEO – connective3
When we took the decision to send our staff home back in March, we left behind our newly refitted city centre offices, but we maintained our team focus on delivering growth and performance, not just for our client’s businesses, but for our own.
We pivoted from our events-first strategy, and we doubled down on our digital marketing efforts. We rebuilt our company website in-house and became frequent publishers across our own blog and social media too, posting every day. We focussed on creating thought leadership content that added value, promoting content that helped others to improve in their digital marketing approach, and showed that although our doors were closed, the lights were still on. Thanks to this approach, we had a number of new opportunities contact us directly, looking to push forward with their plans, despite the disruption caused by COVID.
We also continued to serve our existing clients, adapting as required to move budgets fluidly across channels to suit the ever-changing markets. As a result, we’re coming out of this period with a larger client base than when it began. we’ve had to hire significantly and have increased our headcount by 30% (thanks Mel!) and we’re still hiring. We’re back in the office now three days a week and it’s been great to meet the new faces we’d only seen on video calls before, and to start getting back to business as we know it.
Although the last few months have been hugely challenging, we’ve found that by sticking to our core proposition and values and by continuing to be a useful addition to the digital marketing space, we’ve managed to turn a difficult time into a productive one for our business. Longer term – we can’t wait to get back to the Leeds community, running events for our peers and continuing to share our own insights, and offer a platform for our community to share their insights too. Hopefully that day isn’t too far way.