Could Cornwall be the smart working capital of the UK?

St Agnes-based consultancy Smart Working Revolution aims to help the county capitalise on the post-Covid trend for remote working.

For Ruth Gawthorpe, the 23rd March 2020 was the day that changed everything.

As a consultant and evangelist for smarter ways of working, she’d been trying for years to show UK organisations there are better ways than the 9-5 office grind. Some got it, others didn’t. But when lockdown came, nobody had a choice.

“What happened on the 23rd March was astonishing,” Gawthorpe says. “Leaders who didn’t trust their workforce to work remotely had to take a leap of faith. They weren’t ready for it, but they did it. And it’s been this most amazing shift.”

Smart Working Revolution co-founder Ruth Gawthorpe

Three months on, Gawthorpe believes the shift could become permanent. “We’ve been surveying our clients’ employees, and 80% of them say they don’t want to go back to the office full-time,” she says. “They say they’ve been more productive, and they’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work from home and look at life a little bit differently.”

“80% of employees say they don’t want to go back to the office full-time. they say they’ve been more productive at home.”

ruth gawthorpe, co-founder, smart working revolution

She says findings like this are giving bosses pause to re-think working practices: “We’re finding there’s more of an appetite for smart working. A lot of leaders have realised they don’t need these big corporate offices. They can reduce costs by doing away with them and recruiting from other parts of the country.”

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Cornwall

That could create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Cornwall. As well as producing talented school-leavers and university graduates, the county is a magnet for skilled people looking for a lifestyle change. Companies with an appetite for remote working could look to Cornwall for some or all of their remote workforce.

Gawthorpe’s St Agnes-based consultancy, Smart Working Revolution, is creating a new system that will help organisations to find suitable remote employees. People in Cornwall can upload details about their skills, which will be shared with organisations looking to recruit remote talent. Heat maps produced from the data could reveal pockets of skills that will help recruiters find fertile places to look.  

Plans for the system were already underway before the pandemic hit, but Gawthorpe says the blow dealt by the virus to Cornwall’s tourism-dependent economy has made it more urgent. “We’ve got a lot of weight behind us now,” she says. “In theory it’s a model that could be used anywhere, but our dream is to make Cornwall the smart capital of the UK.”

“OUr dream is to make cornwall the smart capital of the uk”

ruth gawthorpe, co-founder, smart working revolution

Hubs in towns and villages could replace city-centre offices

Another initiative gaining ground in Cornwall could help. Smart Towns and Villages is the idea of using fibre broadband and 5G to enable hub-based working in rural locations. Gawthorpe points to the C-Space workspace in Newquay as an example of a rural hub where remote workers can work in the company of others, in a high-spec space.

“The pandemic has proven that we can work remotely,” she says. “We don’t need to be in the office all day, every day. If we can get more people working in hubs in the towns and villages of Cornwall, it will improve our high streets and make Cornwall a more prosperous place.”

Featured image credit: Sally Mitchell Photography