Campus Diaries: A new dawn for working in biotech


In the first instalment of our new blog series, Campus Diaries, our Innovation Campus Manager, Liz Cashon, shares how working in biotech has changed since the start of 2020 and her thoughts on the future ways of working for the industry, including why science parks are set to become an increasingly popular base for many businesses.

The new laboratory

Biotech companies rely heavily on their lab space, even more so following the advent of Covid-19 as many have been actively involved in the fight against it, including several of our tenants at York Biotech Campus. It was therefore essential they stayed operational when the pandemic hit.

Labs are now a much quieter space, with less people allowed in each lab and ‘work bubbles’ formed to limit contact across workforces.

A significant change for laboratories of the future will be the greater levels of equipment needed for each worker. Things that tend to be moved around between labs, such as stir plates or cameras, must now remain in their designated lab so multiple users aren’t handling them. We’ll be working hard with our occupiers to support them through any expansions or reconfiguration projects as part of their right-sizing initiatives to future proof their lab space. We have a great onsite team who are on hand to facilitate moves and fit outs, making adapting to these new times a seamless process for tenants.

The office is not dead, just different

For those of us working in the biotech industry, we experienced many of the same challenges as any business trying to operate, including relying on email and video communications as we worked from home. However, some things in biotech simply can’t be done over the phone. Scientists need write up space so have to work between the lab and the office and office-based staff need co-working facilities in order to foster innovation and drive development forward.

This meant that we had to adapt office space very quickly so occupiers could still come into the office if absolutely necessary. As a result, many of the companies onsite have been practising the ‘new normal’ in their offices since early March. For instance, Labskin changed their entire office lay out swiftly in March with a new floorplan to minimise the number of occupants in the office at any one time and ensured that employees sat back-to-back to limit face-to-face contact.

Dawn of the flexible workspace

From speaking with smaller firms and start-ups in the sector, we’re sensing that a formal office isn’t an instant necessity to them as it may historically have been. With more home working, start-ups and SMEs may find it more beneficial to start with a co-working office and lab spaces before moving into a more permanent base. Opting for co-working space offers less risk for early stage businesses. Then, when they get to a point where they’d like to scale-up, a range of dedicated office space and lab space can be considered on a more permanent basis. By then, the team will be immersed and comfortable with life on campus – this is a benefit science parks often have thanks to their wide ranges of available space.

Having co-working and drop-in space gives businesses the flexibility to work from home as and when they need to, but also gives employees the option to come into the office when they need to collaborate and catch up as a group. If based on a science park like us, the business can also benefit from the campus as a destination for networking and collaborating with other leading biotech firms, working together to solve problems and develop ideas.

This approach has the potential to save companies a substantial amount on overheads, money which could be invested into invaluable R&D for the business instead.

What’s more, the benefits of working in a social space compared to in isolation at home are incredibly pertinent at the moment. As social creatures, we need human interaction across all aspects of our lives, including work. We have already seen the toll that prolonged home working has taken on the mental health of many across the country, Nuffield Health revealed that 80% of the UK feels that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health. The opportunity to go into a social environment and interact with colleagues in a safe manner will be incredibly valuable to many.

If you’re a Yorkshire based biotech start-up, looking for some co-working space, you may want to keep an eye on York Biotech Campus, as we have some very exciting new offerings coming to market very soon!

Out of town and into science parks

From conversations with many stakeholders in the Yorkshire biotech industry, we sense a lot of businesses who have traditionally been based in city-centre facilities will be considering out-of-town options moving forward. Campus working offers a whole host of benefits which line up nicely to the needs of the ‘new normal’. They offer spacious accommodation for offices and labs, a greater sense of security and more options for parking, reducing employee’s reliance on public transport.

Campus managers also have to ensure that moving around the site is safe, with hand sanitisation stations, masks being worn and socially distanced walkways, and that all these protocols are effectively communicated so they are followed correctly. As an 80-acre site with over 1,000 employees working across it, this couldn’t be more important. We’re actually in the process of updating our Intranet system to make sure our communication is the best it can be. This means our tenants always have peace of mind that their environment is as secure as possible.

However, don’t think that because you’re out of town means you’re out of the loop. Campuses often have a range of services and facilities, at York Biotech we have a gym, fitness classes, and a popular restaurant, we are looking into bringing more amenities onsite, such as beauty treatments, regular local food producer stalls and car valeting.

As a science park, we are well placed to meet changes head on and have been doing so since the start of lockdown. As we understand the specific needs of biotech businesses, we can make quick changes to our spaces for optimal social distancing and cleanliness, without compromising on vital scientific research ongoing onsite.

We suspect science parks will become a popular location choice for a range of businesses moving forwards, and here at York Biotech Campus, we’re here to help them meet any future challenges thrown their way.