I’ve long championed (and benefited from) collaboration in business.

Don’t get me wrong. Challenge me to a race and I’ll go flat out to win. And I’m Mr Obnoxious when it comes to family board games: beating small children (and ruining their day) is what it’s all about, right?

But in business and social enterprise, folk often adopt a silo mentality. That can be deliberate – when I ran a division of a PLC in the 1990s, our different profit centres were in competition with one another. That meant team leaders would hoard leads, rather than share opportunities. The business certainly didn’t benefit.

Self-employment is at a high in the UK and makes a vital contribution to Sheffield’s economy. But freelancers, the self-employed and people working remotely as part of a big organisation can find themselves in a silo too.

Working from home can be hard. Many home-workers are affected by loneliness and isolation, which can have a profound impact on productivity, wellbeing, mental health, and physical health. Co-working spaces can be a lifeline.

A silo mentality can also be based on assumptions. Last year I was staggered to hear a prominent member of Sheffield’s business community state “Union St is full of kids playing at being in business.”

He went on to assert – perhaps from deep within his silo – that freelancers and remote workers making up the membership of co-working spaces are struggling wannabees.

Well, I have news for you, sir: they’re thriving, as they demonstrated in Union St’s Impact Snapshot. Some are sole traders, some run businesses, some work for large organisations and charities; many collaborate with large businesses and the vast majority have become stronger and more resilient by collaborating with one another as members of Union St.

These co-workers are diverse – established and expert freelancers work alongside start-ups, remote workers in large businesses and organisations, social entrepreneurs, academics and researchers.

They are all part of something making a unique contribution to the vibrancy of the city centre – the opposite of ‘extraction capitalism’. Researching and writing Union St’s Impact Snapshot really revealed how it is enabling its members to thrive. It actually made me commit to new membership myself!

Let’s finish by returning to the theme of silos. Freelancers, microenterprises and social enterprises can teach larger organisations an enormous amount about agility and creativity, scale and sustainable growth. I’m encouraged by the positive responses to Union St’s impact snapshot. Let’s break the silos.



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