Analysis: Is a 'hybrid' approach of working at the office and at home really the future?

Although plans are being unveiled to guide us out of lockdown, it seems that for the foreseeable, working from home will remain the norm for many – before life potentially resumes something approaching normality.

A survey has found that nearly 70 per cent of respondents would like to work from home for one to three days a week. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.
A survey has found that nearly 70 per cent of respondents would like to work from home for one to three days a week. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Many have found some advantages of working from, say, their home office, kitchen table or living room rather than alongside colleagues a commute away – but downsides have emerged too, such as loneliness and a lack of boundaries between the 9-5 and the 5-9.

It is therefore logical to conclude that a mix of working from home and the office, once permitted again, offers the best of both worlds – and this “hybrid” concept has taken off to the extent that it is being built into the strategies of major employers.

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What is more, a new survey has found about 90 per cent of UK firms expect hybrid workforces to become a permanent part of working life.

Edinburgh-based communications agency Wonderhouse says it was built around hybrid working. Picture: contributed.

That follows a 190 per cent spike in remote work job postings since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the report from specialist recruiter Robert Half, which has an office in Edinburgh.

It follows a separate study published in January by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which said half of Scottish organisations plan to take steps to enable more home and hybrid working over the next six to 12 months.

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Robert Half said its new research coincided with the launch of its Demand for Skilled Talent report, produced alongside labour market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies and focusing on evolving UK hybrid workforces.

It discovered that nearly 70 per cent of workers surveyed would like to continue working from home for one to three days a week going forward.

Matt Weston, managing director of Robert Half UK, said: “2021 will continue to be a year of recovery and rebuilding for many, but long-term shifts to remote and hybrid working are creating significant opportunities for businesses and individual workers alike. While the ‘anywhere workforce’ is clearly here to stay, adopting a flexible mindset will be critical for all who want to thrive in what remains a highly dynamic business environment.”

The report comes after accountancy giant PwC said in December that it was reviewing the layout and technology of all of its offices to ensure they were “best equipped for a hybrid working world”.

That was followed by KPMG saying earlier this month it was “preparing for a future of hybrid working,” and this year will spend a further £44 million to transform its offices and invest in new home working technology for staff.

“The new hybrid working model will introduce a more flexible way of working, tailored to individuals’ roles and lives,” KPMG said in a statement.

"It will see KPMG staff work part of the week from home and part in KPMG offices or at client sites.” The company said such a model could give it more access to a broader and diverse workforce.

That chimes with Robert Half saying employers cited access to a far larger talent pool as one benefit of hybrid working in addition to improved business agility, and the ability to offer teams a better work-life balance.

But while incumbents are going to great lengths to adapt their existing practices, some newer businesses have been able to make hybrid working a core part of their offering from the get-go.

One such firm is Edinburgh-based communications agency Wonderhouse, with director Rachael Grieve saying the business aims to be “ahead of the curve”.

She said: “A work-life balance is of the upmost importance to us and creating a working environment that gets the best out of your team works in everyone’s favour.

"We already work a four-day week, which is something we will continue to offer, and during lockdown one director moved out of the city to the Scottish Borders and another has temporarily relocated to Ibiza.”

On the latter note, and according to Robert Half, two in five workers that it surveyed were planning to relocate to another country or city whilst working remotely.


Ms Grieve highlighted benefits of Wonderhouse’s approach. "The same high level quality of work is still achieved, and feedback from clients is that they appreciate being part of a forward-thinking agency,” she said.

"We’re a creative communications agency, so for us it isn’t about where you live, it’s about offering consistent and creative results for our clients.”

Andrew Cooke, strategic director at workplace specialist Bruntwood Works, said hybrid working had already been catching on, but the pandemic “has acted as a nationwide social experiment that has supercharged this trend”.

He said: “The office and working from home are both key parts of every business’ toolkit and the balance between the two post-pandemic will inevitably change.

"That means we need to see the office as an opportunity to provide spaces and environments that you just can’t replicate elsewhere. This means creating spaces which add value to our customers' business and which power productivity.”

But Patrick Ford, director of national capital markets at property and investment firm Colliers in Glasgow, doesn’t believe firms are about to drastically change their office footprint.

He welcomed news of the major reduction in Covid-related hospitalisations following a vaccine dose, adding this is likely to bring optimism across the wider economy.

“While the focus of the last 12 months has been on containing the virus, there is no doubt that a large proportion of workers are now more than ready to start interacting with colleagues, face to face,” he said.

"A greater degree of flexibility is likely to emerge, but we are not seeing any signs of employers looking to abandon or significantly downsize their offices, in favour of a dispersed, virtually-connected workforce.”

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