How hybrid working can reverse the Scottish 'brain drain' - Mike Smith comment

Edinburgh and Glasgow have previously been hailed for keeping talented graduates.

Glasgow has one of the highest student retention rates in the UK, according to the Centre for Cities, with almost half of people who study in the city staying for work after graduation.

Unfortunately, other areas of Scotland aren’t so lucky, and are accustomed to losing skilled workers. This is particularly the case in more rural areas of the country, such as the Highlands, where a lack of opportunities pushes graduates away to larger cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.

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Once people have got their degree, they are 10 per cent more likely to move away from where they grew up than those who didn’t attend university, according to a recent report from The Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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This “brain drain” means that large parts of Scotland are losing out on talent, taking connections and economic clout with them.

This is resulting in skills shortages. The Open University Business Barometer recently found that 86 per cent of Scottish companies have struggled to find skilled workers over the last year.

However, with hybrid working becoming more commonplace, Scotland is rapidly becoming a more appealing option for skilled workers from the rest of the UK, according to our research with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

'The shift to a more remote workforce creates exciting opportunities for Scotland to attract and retain talent,' says Mr Smith (file image). Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

An influx of talent to Scotland?

Giving people more choice about where and how they work opens the door for more opportunity, and builds a more diverse, inclusive workforce.

They are more likely to remain where they grew up or move to more remote areas of the country, where they can inject skills and money into local economies outside of Scotland’s biggest cities.

The CEBR’s analysis shows an interesting spike in people wanting to move to areas with a lower population density and more green space. Scotland is the most desired region, ahead of Wales and the South-west of England.

Mike Smith is large enterprise and public sector director at Virgin Media O2 Business. Picture: contributed.
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Based on analysis of employees who indicated a willingness to relocate thanks to remote working, the CEBR has calculated that Scotland could see an influx of 238,000 employees.

These people would bring vital skills and income to the country – leading to a £7.1 million injection into the Scottish economy, the highest economic uplift out of any region surveyed.

This is likely because Scottish organisations and employees are embracing hybrid working more than any other region in the UK. It has the highest number of days per week spent working remotely with employees working, on average, 2.8 days a week from home – a rise of 254 per cent since before the pandemic.

And this is having a positive impact on Scots’ wellbeing. On average, Scottish respondents enjoyed an average additional 1.7 hours of leisure time a day when working remotely, offering them greater control over their work/life balance, and more freedom to exercise, relax, or spend time with family.

Hybrid working is also helping to move around 22,000 civil service jobs out of London – a development that’ll be welcomed by many of those in Scotland who want to see more key public sector roles available to those outside of England’s capital.

It’s clear that investment in hybrid working solutions must be a focus for business-leaders to boost the Scottish economy and attract and retain top talent to the area.

Realising Scotland’s hybrid working potential

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As Scotland looks to bounce back from the pandemic, now is the time for decision-makers to take action to steer the country towards competitiveness and growth.

It can only take advantage of the hybrid working revolution if its organisations continue to embrace new ways of working and prioritise investment in collaboration technologies.

Many organisations, including Fife Council and the Royal Bank of Scotland, are already implementing ambitious hybrid working models in line with the Scottish Government’s advice to shift towards a more accessible and balanced work environment.

And the Scottish Government is actively investing in its digital infrastructure to help future-proof the nation’s economy. In March 2021, it launched its digital strategy, A Changing Nation: How Scotland Will Thrive in a Digital World, to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the skills, connectivity and devices required to fully participate in its vision of a digital nation.

Encouragingly, across Scotland, 71 per cent of organisations said their use of technology had accelerated due to Covid.

But supporting hybrid working needs to go further than digital investment. Business-leaders need to focus on instilling the correct workplace culture to ensure no one’s left behind in the new world of work.

Introducing the correct hybrid working policies will be equally important to having the right technology and connectivity.

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This includes implementing a clear hybrid working strategy to ensure everyone is provided with access to work and that employees are treated fairly wherever they choose to operate.

The opportunity ahead

The shift to a more remote workforce creates exciting opportunities for Scotland to attract and retain talent.

To ensure this opportunity is realised, the government, businesses and connectivity-providers must work together and help Scotland realise its potential.

If they do, hybrid working could give Scotland the chance to become a hub for young talent, generate successful businesses, and become a dynamic, prosperous economy.

Mike Smith, large enterprise and public sector director, Virgin Media O2 Business

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