Covid Scotland: More hybrid working could be “next step” in the easing of restrictions says Kate Forbes

More Scots could return to the office from next month, with ministers “looking carefully” at the possibility of increased hybrid working.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said that could be the next step in the Scottish Government’s phased approach to lifting coronavirus restrictions.

Limits on the number of people who can attend outdoor events, which were imposed at the start of the Omicron wave, were removed earlier this week.

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Further restrictions, including the need for bars to operate table service only and asking people to limit meet-ups to a maximum of three households – will end next Monday.

The changes were announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday, and she pledged ministers will “engage with businesses” about hybrid working from February – which could see a part-time return to the office for some staff.

Guidance requiring people to work from home where possible has been in place for much of the last two years in Scotland, and Ms Sturgeon said people are asked to continue to do so “at this stage”.

Ms Forbes said on Wednesday that more hybrid working could be the “next step” in the easing of restrictions.

The Finance and Economy Secretary told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Last week we started the phased removal of protections, this week we have gone further, we always do it on a phased approach.

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“I think the next step is looking carefully at working from home and a number of other points.

“The First Minister said that hopefully, as of the beginning of next month, we will move back to hybrid working where some people will be working from home but more will be working in the office

“We will be engaging with business on that point.”

Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, said the hope is to gradually introduce a return to the office “over the next little while”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “If you think about working from home, it’s not so much the working from home that does it, it’s everything around the working from home, it’s the transportation, it’s the retail, it’s everything.

“If you’re looking at the risk menu and you’ve got a cinema with 200 people in it, compared to asking the working population of Scotland to go back on the trains, back on the buses, back to work, that’s a different level of risk so that’s why we’re holding that back for now, that was our advice, and then gradually we’ll be able to get that back.

“I hope if Omicron continues on the downward slope, we don’t get another variant, we’ll be able to do that in the next few weeks and months.”

However business leaders have insisted the end of homeworking must not be delayed any further.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, urged ministers to “remove the shackles from offices as urgently as possible to provide real choice for employers and employees”.

Ms Cameron pointed out that many firms in town and city centres rely on office workers for a large part of their income, and these businesses “are reporting that this inflexibility is having a growing consequence for the productivity and wellbeing of their staff”.