Could rising  bills reverse the exodus from the office? - Ben Doherty & Louise Norris

The pandemic fuelled one of the most seismic shifts ever experienced in working arrangements as home working transformed from the exception to the norm. Could the cost-of-living crisis bring that full circle? For some, it might very well do.

Rising energy prices (and increasing costs generally) have us all considering what the impact will be on household bills this winter. More time at home working inevitably means we’ll use more power – a situation that will naturally lead some to consider whether being in the office might actually be more cost-effective than working from home.

What does that mean for employers, many of whom have gone to great lengths to evolve to the changing nature of the workplace? It’s too early to tell, but some interesting discussion is emerging.

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From those with whom we speak regularly throughout all sectors and all parts of Scotland - as part of our work in employment and commercial property – we are confident that most employers will welcome staff back to the office with open arms.

Louise Norris is a Commercial Property Partner at Lindsays
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While home working has brought great advantages – and employers have worked really hard to adapt – people increasingly recognise spending even part of your working week with colleagues can bring huge advantages, whether in terms of professional collaboration or simply face-to-face contact.

Most businesses we work with welcome at least a hybrid model of working and as employers, recognise that offering remote working can be a significant recruitment tool.

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At the same time, however, if people want to spend their whole week in the office, they are generally welcoming of that too.

In commercial property – dealing with landlords and tenants on a daily basis – talk about the cost of living triggering a change of heart has also not gone unnoticed.

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Ben Doherty is a Partner and Head of Employment at Lindsays

For employees, the balancing act will be whether the cost of heating and electricity is offset by their travel bills. For those with shorter commutes, that may just tip the balance towards heading back to the office.

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Anecdotally, we hear of people returning to their offices – at least more often – to save money. It is an interesting talking point that I’m sure many will be watching as we work our way through the winter. Could hybrid working even evolve into having a seasonal cycle?

For some people, remote working simply doesn’t suit their circumstances or they simply work better in the office, away from the distractions of home.

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For others, hybrid working has created the perfect blend – with, say, one or two days a week in the office. Face-to-face time with colleagues, meetings in the office with clients and time out of the house. They also enjoy the greater flexibility that home working can bring in terms of juggling personal demands and cutting commuting time.

Generally, while respecting the benefits of hybrid working, most employers want people at the office as much as possible. Working as a team and the value of simply being able to turn to a colleague and ask a question is massive. We can probably all appreciate that more now than we did pre-Covid.

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Expectations regarding working locations may be set out in contract wording but again flexibility and open communication will benefit both employers and employees.

If events of recent years have taught us anything, it’s the need to be adaptable. More than ever before, businesses will keep office space requirements under regular review – how much floorspace they require, hot-desking and the likes. This means landlords are well advised to be adaptable too so they can respond to need. Landlords and tenants will both benefit from maintaining an open and positive relationship.

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Depending how commercial property contracts are worded, you may see increasing use of break-clauses either to move offices or have the adaptations they need put in place.

What’s clear is that there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all when it comes to any aspect of office working.

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Greater time spent in the office – whether due to energy costs or any other factor – may well be a potential win-win. Given that more employers would like to see more of their colleagues in-person, if employees can save money in the process, there are huge benefits to be had.

Ben Doherty is a Partner and Head of Employment and Louise Norris is a Commercial Property Partner at Lindsays

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