Thankfully, huge investment is being focused on renewables to wean the UK off its dependency on hydrocarbons. Wind, wave and tidal energy are likely to play a bigger role than solar. But there may be another source of renewable energy that Scotland can tap into and turn into economic advantage. Imagine if we could channel the renewable energy of people towards tackling global challenges like climate change, by reinventing the places in which they work.
Rural Scotland has experienced changing fortunes. In particular, the Island of Bute declined from a thriving seaside town in the 1950s and 1960s to its hotels being sold and repurposed as care homes. As a result, many young people who grew up in the Bute community left the island and headed for the bright lights of cities such as London or beyond - myself included. Ironically, a similar exodus is now happening in city centres where talented individuals are moving out to improve their quality of life.
Now, I firmly believe that the pandemic may turn rural Scotland’s supposed Achilles heel of solitude and isolation into a comparative advantage. Indeed, a recent report by Visit Scotland claimed that 53% of visitors to Scotland in 2020 were motivated by a desire to “get away from it all and have a change of environment.” Clearly, employees want more than a binary choice of work in an office versus working from home. Might they value the opportunity to sometimes work from a different home?
Change is already underway. During recent trips back home, I’ll often hear a rich variety of accents in the local bars or find myself bumping into interesting artisans, talented artists or craftspeople who have chosen Bute as their base. A vibrant and integrated Syrian refugee community adds to the diversity. No wonder Bute’s property market is booming.
As the future of work undergoes its metamorphosis, I believe young business professionals could be the next demographic to be drawn to the tranquil, natural beauty of the west coast of Scotland. And if UK based corporates want to attract and retain their expensive talent, the onus will fall on these big businesses to create working environments in which their people can be creative and productive. Right now, employees often feel disengaged and burnt out as the hidden pandemic of mental health creates a crisis of meaning and belonging in the workplace.
Crises can present opportunities as well as threats. As Glasgow hosts the global elite at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, the Craigberoch Business Decelerator a few miles “doon the watter” on Bute is hosting a variety of business professionals from across the world. They will be enjoying a Decelerator Lab—a series of immersive workshops––or prototyping a new model of hybrid working—residencies on Bute that we term “co-being.” Participants can keep pace with the day job while choosing from a menu of activities—ranging from meditation and yoga through to guided nature walks.
In the debate around work-life balance, the scales could tip in rural Scotland’s favour. We may find the bright lights of London, New York or Edinburgh become slightly dimmer for the next generation of young business professionals.
Gib Bulloch is author of The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a corporate insurgent and Founder of the Craigberoch Business Decelerator on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, which will host a range of Decelerator workshops and Co-being Residencies in September and November.