Hybrid and remote working in the North of England: Impact and future prospects
As the full scale and implications of the post-pandemic shift to hybrid working are becoming clearer, this new joint Work Foundation and Newcastle University Business School report provides insight into the challenges and opportunities related to remote working for businesses and places in the North of England.
This study, based on secondary data analysis and 33 interviews with businesses and local stakeholders, finds that employee preferences are likely to drive the shift to enduring hybrid working in the months following Government’s removal of the working from home guidance.
Our research found that remote working enhanced workers’ sense of flexibility and autonomy, which led to enhanced trust between employers and staff. At the same time, this mode of working blurred boundaries between work and home life, which was reported to negatively impact mental wellbeing. Going forward, interviewees note that some form of face-to-face interaction will likely be important to sustain organisational culture, induct new staff, maintain formal and informal connections between staff, and enable managers to better gauge and support worker wellbeing.
Insights around the impact of a shift to hybrid working for local areas and labour markets indicate that while some displacement of jobs and economic activity is anticipated, the continued need to commute in to a shared work space at least some of the time means it is likely workers will remain rooted in their local context to a much greater extent than with exclusive remote working.
Evidence from this research provides a sense of what employers and government can do to support a positive transition to hybrid work.
Recommendations for employers to support their teams:
- Help employees manage their work-life balance by discussing working hours, communication and technology use. If necessary, an organisational right-to-disconnect policy should be developed in conjunction with staff and trade union representatives.
- Take a deliberate approach to sharing formal and informal knowledge. The roles of both remote and in-person activities during the onboarding of new employees should be carefully considered, and the development of informal networks within the organisation to foster knowledge should be encouraged.
- Consult with staff and trade union representatives on broader preferences for flexible work, taking account of the importance not only of flexibility in where employees work, but also how and when they work.
Recommendations for policymakers:
- Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce should develop clear guidance for employers around their duty of care towards employees while they are working exclusively remotely, or in a hybrid model.
- The Taskforce should set out proposals to amend legislation around flexible work, introducing a day-one right to request flexible work; narrowing the range of reasons employers may give to deny such a request; and shoring up avenues for workers to appeal decisions without fearing reprisal.
- To truly level-up the North, Government must focus on boosting the number and the quality of jobs, supported by the infrastructure to enable people to access them. This should focus on access to training opportunities and skills development, as well as planned investments in high-speed broadband and improved public transport connectivity.
- Local Authorities could play an important role in coordinating and developing affordable and accessible co-working spaces for local businesses, which could also host events and act as a form of informal innovation hub, in collaboration with organisations such as Local Enterprise Partnerships or Chambers of Commerce.
Watch the recording of our event discussing this research
To mark the launch of this report, the Work Foundation and Newcastle University Business School hosted an interactive webinar on 21 July to discuss the challenges and potential benefits of a shift to a hybrid model.
Following on from a presentation of the report’s key findings, three panelists responded to the findings and recommendations:
- Jon Powell (President of Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce and Head of Enterprise and Innovation Services at Lancaster University)
- Jane Meek (Corporate Director of Economic Development at Carlisle City Council)
- Arlen Pettit (Knowledge Development Manager at Northeast of England Chamber of Commerce)
Panelists reflected on the experiences of remote working in the North East and North West, and the implications of a sustained hybrid model for businesses and local economies.
This webinar can be viewed in full here
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