New ways of working set to bring economic benefits closer to home
Many of us have been asked to work from home as measures are taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19, and while the recommendation to continue doing so remains, it’s becoming apparent that many of us intend to move towards a blend of remote and office working in the future.
A study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) revealed that 32 per cent of people are expecting to continue working from home at least some of the time, with many realising how much time and money they save from not having a daily commute.
Elaine Doherty, regional lead for Scotland and the north east of England at CityFibre, the UK's 3rd largest network infrastructure provider, sees many benefits of ongoing flexibility in working patterns.
She says: “For people, a big positive is greater work-life balance. Getting the time back that we would have lost commuting to be at home with our families is a huge bonus. According to a TUC survey this could be more than 50 minutes a day for drivers in the UK.
For working from home to truly work, it relies on one thing – technology. From being able to connect to your organisation’s servers, to taking part in video conferences with colleagues, a good internet connection is not just a nice to have for homeworkers – it’s a necessity. Modern working is data intensive and for too many people their home broadband just isn’t fast or reliable enough to make working from home anything more than a pipe dream.
CityFibre-backed research shows that 78 per cent of UK consumers felt slowed down and frustrated by their internet connection. But for homeworkers, that figure increased to 82 per cent. Indeed, almost all homeworkers (99%) agreed that a better connection would enable them to work from home more often, with a third saying that doing so would improve their work-life balance and improve stress.
But a challenge that must be addressed is the stress on Scotland's telecommunications infrastructure. Elaine explains that as an infrastructure provider, one of the key things that CityFibre is doing to help is accelerating its build in cities across the UK to get full fibre to more homes and businesses more quickly – in response to market demand and calls from the government.
The latest area to join CityFibre’s growing list of locations is in the west of Scotland where a landmark partnership with Renfrewshire Council will bring full fibre to the historic towns of Paisley, Renfrew and Johnstone, turning Renfrewshire into one of the best-connected regions in Scotland.
“Of course, it’s not just where we work that is changing,” says Elaine, “the availability of high-speed broadband will change how we work too. The experience of working round Covid restrictions has forced businesses to be creative in the ways they interact with each other and customers.”
“Online video platforms have made meetings more focused and better disciplined; and demonstrated that taking hours to travel large distances for a meeting, just to do the same in reverse, a few hours later, is not necessary, and often undesirable in terms of wasted productivity, cost and also detrimental to the wellbeing of employees,” she says.
Dr Marie Macklin CBE, founder of the HALO initiative, a multi-million pound urban regeneration project on a 23-acre site in Kilmarnock, the former the home of Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker, believes a mix of home and office working will be the favoured option for many in the future.
Macklin says: “It’s not yet clear to me how the ‘new normal’ will look post-Covid 19. While an element of home working is likely to be here for the long-term, I believe many people will want to balance that option with working in a more conventional office environment.
“However, as people commute less it is vital that we focus on developing towns that are sustainable, healthy and energy efficient. This will in turn create jobs and build a new economy for our children and their children post Covid-19.”
Elaine goes on to say; “the ability to work remotely, means people are spending less money on commuting, with a greater work life balance and more money in their pockets - they are likely to spend more in their local area - so local businesses and economies are benefitting too.”
Recent research from Deloitte Digital analysing the impact of the pandemic on customer experience found that three in five (59%) of consumers have used more local stores and services to help support them during lockdown. In addition to this 57% of consumers say they will be more likely to spend money at a business that offers locally produced products once the lockdown has lifted than they would have done before the stay-at-home order was imposed.
And re-inventing our towns is something close to the heart of Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland's Town Partnership, an organisation that represents the country's towns and places.
He says: “Scotland is undoubtedly a nation of towns; with almost two thirds of our population and businesses still based there.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a number of new traits, less commuting, more home working, a growth in localism and active travel, increased community and citizenship, a reconnection with local green space and heritage, so whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly presented challenges it has also created opportunity.”
He adds that the traditional city centric model no longer works and if the shift to homeworking is harnessed ambitiously enough, it can provide solutions to help shape a more attractive and equal Scotland.
CityFibre is passionate about meeting the challenge of providing the digital infrastructure to support new ways of working, says Elaine. It is already making its mark in Stirling – it’s first gigabit city in the UK and is working hard across Scotland to bring full fibre networks to as many homes and businesses as it can. This investment in digital infrastructure will help unlock the workplace – and workforce of the future.
Soon, working from home won’t just be something that only a select few can make the most of. Instead, it will be the reality for millions and millions more employees up and down the country.
Happier workers, more nimble businesses, fewer cars on the road, less pollution in our towns and cities – the benefits will be felt by all. What are we waiting for?
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