A SOCIAL business which promotes flexible and home working in Scotland and is funded by the Scottish Government and Hunter Foundation is cautioning employers against closing down offices completely amid the coronavirus crisis.

Flexibility Works is urging firms to “think creatively” about where employees will work in future, saying employers might be tempted to cut costs by closing offices after seeing how well employees performed working from home during lockdown.

However, the organisation also said most employees want a blended approach working at home and in the office, and the key to continued high performance is giving staff more control over where, when and how they work, rather than creating permanent home working for all.

Nikki Slowey, director and co-founder of Flexibility Works, said: “Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the default Monday to Friday 9-5 office working pattern was becoming outdated. It was a legacy from the past that we just couldn’t quite shake off. Now we’ve witnessed four month of mass home working, which has proved people can work effectively from home.

"We’re delighted at how many employers have completely shifted mindset.

"We have long championed the benefits of home working.

"But in a strange twist, we are now promoting the benefits of the office too."

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“It’s clear from our own research the majority employees would welcome more home working. But while some want this permanently, there are others who don’t want to work from home at all.

"Some people don’t have adequate space or they feel lonely and more anxious at home.

"Even those who are happy to work from home still say they need some face-to-face interaction, whether that’s one-to-ones with their manager, meetings with clients, creative brainstorms, career development and training or for team morale.

"Demand for home working has increased massively, but the majority of us want a blended approach combining home and office working.

“Ultimately it is about giving staff more choice in where they work, that’s what flexible working is all about and that’s what drives up performance and productivity.”

Almost half of the UK workforce was entirely home-based at the height of the pandemic, compared with pre-coronavirus figures for Scotland showing around 30 per cent could work from home at least some of the time.

A new poll by Flexibility Works shows almost three quarters of Scots want to work flexibly, or more flexibly than they are currently, after the pandemic.

Scottish companies are already thinking about how their offices might be used after the pandemic, including Zurich Insurance, which employs around 240 people in its St Vincent Place office in Glasgow.

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Most of those take calls from the public and are usually office-based but have been working from home during the pandemic.

Steve Collinson, Zurich Insurance human resources director, said a hybrid model, blending office and home working, is likely to be the “new normal” way to work, even for employees in high frequency contact with customers.

He said: “We’re also aware that some staff really do prefer to work in the office and we’ll always accommodate that.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise usually has 300 staff based in 15 offices across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. A recent all-staff survey 88% said they’d like at least two days a week at home and 66% said they’d like at least three days a week working from home.

Helen Herd, senior HR manager, said “Being part of the communities we serve and close to our client base is important to support economic recovery and development across the region, so we will continue to have a physical presence. But there may be opportunities for more co-location with other public sector partners and community organisations and the creation of local hubs to work, collaborate and host events.”

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Global strategic brand agency MadeBrave is now allowing its 42 employees to work from anywhere indefinitely, following months of successful home-working during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the company is keeping its new 6,600 sq ft creative studio in Glasgow that it leased and refitted just before the lockdown began.

Andrew Dobbie, MadeBrave founder, said: “Work is a thing you do, not a place you go, so it makes sense to allow people to work where they feel they will be their best as long as they’re in a role and situation to do so.

“The studio will be there as a ‘destination’ for when people want or need it. It’s a vibrant place with areas for collaborative working, a photography studio, a podcast studio, quiet break-out areas and meeting spaces. But it won’t be a mandatory place for everyone to work.”

Flexibility Works said there are well-documented business benefits from allowing staff to work flexibly, such as increased engagement, motivation and productivity. Allowing employees to work from home means companies can recruit from a wider geographical pool of candidates and reduce their carbon footprint.

For employees, home working means they save time and money through not having to travel to work, they aren’t limited to applying for jobs within travelling distance, they can more easily flex work around home life.

Flexibility Works is hosting an online "spaces and places" webinar for employers to help them consider how to create effective workplaces at home and in the office. The event takes places at 11am on Thursday, August 20.