NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed Scots will be encouraged to make a "phased return" to office working from Monday.

The First Minister said that the Scottish Government will "encourage employers to consider hybrid working" and warned that a "wholesale return to the office next week" could be "counter productive" in tackling the Omicron surge of Covid-19 and could "set progress back".

The announcement was made following the approval of the SNP Government cabinet this morning.

Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: "Instead of recommending home working whenever practical, the new guidance will pave the way for a phased return to the office.

"It will recommend that from Monday January 31, employers should consider inplementing hybrid working following appropriate guidance with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home."

She added: "We would not expect to see a wholesale return to the office next week.

"Indeed, given that the level of infection, although falling, remains high, a mass return at this stage is likely to be counter producive and indeed, to set progress back.

"But we know there are many benefits to both employees and employers and to the economy as a whole in at least a partial return to the office at this stage."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said it was "vital we trust people across Scotland to judge what's best for them and their families".

He added: "Yet the First Minister's statement says that from the end of January, guidance on working from home will still advise against a wholesale return to the office.

"While some people will still want to work from home, why doesn't the First Minister leave that decision up to employers and the workers themselves?

"And what does she think this means for the businesses who rely on workers being back in the office and back in our communities, our city centres and our town centres?"

But the First Minister insisted that the Scottish Government will look to employers "to determine how best to manage this transition in consultation with workers and trade unions".

She added: "Anyone looking at the data right now would say that a mass return to the office from next week, with all that goes with that in terms of travel to work and people coming together would risk setting back this progress. It would not be responsible and that's why the Scottish Government is not going to encourage it."

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “The First Minister has made the right decision today which will finally enable the reopening of offices and provide the freedom of choice for employees and employers to decide how and where they work.

“With the green-light given by the First Minister today, businesses now have the certainty to fully deploy their hybrid models which have been developed in partnership between employees and employers."

She added: “We can now get to work to revive our workplaces and our town and city centres, which have been hit hard by the absence of office workers.

“It is clear that the time for directional guidance has now passed and it must be accepted by government that it is best to enable employers and employees to decide what is best for them.” 

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, added: “The relaxation of work from home guidance will be welcomed by businesses, with many already engaging positively with staff to shape new ways of working that suit both parties.

"Hybrid working is here to stay for many firms, and it’s up to them and their staff to work together to maximise the benefits of a balanced approach.

“We should recognise however that for some workplaces, a hybrid approach won’t be possible or desirable. There are also many clear benefits to being in a physical workspace, such as collaboration, on-the-job learning and reducing the negative impact of isolation on mental wellbeing.

“Blanket work-from-home guidance has also had a significant downside for city centre trade in sectors such as hospitality and retail. With many firms already experiencing diminished demand, the prospect of an upturn in footfall will provide encouragement as they look to trade their way to recovery.”