Redefining the ‘where’ of hybrid work

As working patterns become more fluid, where are the best locations to work remotely and how will hybrid work evolve?

A businessman working remotely outdoors in sunny conditions
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One of the starkest changes COVID-19 has delivered is how, and where, we work. The nature of the workplace shifted as soon as businesses embraced remote working on a massive scale, with this shift now looking set to be something of a permanent change in the new era of hybrid work. 

The pandemic was the key driving force in the evolution of hybrid work, and as businesses aim to reconfigure their operations as we emerge from COVID-19, how, and where, employees work has reached an inflection point. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) concluded recently that regularly working from home is expected to rise to 37% of the workforce, on average, which is roughly double the pre-crisis average of 18%. Employers, too, expect 22% of their workforce to work from home at all times once the crisis subsides, compared with just 9% expecting permanent home-working before the pandemic set in.

Hot desking, which started in the 1990s, serves as one of the precursors to today’s hybrid working model and is becoming a central tenet of many offices. The ‘coffee shop commute’, meanwhile, which may once have seemed impractical, is also becoming the foundation on which new ways of working are being built.

The cost of working crisis

The UK is home to some of the most expensive co-working desk spaces, according to research from Coworking Insights, which found the average desk prices now stand at £192 per month, with London desk space costing £246. The most expensive country for hot desking is Monaco, with desks costing £287 per month, while the most expensive city is Santa Monica, California, with desks costing £343 per month. The global average, for reference, stands at £136. 

The cost of living, and property prices, significantly influences these prices, with four of the top ten cities with the highest average desk prices based in Switzerland, including Basel, Berne, Lucerne, and Zurich. Four of the top ten, too, were based in California, including Encinitas, Santa Monica, San Francisco, and Sunnyvale. 

Having identified the top 100 best destinations for work, meanwhile, Remote awarded the top spot to Toronto, followed by Madrid and Auckland. London ranked 78th in this survey, which used a range of factors including internet access, quality of life and the cost of living. It shows that while using co-working spaces may seem an attractive proposition for London-based workers, it’s actually more appealing in a host of other locations across the world. It also suggests workers need not be bound to the city, now they have the freedom to live and work in more remote parts of the UK.

An empty Picadilly Circus in London

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London was ranked the 78th best destination for work in Remote's latest index

“London has something for everyone – if you can afford it,” the index says. “This sprawling city is home to people of every nationality, so remote workers of all backgrounds fit right in. You'll never be far from Wi-Fi or interesting places to set up your laptop. This historic city is rich in tradition but is also on the cutting edge of culture and technology. Of course, the downsides of living in London are big-city problems: a high price tag, traffic, and crowding. And while the city itself is beautiful, it’s not known for its weather.”

"For a long time, workers were restricted to living near major urban hubs if they wanted to access the best job opportunities,” adds Remote’s CEO and co-founder, Job van der Voort. “The freedom to work from anywhere opens the door for employees to choose their home – or travel – without compromising their work. With so many possibilities, our interactive ranking tool aims to find the perfect destination for everyone based on what they value most.”

Building bridges

According to the Microsoft 2021 Work Trends Index, 66% of business leaders say their company is considering redesigning their office space to support hybrid working. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of employees, too, want flexible working options to become permanent. 

Alongside affording additional freedom to workers, a hybrid approach guarantees human contact is maintained. "Bumping into people in the office and grabbing lunch together may seem unrelated to the success of the organisation, but they're actually important moments where people get to know one another and build social capital," says Microsoft’s senior principal researcher, Dr Nancy Baym, who’s studied social connections for decades. “They build trust, they discover common interests they didn’t know they had, and they spark ideas and conversations.”

Not entirely dismissing the office is crucial, Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at CIPD, adds. “We have seen some employers investing in office refurbs so they’re more conducive to collaboration, teamwork and blue-sky thinking,” she explains, “which is what most people have said they’ll be coming in for.”

Workers collaboration in an office meeting room

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A hybrid approach offers flexibility as well as the opportunity for in-person collaboration

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Technology that allows efficient remote working is the primary focus for businesses now, but as Adam Seamons, systems and security engineer at IT firm GRC International Group, points out, ergonomics is also critical. "While the technology is largely in place to support remote working, it’s the human requirement that can be difficult,” he says. “To be comfortable and productive, a remote working location should offer appropriate desk space and seating. Phone calls can also be difficult in noisy environments. A coffee shop may have some appeal for remote working, however, they generally don’t provide the same quality of seating required for lengthy periods of computer work.”

Application overload

Businesses have been evolving their use of digital tools to foster greater collaboration for decades. This technology-first approach has in some cases, however, inadvertently led to the erosion of efficiency, with teams fighting to manage the portfolio of tools they use rather than innovating with colleagues. 

Indeed, Qatalog’s Workgeist report speaks volumes, concluding 69% of respondents found it challenging to find the information they needed, with 63% often adopting unauthorised tools, because they’re easier to use.

“Most leaders now see tools like Slack and Zoom as essential to day-to-day operations,” says Tariq Rauf, founder and CEO of Qatalog. “Sometimes, however, these remote tools are actually the cause of unnecessary stress and chaos, because they’re not designed to work together and they’re constantly competing for our attention through a cacophony of alerts. 

“They’re also fuelling an ‘always on’ mentality that’s costing employees’ wellbeing and harming their productivity. As they plan for the future, business leaders must take a considered approach to technology and recognise that it was freedom and flexibility that drove workers’ productivity during the pandemic, not an army of apps.”

For companies connecting their disparate workforces together, it’s critical that location shouldn’t affect the quality of work. Defining what hybrid working means for each business and employee, is essential to unlocking their potential and protecting against isolation, and the possible erosion of wellbeing. As we emerge from COVID-19, employers are beginning to consider work more as something you do than a place you visit.

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