WORKING from home became the norm for many Scots during lockdown.

Sixteen months later, many are still logging on from their living rooms, kitchen tables and bedrooms. So will this add-up to a long-term culture shift, and what will it mean for staff wellbeing and productivity?

Three workers say the practice has improved their mental health, boosted their productivity and made family life better.

That’s as recruitment giant Hays says hybrid working options will become increasingly important to businesses seeking to keep and attract talent. According to Hays CEO Alistair Cox, offering this kind of arrangement will now be “ a must-have” for employers, who are now in “a very, very intense war for talent at the moment” as demand for staff becomes “a red-hot market in so many areas”.

London-based telecom giant BT and bootmaker Dr Martens are amongst the big players making a long-term switch to hybrid operations. Six in ten Scots who weren’t furloughed worked from home at least some of the time during the pandemic.

According to Flexibility Works, 45% want to work from home more regularly than before, with 32% seeking flexitime. The Scottish operation – which champions a shift away from a 9-5 deskbound culture – says that could cut stress levels and boost wellbeing. But research from the organisation suggests only 44% of employers expect to offer flexitime to their teams. And just 61% of Scottish employers say they expect to offer more home working even when restrictions lift - meaning many staff may have to return to previous working models even if they don’t want to.

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Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director of Flexibility Works said: “Flexible working can support and enable people with mental health issues to enter the workforce and stay in work. But it’s also good for our general wellbeing and keeps us healthier.

“Our research shows many employees had already sought flexibility at work to help manage a mental health condition, or to improve their wellbeing, long before the pandemic arrived.

“Now we’re hearing many employers are much more focused on employee wellbeing, as a direct result of the pandemic, so we hope more people will feel confident to ask for flexibility. And that more employers will see how they benefit too.

“Most people only want relatively small changes, such as a bit more home working, or to start and finish at slightly different times, so this doesn’t need to be scary prospect for employers. In return, they’ll get healthier employees who take less time off ill, and work more productively too.”

Marianne Craig, who lives near Edinburgh, with her husband and their young daughter, took time off her previous job after her flexible working request was turned down. She recalls “sobbing” in her car while in a traffic jam en-route to pick up her daughter from nursery and quit for a “family-friendly” post, but had to take a pay cut and temporary contract to do so.

She said: “When I realised the culture was genuine, I wanted to stay. I’ve been promoted and now earn more than I did in my last job. But more importantly, I now understand my value and the knock-on effect on my mental health has been life-changing. I’m now in a great place and all it took was trust and kindness.”

Andrew Reid, a development manager from Aberdeen, arranged flexible hours to manage childcare and nolonger has to rely on family to share the load. He says he now realises how much time he missed with his kids, adding: “Working at home has definitely helped with improving my mental health.

“Less time spent travelling to and from work, and the ability to keep on top of housework and cooking has just generally improved my work life balance. I hope I’ll be able to continue working from home, and just go into the office as and when it’s required, and that I’ll be able to continue flexing my hours a little bit so I can do the nursery or school-run if need be, and spend time with my children when it matters.

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“The pandemic has showed that people can be trusted to produce what’s required, and the whole clock-watching and rigid 9am-5pm system is unnecessary.”

Investment copywriter Rachel Barrack, from Glasgow, compressed her full-time hours to give her time to study for a Masters degree, do volunteer work and look after her dog, something she says has been “brilliant” for her wellbeing.

She said: “My manager trusts me to manage my workload. Sometimes I start very early at 5.30am, so I can get everything done and finish early, which means I can fit in the voluntary work when needed.”