Business

Study: Majority of workers in Northern Ireland want hybrid working in long term

Two-thirds of workers in the north want to retain some form of home working in the long-term, a new study shows.

TWO-thirds of workers in the north want flexible working arrangements in the long term, a new study from Ulster University shows.

The university's Economic Policy Centre (EPC) surveyed 1,600 people across Northern Ireland during 2021 on their experience of working through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The resignation of Paul Givan as First Minister means the north's current Covid-19 workplace guidelines is unlikely to change until after the election.

Since January 21, that guidance states that people should work from home where possible, with employers encouraged to facilitate.

Respondents to the Ulster University survey overwhelmingly backed a return to the office, but only if it was combined with home working. Women, in particular, indicated a stronger preference for hybrid working.

The most popular option was spending between one and three days in the office,

The under 25s expressed the greatest desire to return to the office. But the survey found between 10-15 per cent of people don't want to return to the office at all, with the 35-50 age cohort expressing the strongest resistance.

The report highlighted the impact of ‘Zoomshock' on Belfast as people switched to home working in 2020.

But it said the impact of the phenomenon is difficult to estimate given the levels of uncertainty over the extent to which employers will ultimately embrace a hybrid working model.

“Conversely, consumption patterns could be merely displaced and sub-urban/residential areas could become the beneficiaries.”

The report however found that most respondents were not interested in working in remote hubs.

Director of the Ulster University EPC, Gareth Hetherington, said “Whilst we as a society want so much of our lives to return to normal, it appears that working from home is one habit from the pandemic that many of us want to keep, at least in part.

“This has many implications for both staff and employers which we are still only beginning to come to terms with.”

But he said one clear positive from the pandemic has been the number of women, with care responsibilities, who have returned to the labour market because of the availability of hybrid working.

“It appears that an increased acceptance of home working by employers is allowing them to manage both their workplace and family responsibilities,” said Mr Hetherington.

Dr Eoin Magennis, one of the report's authors, said employers have generally expressed a preference for a full-time return to the workplace.

But he said there is now on onus on employers to recognise the expectations of staff.

“Employers now need to develop new approaches to deal with the changes that increased levels of remote working will bring and many are looking for guidance to help them work through those challenges.”

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