Hybrid working could bring nearly 4 million people “locked out” from work such as parents, carers and disabled people into the workforce and enable part-time workers to work more hours adding £48.3bn to the UK economy each year, according to a major new study by Virgin Media O2 Business and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr).
The report found that 45% of Brits who are currently out of work would be able to start working if they could do so remotely. Unemployed carers are among the main beneficiaries with more than half (52%) more inclined to work remotely, along with parents (49%) and disabled people (40%) whose circumstances mean they’re locked out from fully-office or site-based work.
In total, increased hybrid working could mean an additional 3.8 million people could enter the workforce, including 1.2 million parents, 1.5 million people with disabilities, 500,000 with caring responsibilities and 600,000 others who are currently out of work.
This comes ahead of new Government proposals on flexible working which are expected to give employees the right to request flexible working arrangements as soon as they start a job.
The study, which examined how Covid-accelerated digital transformation will reshape the British economy, society and workforce, also revealed that the potential for part-time employees to work more hours could lead to an additional 1.27 billion hours worked every year.
Of the UK’s 8.6 million part-time workers, more than two fifths (43%) would increase their hours if they could work remotely. On average, hybrid working would enable part-time workers to work 5.1 more hours each week, with increases reported for disabled people (5 hours), parents (5.3 hours) and carers (6.8 hours). The number of extra hours worked could equate to 631,000 full-time employees entering employment and would provide a huge financial boost to some of the country’s poorest families.
Hybrid working could enable part-time workers to earn £3,600 a year of extra income, or £69 every week. Part-time carers, who would benefit most from remote working solutions and could work nearly 7 additional hours every week, could earn an additional £4,800 per year, or £92 every week*.
Overall, these extra hours worked in hybrid roles could boost GDP by £48.3bn every year – equivalent to a 2.4% uplift in GDP.
Employee and employers aligned on benefits of hybrid work
The report also reveals both employers and employees share similar views on hybrid working and both recognise many positive aspects of working more flexibly 18 months after lockdown restrictions were first imposed.
Employees report being more productive (36%), more in control of their work (34%), feel trusted (26%) and empowered (27%) with 20% of workers less distracted when working at home.
According to the research, business leaders share employees’ enthusiasm for hybrid working with more than two thirds (69%) believing changes to working policies driven by Covid-19 will be made permanent. This has been motivated by growing demand among employees for better work-life balance with 85% reporting that working remotely offers them additional leisure time to relax, see family and friends or spend time pursuing hobbies.
There is close alignment between organisations and their people on what they view as the optimal working arrangement in future, too. Employees now expect to work remotely 2.5 days per week, while company leaders also expect employees to work remotely about half of the week (2.3 days).
The report also highlights the critical role that sustained investment in hybrid working and digital technologies will play in helping the UK economy bounce back from Covid-19.
The increase in hybrid working, alongside the digital delivery of services and the use of big data by organisations across private and public sectors could lead to a boost of £76bn to UK GDP within just the next four years and result in a net uplift of £236bn by 2040. This figure is mostly additional to the boost the UK economy would receive by bringing 3.8m people back into work and encouraging part-time workers to work more hours in hybrid roles.
Jo Bertram, Managing Director, Business and Wholesale at Virgin Media O2, said:“Covid-19 means hybrid working is no longer a nice to have – it’s become an expected and essential part of modern work which boosts the business bottom line while creating opportunities for nearly four million people currently locked out of jobs.
“By unlocking a deeper pool of talent and creating opportunities for more people, hybrid working offers businesses and society the opportunity to bounce back stronger. Organisations that embrace it will sprint ahead by attracting the best people, boosting productivity and creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
“The UK has made years of digital progress over the past 18 months and now’s the time for business leaders to build on this momentum and commit to a hybrid digital future. That means investing in technology that helps people work smarter, boosts productivity, all while helping achieve better societal outcomes and adding £236 billion to the UK economy.”
Nina Skero, Chief Executive, Cebr, added: “Covid-19 had serious economic, societal and emotional impacts. But it’s clear that technology and new ways of working provide a pathway to recovery – one that won’t just take us back to where we were, but which could make things significantly better than before.
“By continuing to digitise and embrace hybrid working models, businesses and public sector organisations can fundamentally transform the economy – unlocking a massive GDP uplift, boosting productivity and building a more inclusive society.”
As part of its mission to upgrade the UK and provide the digital connectivity needed to fully embrace hybrid working, Virgin Media O2 has committed to invest at least £10bn over the next 5 years in the UK. By the end of 2021, Virgin Media O2 will deliver gigabit broadband speeds across its entire consumer network of 15.5 million homes, and the company is in the process of upgrading its fixed network to full fibre to the premises (FTTP) with completion in 2028.
Madeleine Starr MBE, Director of Business Development and Innovation at Carers UK, said:
“Juggling work and care for an older, disabled or seriously ill relative can be incredibly demanding – especially when you need to be physically present at your place of work for long periods of time. For some, it becomes too difficult – pre-pandemic, 600 people every day across the UK were giving up work in order to care for a loved one.
“However, one positive outcome from the pandemic has been working carers benefiting from remote and flexible working arrangements that have enabled them to juggle their paid job with their caring responsibilities.
“Many carers do want to continue working alongside their caring role – enabling them to use their skills, maintain social connections and improve their financial stability both in the short and the long term. This research brings into sharp focus just how support from an employer that recognises the value of remote and flexible working can make all the difference to working-age carers – helping them to reap the benefits of work whilst also meeting the needs of the people they care for.”
The people benefitting from hybrid working
Amongst those who stand to benefit most from hybrid working are carers like Ruth Rainbow, a Resourcing Delivery Manager. Ruth has two children, the eldest of whom is diagnosed as Autistic Dyspraxic, and the youngest shows early symptoms at the top end of the Aspergic spectrum – meaning Ruth needs to be around at all times to care for them, something which has severely limited her career options.
“I worked in an agency for 14 years. I’ve done the 14-hour days, a high salary, great times, lots of fun, localised employment. And that stopped. The minute Harry had the diagnosis, my working world was never to be that again.”
Ruth says she had to accept jobs that keep her within a two or three mile radius of wherever her children are in case she needs to support them, something which has significantly hindered her career.
The shift to hybrid working since Covid-19 is helping Ruth balance her personal and work commitments. Reflecting on the change, she said, “I’m no longer the mum who has to stand up and run at four o’clock to get back to the child minder. I spent 10 years apologising for not being there. And having those handcuffs removed – that’s been significant to my ability to parent and do my job.”
Other working carers say hybrid working is allowing them to play a more active role at work. Matt Murdoch, a single parent caring for his daughter who suffers from a bone disease being treated at Great Ormond Street hospital, says hybrid working has enabled him to “feel part of the team” again.
“I get more control over my time,” Matt told us. “Some of that time I spend working, so it’s a benefit to the business. And the rest of that time I get to spend being the father I want and need to be.”