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Hybrid working, we hardly knew ye

Written by Charlie Clegg, senior associate 
Edited by Adam Shaw, associate partner
4 February 2022

Good morning,

Welcome to the hybrid working future! And enjoy it while it lasts.  

The UK government and all the devolved administrations have now removed work from home requirements and the Scottish government has, since Monday, recommended offices implement hybrid working practices. 

Hybrid working is, naturally, a spectrum. Pre-pandemic, many offices operated on a hybrid balance that skewed greatly in favour of in-person working. Now, though, the balance skews to include more home working. Myriad articles and consultants are ready to give advice on how to get the balance right. 

Of course, hybrid working appeals. Anything that suggests compromise and balance is always an attractive idea. Last July, YouGov found 75% of UK workers wanted hybrid work. Women, as well as people with care commitments and disabilities, are more likely to take advantage of hybrid working’s flexibility. 

But consider the flipside: those who work from home stand to be professionally and socially disadvantaged compared to those who work in person. Further problems include the potential for increased strain on some individuals and teams: a superable but significant challenge for any organisation. In an age when companies are seeking to boost their green credentials, maintaining a half-full office may be the worst option for the environment. 

The fate of hybrid working will not, however, be decided simply on its merits and demerits. In practice, most offices simply aren’t set up to allow multiple remote meetings to take place at the same time. Yes, technology like headsets can help but clients and colleagues often require greater confidentiality. Hot-desking has been a common answer, even though its chief consequence appears to be rancour. 

For hybrid working not only to work but to become the norm, it will require massive investment in infrastructure and training across entire sectors. Though some companies are doing it well, there’s little indication that kind of investment is going to be standard in time to establish hybrid working as a new normal. In that gap, old habits will have space to return.  

The hybrid working future may end up looking a lot like the past. 

News

Four senior Downing Street staff have left in a turbulent day for the prime minister. Head of policy and long-term confidant of Boris Johnson, Munira Mirza, resigned first, citing as a factor the prime minister’s remarks that linked Sir Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile. Director of communications Jack Doyle followed with chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and principal private secretary Martin Reynolds leaving later. 

Northern Ireland’s first minister Paul Givan resigned yesterday over customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Givan’s departure came hours after Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Edwin Poots announced the suspension of checks on some goods. The deputy first minister, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, must now resign too. If a new first minister cannot be agreed, it could bring forward assembly elections currently scheduled for May. 

The US has accused Russia of planning ‘false flag’ propaganda videos, which would show atrocities supposedly being committed against Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the eastern regions of the country, to justify an invasion. The accusation is one of the latest in a series of escalating claims from the US and Russia as many fear the latter is planning to invade Ukraine. 

The Conservatives have held Southend West in the by-election that followed the murder of MP David Amess in October. Barrister Anna Frith won the seat. Although Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not stand, there were nine other candidates. 

Business and economy

The Bank of England has raised interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5% in light of rising inflation. The decision passed the bank’s monetary policy committee by five to four, with four members in favour of an even greater rise to 0.75%. The bank also slashed its growth forecast and stated that household income will drop by two per cent this year. 

The House of Commons’ transport select committee has called on the UK government to review motoring tax in order to plug a potential £35bn gap in revenue. The report warned that, unless taxes changed, the transition to electric vehicles would deprive the government of a major source of revenue. 

Hospitality groups have called on the UK government not to raise VAT on their sector, arguing the current lower rate could generate £7.7bn extra turnover in the next decade. The British Beer and Pub Association, UKHospitality, the Tourism Alliance, and the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions all called on the UK government to retain hospitality VAT at 12.5% rather than returning to 20%. 

Columns of note

As a wave of resignations buffets Number 10, the prime minister’s position again appears precarious after his stock briefly rallied. James Forsyth argues in The Times that the biggest threat to Boris Johnson remains Boris Johnson. Forsyth claims that as long as Johnson remains, his party is in a political limbo; if, however, he makes another gaffe like his Jimmy Savile comments, the momentum could tip in favour of driving him out. (£) 

The New York Times has acquired Wordle, the addictive word game app. It adds this to a portfolio whose other star is the newspaper’s popular subscription recipe website. In the Financial Times, John Gapper claims these show how a newspaper can branch beyond news and beyond a US-focussed audience. (£) 

Markets

What happened yesterday?

US stocks faced their worst drop in a year, largely driven by a drop of 26.4% in the shares of tech giant Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Meanwhile shares in Paypal have dropped almost 30% since Tuesday after the company reported that inflation, supply chain pressures and weakening ecommerce figures would hit its expected growth rate this year.  

The S&P 500 index dropped 2.4% – its biggest fall since February 2021 – while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was down 3.7%: its worst day since September 2020. 

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 share index fell 1.8%, with its tech sub-index dropping 3.5%; though Hong Kong’s Hang Send rose 2.6%.  

The pound was trading at 1.19 euros and 1.36 dollars. 

In company news:

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has seen its value plummet by $230bn – a record daily loss for a US firm – after stagnant Facebook using numbers and a disappointing earnings report. 

Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. 

What’s happening today?

AGMs
SSP Group      CerillionAbstd EquityincBrewin DolphinShaftesbury

Q3 results
Airtel Africa

Intl economic announcements
(10:00) Retail Sales (EU)(07:00) Factory Orders (GER)(13:30) Non-Farm Payrolls (US)(13:30) Unemployment Rate (US)(09:30) PMI Construction (US)(13:30) Non-Farm Payrolls (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

The arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird: in one lifetime, a single arctic tern can fly the equivalent of the distance between the earth and the moon three times. 

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Private members’ bills 

Various 

House of Lords 

LegislationHealth and Care Bill – committee stage (day 8)Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill – third reading

Scottish parliament 

No business scheduled

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