As the UK opens back up following successive lockdowns, ahead of many of its European neighbours, and many businesses face examinations of office practices, Mark Janes argues we need to stay ahead of the curve and focus on promoting hybrid workplaces.

One of the biggest rewards for Britain coming out of the pandemic ahead of any other Western country should be its status as the world's remote work capital, a haven for the global 'remote worker class'.

Remote workers have relatively high disposable incomes and crucially, can live wherever they like. As they have more freedom to choose, those options will have to be attractive. They should be choosing the UK, helping us rebuild the economy and creating a truly 'Global Britain'. To do that, we need to move beyond the post-Covid office of hazard tape and one-way signs and capitalise on our post-pandemic first mover advantage.

This opportunity is huge – and growing. The percentage of people working from home is set to double in 2021 and over two thirds of businesses intend on shifting their workforce to hybrid work permanently.

Those millions of workers can live anywhere, spend anywhere, and pay taxes anywhere. They could choose Britain, if the UK can appeal to a workforce who place a greater emphasis on work-life balance.

The normalisation of remote work poses challenges in itself. Maintaining a sense of company culture can be harder through a laptop, and many have reported 'zoom fatigue'. Many workers (me included) have moments when we miss the hustle and bustle of the physical office.

But there are ways to stimulate the collaboration, camaraderie and productivity of an office, without an actual office. Businesses will need a new form of team-building (like that championed by my startup, TribeShake), that can take the old physically close 'nuclear family' structure of offices and transform them into 'tribes' that have a shared identity and mission, regardless of location.
Capitalising on this can create a remote work dividend for business: it can lead to more employee happiness, higher productivity, and competitive advantage by having team members working different hours (perhaps in different time zones).

The countries who create the circumstances for creating those close-knit but geographically dispersed 'work tribes' will reap the rewards.

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The benefits for economies are even more transformational than the wins for businesses. Remote workers can bring innovative business ideas and disposable cash, driving (until now, mostly emerging and developing) countries to try to attract them. Antigua and Barbuda has opened a new 12-month remote work visa that requires a low, flat initial fee of $2,000, The UAE, Estonia, Georgia, Iceland and Mauritius have also opened up similar remote work visa offerings. A quarter of those taking up the UAE on its offer are Brits.

So far, Britain has not competed in the scramble for global digital labour, but it should.

UK cities are suffering from what has been called the 'Mint-polo effect' where city centres are turning into metropolitan wastelands, and the leafy suburbs enjoy a spontaneous regeneration from workers spending their disposable income locally. By investing in remote worker hubs that integrate comfortable, flexible co-working spaces and affordable accommodation, this effect can be reversed and city centres can come off life support.

Post-Brexit Britain needs to find ways to attract new talent to its cities, as well as forge new connections around the world. If we offered a cheap remote work visa along with a 'remote work package', that could include vouchers for office equipment and supplies, and wellness offerings to take care of our new remote worker residents, we could attract a vital segment of this new 'digital nomad' demographic.

This may seem unthinkable, but if we can afford to pay 80% of our furloughed worker's salaries, we can invest something in the new breed of workers and entrepreneurs too.

For many remote workers, cost of living will be a big consideration – and Britain, certainly in the major cities, cannot compete on price. Nevertheless, we must not underplay how desirable the UK is as a place to live. It is still number 14 in the most desirable places to live around the world. London itself was deemed the 2nd best place to live in the world by Global Finance.

Over the next decade, economies will grow or crumble based on how attractive they are to the global 'remote worker class'. Let us make the UK the best place in the world to live for remote workers, by creating the facilities, work culture, and support mechanisms they need to flourish.

Britain has the first mover advantage in this new world – we cannot waste it.

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