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Goodbye North-South Divide

Goodbye North-South Divide

Victoria Johnston Market Insight, Interim


I spend my days talking to HR hiring managers and they tell me that remote working has increased productivity, reduced sickness absence, and increased employees’ sense of wellbeing. Surely then, we can say that remote working works and will stay. There are still metrics that haven’t yet been accurately reported but just imagine how productive home working will be when all of our kids are back in daycare and school.​

Anna Whitehouse, Founder of Mother Pukka has been campaigning for flexible working for all employees for some years now. She challenges the 9-5, the old school presenteeism and fights for the right to have children and career. In many ways she has won the argument for flexible working because Covid-19 has forced change.  

Working remotely frees up valuable time to make our lives easier, gives us that extra time to sleep, to exercise, and to work instead of commuting - but also increases our appetite to be in the office as well. 

The word on the HR street is that we want to connect with colleagues, we want our office life, our city buzz, our shop-bought cappuccinos, but we want all that to be combined with some home working.  

Even more importantly, it will allow top talent who do not live in a London postcode (or on a London commuter line) access to the London market and top jobs. For years my Northern HR Interim network has worked away from home four or five nights a week - or worse, not been able to accept a London-based job as employers want them in the office every day. The idea that we will diversify our richest job market is exciting - it is surely good for business and also for spreading the wealth - evening up opportunities across the country.  

In a LinkedIn poll, I asked hiring managers to tell me if they intend to continue home working as part of the long-term working week, and 89% said yes.

This commitment to flexibility is exciting, but also vital. The Guardian reported that Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle are hotspots for Londoners seeking to uproot for a better life - and that was in February, before the Covid madness! The same article stated that 13% of people who left London in 2019 moved to the North of England, compared to just 1% ten years ago.  

As a northerner I understand the migration - it truly is friendly in the north and you can still buy a lot more house for your money, but why should you totally compromise your career? I say this as a Cumbrian who has inched her way slowly down the UK, ending up on the Dorset coast (via 7 years in London) and I can tell you the challenge is the same. On my first commute to my London office from Poole last year, I was the only woman on the commuter train to Waterloo. This could well be a reflection that not enough employers offered flexible working to people who have moved to the country.

So much HR Talent is grown in London. That talent will also move out of London and in all likelihood that will be the most senior HR interims – so we must ensure that our most prosperous market will keep an open mind, an open door, and offer flexible combined office and remote working so that our businesses have access to the very best people our country can offer.

Victoria Johnston