Mid-sized businesses set to ditch offices for more remote working post-pandemic

As the country takes its next step out of lockdown and some companies start to slowly open their doors to employees, new research* from leading business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP finds that just 5% of 603 mid-sized businesses surveyed believe that full time office working will be most effective for their people post-pandemic.

Almost half (44%) of the businesses surveyed believe that a shift towards more remote working, rather than office based, will be most effective. Of these, 37% believe that a blended approach, with more time spent working remotely than in an office, will be best for their business, while 7% say that full time remote working will be best for them.

A further 25% believe an even split between office and remote working will work best for their people.

Due to the changing ways of working expected post-pandemic, over half (51%) of the businesses surveyed also anticipate that their office or workspace will need to be repurposed.

Long term trend for increased remote working presents challenges

The past year resulted in a fundamental shift in many businesses operations, with many having to switch to complete remote working almost overnight. Of the businesses surveyed, 80% have seen an increase in home working over the last year.

While home working offers many benefits for companies, the businesses surveyed who have dealt with increased home working in the last year reported their top five people related concerns as:

  • Managing the work of more junior employees (49%)
  • The provision of training (47%)
  • Loss of culture (40%)
  • Lack of client-facing time (40%)
  • Mental wellbeing (39%)

With mental wellbeing being one of the top challenges stemming from remote working, it’s encouraging to see that over half (51%) of the businesses surveyed have increased their investment in wellbeing over the last year. Three quarters (76%) of those surveyed are also set to invest more or the same amount in their employee wellbeing services over the next six months.

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The flexible working expectation gap

Many employees have had more flexibility than ever this year in not just where they work but also when, due to the blurring of lines between personal and work routines caused by the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.

But the research found that there is an emerging expectation gap in how employees want to work going forward, and the plans that mid-market businesses have for the future. Many of the businesses surveyed (62%) believe their employees will expect more flexible working options to continue post-pandemic.

Despite this, fewer (53%) of the businesses surveyed have plans to offer more flexible working arrangements post-pandemic. And 17% do not expect to offer any more flexibility.

Dave Munton, Head of UK Markets and Clients, Grant Thornton UK LLP, commented:

“Businesses and their people have had to continually adapt how they work over the course of the last twelve months and many of the changes are likely to remain, at least to some extent, as we start to resume a more ‘normal’ life. In total, the majority (88%) of the businesses surveyed were in favour of a hybrid approach to working for their people, which proves that a form of remote working will play a much bigger part than ever before in the way we work.

“The discussion now needs to move to how businesses will support this evolution and ensure they adapt effectively, because every person’s job role and personal working style is different; there won’t be a one size fits all approach. Businesses will need to develop bespoke solutions that work for their operating models, their stakeholder groups and for their people. This will include understanding how their work or office space may need repurposing, how their wellbeing and employment policies will need adapting to better support the changing expectations of the workforce, how they most effectively provide development and on-the-job learning opportunities, and how technology can be used more effectively to enable new and more disparate ways of working.

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“The challenge will be in developing a framework for how their people work, that can be adapted to meet the needs across the various aspects of their business and provides much needed wellbeing support to a hybrid workforce.

“One of the key things businesses have learnt from the pandemic that will be useful to carry through to the future is that proactive engagement with their people is vital. It’s important that businesses continue to engage and listen and use this insight to develop the right solutions. Any framework will also need to consider the right way to support flexible working requirements, that meets with expectations that the increased flexibility offered in the last year should continue into the longer term.

“It’s an ongoing conversation and no one has all the right answers yet, but businesses that fail to adapt and listen to the changing requirements of their people run the risk of losing talent to those that do.”

Notes

*Censuswide (on behalf of Grant Thornton UK LLP) surveyed 603 senior decision makers in UK mid-market businesses between 19 March 2021 – 29 March 2021. The UK mid-market is defined as businesses with an annual turnover of £50million – £500million


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