Returning to the Office – is Hybrid Working the answer?

As companies across the UK develop post-COVID working arrangements, be sure you know all the facts to make an informed decision for your own business.

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As the impending “freedom day” of June 21st draws nearer, many small businesses across the UK are implementing a return to office policy for their employees. Others, however, are advocating full time remote working, and even hybrid (flexible) working, with over 83% of employees in the UK insisting it’s here to stay.

We’ve analysed all three working approaches to help you determine what’s best for your business post pandemic.

Why small businesses should return to the office

There’s no denying that many of us are missing the office, and a recent YouGov survey confirmed that it’s not just our colleagues and face-to-face contact we are longing for, but also the gossiping, meetings and even desks that accompany office life.

Reintroducing these important aspects to our professional lives could certainly improve team morale, mental wellbeing and productivity throughout small businesses. What’s more,  SME employees could find themselves paying for their own flexible coworking spaces if offices were to close. A recent report from employment lawyers Richard Nelson LLP concluded that employees could end up forking out £3,600 per year on co-working spaces, equating to £300 a month in personal expenses.

The data, taken from flexible workspace app Coworker, revealed that an individual would have to shell out at least £252 per month to rent desk space in London. In order to keep employees happy, small businesses would either have to foot the bill of coworking expenses, or retain their office space to ensure individuals are not spending their own money for a suitable space to work.

Another factor is that cyber attacks have massively increased since remote working began due to COVID, with 46% of UK Businesses reporting a cyber breach or attack during 2020 in a recent survey by Aviva. If employees returned to offices, they wouldn’t have to rely on home networks or personal devices to complete work tasks, and risk of cyber attacks through phishing and social engineering fraud would decrease.

IT issues would also be solved faster in the office. The Velocity Smart Technology Market Research Report 2021 found that 70% of remote workers had experienced IT problems during the pandemic, and 54% had to wait up to three hours for the issue to be resolved.

Although recent data suggests employee mental wellbeing has generally improved since COVID forced offices to close, the significant benefits of face-to-face collaboration and direct human interaction in the workplace are undeniable. This is why digital marketing agency 43 Clicks North made the decision recently to purchase a brand new office, despite the fact similar businesses are scaling back.

Founder Mike Ellis explained that amongst the productive and creative benefits that face to face meetings bring, work-life balance was also a significant factor when deliberating on the purchase of a new office. “With 68% of marketers in the UK admitting that they work more hours at home, this research has proven to us that solely working from home is not the answer to having healthy, productive teams. Overreaching on hours from the confines of your home simply isn’t great for your mental health: it makes it hard to switch off and can lead to mental health issues such as burnout. We felt that providing an office space would help our staff create personal boundaries between their home and professional lives, as they see fit.”

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Matt Adam, CEO of training provider We Are Digital:

“Covid-19 has turned the balance between home and the office upside down. I believe the majority of time spent in the office will be a return to normal and a good thing. It doesn’t feel easy to run a fast-growth, VC-backed business from our bedroom offices, and I am looking forward to returning and seeing the staff. We run a lot of community projects which benefit from sitting in a room and sharing thoughts and challenges. But we need to manage the return of our staff carefully to ensure it’s done in the right time frame, and know it may not be right for everyone.”

Why small businesses should continue working remotely

Although many miss the hustle and bustle of office life, a recent study has found that a move back to the office could be detrimental to our mental health. The Global Working From Home Survey, commissioned by employee wellbeing specialist WRKIT, found that workers are sleeping longer now they have no commute, scoring their sleep duration at 8.6/10. Worker wellbeing has also improved, with many reporting they are able to take more time to focus on activities they enjoy (a score of 7.1/10 compared to the global reading of 5/10) since they have moved to working remotely. This improvement in work/life balance has positively impacted employee wellbeing at a number of small businesses, including Cybersecurity startup Tessian, whose most recent employee survey saw a 10% satisfaction increase in the ‘health’ driver of the survey.

It’s not just health benefits that are a consideration, but also productivity levels. A recent report by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, confirmed that more than two thirds (71%) of employers say that the increase in homeworking has either boosted or has made no difference to productivity. More specifically, those businesses that offered line manager training for managing remote workers reported a 43% increase in productivity across the board. With increased productivity and employee mental wellbeing, it’s understandable to see why many small businesses are advocating remote working post COVID.

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Romanie Thomas, CEO of Juggle Jobs:

“We are now a year into switching to a fully remote environment from a hybrid one, and we’ve made a decision to stick (with remote). Why? It’s allowed us to hire from all over the world and given employees maximum flexibility about where they work too. Instead of being tied to London, employees can work from the countryside or even different countries, including me as our Founder & CEO. Greener space and the absence of a commute has led to happier and more productive staff.”

Why small businesses are choosing hybrid working

The approach being adopted by many small businesses as a result of the COVID pandemic is the hybrid model, with employees splitting their working week between the office and home. 65% of public sector firms are committed to reinforcing this hybrid way of working post pandemic, and according to the CIPD, over 40% of employers expect more than half their workforce to work from home regularly. Many businesses are aware that a flexible working approach is the safe and preferable option for their workers, who can reap the benefits of a social and collaborative office culture, whilst having time working remotely to focus on their health and wellbeing.

The PUSH ‘Human Element’ report, conducted by YouGov and completed by 3,000 employees across the UK, found that over 40% of employees don’t want to return to the office full time due to concerns about their mental health. The survey also revealed that 35% of individuals felt that productivity levels were much higher when working from home. In contrast another YouGov survey undertaken last year revealed over two thirds of the UK’s workforce missed seeing work friends and colleagues, whilst 44% stated that they missed face to face meetings. With differing preferences and pros and cons for office and remote working, it’s understandable why companies are implementing the hybrid model as an effective solution to improve productivity, by keeping their workforce happy regardless of preference and promoting a positive work environment for all.

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Scot Devine, CEO of PR agency Arroweye Communications:

“We do half of the working days a month together in the office and the other half remotely. It’s better for clients and staff. By slashing the property overhead we pass huge value onto clients that our competitors can’t. So our clients get better value fees, more time with our experts and better quality advice.” 

“Also, some clients don’t want to give up half a day travelling around town for a one hour meeting that they could otherwise do on video call. For staff, they have the ability to do creative work together, but work on solo tasks at home without distractions or a commute to worry about.”

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Tushar Agarwal, CEO & Co-Founder of Hubble:

“The future of the workplace should be fluid, and personalised to individuals, teams and organisations. Most of us will know how we work best, and companies will need to empower their staff to make the choice that works best for them. This is exactly what we’ve done at Hubble, with our entire company now working according to their own work preferences.” 

“This also gives us the opportunity to rethink what the office is used for – an important consideration, given that our own data shows that the UK might only need 34% of its office space under hybrid working. Configuring the workspace for the post-COVID era is still a new science and it will take time for businesses to truly know what works best for all employees, but the sooner that the hybrid mindset is adopted, the better it will be for all.

Conclusion

Hybrid working is a safe compromise between those adamant to work remotely and those longing to return to the office, which is why SMEs across the UK are implementing it in preparation of working life after the pandemic. However each company has different needs tailored to the way they operate, so think carefully before adopting a flexible work approach for your business.

Ross is the newest addition to the Startups team, and has been writing for the website since May 2021, covering everything from merchant accounts to topical analysis on the future of working.

He's also written for travel magazine Conde Nast and the NME and is passionate about music, travelling and crisps (a definite crisp addict). Follow him on twitter @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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