Covid-19 has presented a truly unforgiving blow to the current generation of UK SMEs, superseding any reasonable measure of risk/disaster management imaginable. The eventual fallout is yet unknown, but it is certain that a seismic shift in operational and cultural norms whilst we navigate and surpass COVID-19 has taken place, transforming the workplace well beyond the immediate implications of the virus.
With Tuesday’s announcement that England is being plunged back into a full nationwide lockdown for the foreseeable future, millions of British workers will now be returning to working from home. But despite thousands of offices remaining empty across the UK and many firms relying on temporary protections against eviction due to non-payment of rent, over half of workforce do not want to go back to their normal pre-pandemic working environment.
Since the advent of the first national lockdown back in March 2020, we saw rapid, wholesale changes to daily life, up to and including the way in which the majority of the country’s workforce operates. With the exception of key workers, and workers in industries which cannot operate without the workforce on site, the British workforce was instructed to work remotely, triggering a dramatic transformation of working culture and forcing firms to rapidly adapt their working practices.
Theta Global Advisors – a chartered accountancy and consultancy firm specialising in freelance working options for the UK private sector – has released the first nationally representative survey across over 2,000 UK adults looking into the sentiments of the UK workforce towards the ‘new normal’ in working conditions, and has revealed a clear sentiment in support of flexible working and working from home throughout the Coronavirus and beyond:
- Two-thirds of working Brits (65%) report that commuting in the pandemic is the most stressful part of the day
- 57% of people do not want to go back to the normal way of working in an office environment with normal office hours
- Nearly half of all UK business leaders (45%) believe that the working environment will change for the better due to the virus and lockdowns
It is clear, then, that there is a strong desire from both the UK workforce and business leaders to stick with the ‘new normal’ way of working, with over half of employees not wanting to return to work as they did before and 45% of business leaders seeing the benefits of the new environment brought on by the COVID lockdown period.
Despite this, an alarming number of workers have reported that their employer hasn’t explored flexible working options. Almost a quarter (24%) of Brits say their employer hasn’t explored any flexible working options despite the effect of the pandemic. As the nation heads back into lockdown, more needs to be done by many firms to offer their workers a flexible, safe and productive working environment, and companies that are reluctant to change their rigid and somewhat outdated approaches to work will likely be in for a long-term decline.
From the removal of the commute to boosted productivity and a more flexible approach to one’s schedule, there are numerous benefits to flexible working that the pandemic has uncovered for millions of employees – something which over half of the UK workforce appears to have uncovered. Yet there are also a number of advantages to be gained by the adaptable and flexible employer amidst the third national lockdown.
Allowing employees to work from home can dramatically reduce overhead expenditure, enabling companies to downsize their office spaces and dramatically reduce office and equipment expenses, not to mention bills. Furthermore, offering a truly flexible schedule and embracing the changing conditions rather than fighting against them will likely result in an increase in employee job satisfaction thereby reducing turnover. Not only will this contribute to a more enjoyable and prosperous working environment (thereby increasing productivity), but will also mean less time and money spent advertising for open positions, screening, interviewing and hiring new staffers and bringing them up to speed on job responsibilities. Conducting virtual meetings and facilitating communication electronically helps protect the environment through reduced automobile emissions.
It is understandable that many business leaders and employers would be wary of introducing flexible working and relinquishing the control they have maintained over their on-site employees for the overwhelming majority of their time in the business. While any major shift in working cultures and processes will be accompanied by some growing pains, it is clear that the future of working is indeed flexible.
Business leaders would do well to realise that the ‘new normal’ of flexible, remote working is here to stay, and should adapt now to pivot their business, remove unnecessary overheads and commit to a plan for a post-COVID future.