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Flight to flexibility – Hybrid offices for SMEs

We recently partnered with Newable, our parent company, to research the attitudes of SMEs in the face of Covid-19.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge facing small and medium sized businesses across the UK. With many of us working from home for the majority of the year, many SMEs will have had to invest in rapid digitalisation to facilitate home-working, and be conscious of maintaining and enhancing productivity within a mobile workforce. This provides many challenges alone, without numerous national and local lockdowns providing further hurdles to overcome.

The exclusive survey of over 1,000 SME decision makers by the leading provider of space, money and advice to SMEs, Newable, explores all of these factors, from the impact of COVID-19, the perception of the government response, the attitudes to and implications of working from home and the concerns surrounding Brexit.

Impact of COVID-19

Despite 67% of SMEs stating that they like working from home, 54% of SMEs would be more likely to work in an office environment if their company opened a smaller office closer to home and if this was the case, 36% stated they would work there full-time, according to the most recent Newable Small Business Confidence Index. Other than the pandemic, almost half of UK SMEs stated that fallout from Brexit is the biggest challenge facing UK SMEs today.

The exclusive survey of 1,009 SME decision makers by the leading provider of money, advice and workspace to SMEs, Newable, reveals that 49% of UK SMEs are experiencing a drop in revenue and 63% have put the brakes on investment decisions. However, both figures are down 10% from Q2 which shows a positive sign of recovery amongst small businesses since the first lockdown. SMEs have also remained optimistic as 35% think that their businesses will fully recover in under 12 months, down only 2% from Q2.

Government Response

With the UK coming out of a 2nd lockdown, 46% of SME decision makers feel that overall Boris Johnson is dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak effectively, down from 56% in Q2, suggesting the recent restrictions have tempered confidence in the PM. Additionally, only 46% of SMEs think the economic package rolled out by the Government has been favourable to them. In line with this, support for Rishi Sunak has increased with 41% of SMEs wanting to see him take the stand as Prime Minister in the future, up from 36% in Q2.

Chris Manson, CEO of Newable, comments: “It is comforting to see SMEs are starting to show some signs of recovery – despite these unprecedented and hugely challenging times for the almost six million SMEs that form the backbone of our UK economy. Whilst the pandemic continues to take up most of the current debate, it is clear that SMEs are fearing the fallout of Brexit and more needs to be done to ensure SMEs are supported during this transition”.

Working from home

Despite SMEs expressing a willingness to work in an office close to home, 67% of SME decision makers are enjoying working from home, which is only down 2% from Q2, suggesting working from home is now no longer a novelty. Additionally, 40% Fig of SMEs have seen a rise in productivity since working from home, up from 33% in Q2 and only 24% stating they have seen a decrease in productivity. With 40% stating working from home has not had an impact on morale, the lack of human interaction (37%), team contribution (19%) and office facilities (12%) are among the things missed most about working from home. The results suggest that we may see a ‘flight to flexibility’ – with companies shifting to hybrid working styles.

Chris Manson adds: “The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the way we work. Flexibility has long been the cornerstone for sectors like technology but we are now seeing a far wider range of businesses surprised by how the wheels have continued to turn despite not all having staff in the office. There will always be a need for human interaction but we are waking up to a new normal where needing 100% of the workforce in one place 9-5 is simply unnecessary for many businesses. Hybrid working is likely to take off and we expect to see conventional office portfolios shrink as space is revaluated and repurposed to be more flexible.”

Download the full results here.

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