Over recent years, remote working has become increasingly popular, as technology has reduced the need for a physical office space for some industries.
Many employers and HR professionals also advocate this way of working as an approach to enhance the work-life balance of employees.
As many businesses continue to have staff work remotely in line with government advice, what have they learnt so far? Research conducted with 250 UK SME business owners by Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance reveals new perceptions on the remote working of staff.
When the government first advised companies to work from home, just over half (52%) of UK business owners felt positive about their employees carrying out their work remotely. Now several weeks later, three quarters (75%) of business owners feel positive towards staff working from home, and less than seven per cent have any negative feelings towards this.
Despite the research from Hitachi Capital showing that many SME business owners view remote working positively now, many had concerns about this working approach before Covid-19 changed the way that they needed to operate. The top three concerns from business owners were the cost of setting up the business remotely (13%), the performance of staff (9.8%), and the productivity of staff (9.2%).Performance of staff was the biggest worry for recruitment businesses and the business services sector, and the cost of setting up the business remotely was the biggest concern for the logistics industry.
Nearly half (44%) of businesses had to create a work from home policy for the first time to react to the Covid-19 pandemic. Manufacturing businesses (24%) and businesses in Scotland (11%) were the least likely to have an existing policy in place.
On average, of the SME businesses still trading in the UK, over three quarters (77%) of their workforce were operating from home in the first lockdown phase. In the South East this figure rises to 85 per cent, however in Wales this statistic drops down to 32 per cent.
An overwhelming 73 per cent of business owners agree that working from home during this period would help their business to become more successful in the future. Furthermore, 79 per cent of SME businesses plan to implement some form of work from home policy following the lockdown period.
A work from home policy is most likely to be implemented by logistics businesses (96.8%) and least likely to be implemented by manufacturing businesses (50%).
The remote working study by Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance also revealed that the top positive outcome for SME businesses during this experience is that it will enable more staff to work from home in the future (47%).
“Generally speaking, SME businesses in the UK have been cautious to implement a work from home policy up until now. Our study shows a new response to remote working which hints at what the future of the workplace might look like post-Covid-19,” comments Andy Dodd, Managing Director at Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance.
“Of course, the benefits of remote working include providing employees with a better work-life balance; the positive impact for both employee and employer through greater trust and empowerment cannot be understated. Business owners now have greater confidence that employees can perform successfully from their own home and have the technology they need to operate remotely. This demonstrates that the UK SME market who have adapted during this period, can seek to build more resilient businesses in the future.”
To keep business running successfully away from the office, SME business owners are keen to keep employee engagement high and to do so they are keeping employees communicating as often as possible through channels such as Skype, Zoom or Microsoft Teams (49%).
Additionally, business owners themselves are becoming more hands on with projects day-to-day (38%) and trying to keep the office culture alive with social events such as virtual yoga and team lunches (36%). SME business owners also considered it important to make sure that staff are not burning out or over working during this time (34%).