ce and home. But despite this growing demand for hybrid working, only 46% of businesses have made the appropriate changes to guarantee that employees can work remotely when they need or want to.
Setting up a new system enabling hybrid working across an entire workforce is a daunting prospect, especially for businesses wary of making any major investments during a time of economic uncertainty. But the good news for employers is that there isn’t a perfect, one-size-fits-all work model for hybrid working. Every industry, company and employee has different needs, and for smaller, more agile SMEs, there is not only a lot of room for experimentation but also some simple steps that can be trialled to make sure employees have a comfortable and happy way of working in or out of the office.
Here, we will explore some of the challenges that come with hybrid working and what SMEs can consider to maintain a productive and engaged workforce in the post-pandemic future.
Challenges of remote and hybrid working
The dramatic switch to remote working back in March 2020, when the first UK lockdown was announced, saw employers voice concerns that employees not used to working from home would fail to remain stimulated and productive. Many also worried there would be a lack of visibility over what work was being done and what might be slipping through the cracks.
However, despite these initial concerns, the reality is that over a third of small business owners say they have been delighted by the surprising increase in productivity of their teams, with 25% believing their employees actually work harder from home.
Another concern with remote or hybrid working is that less in-person interactions could mean that employers miss signs of stress and exhaustion within their teams. This is especially important when a third of employees say they are concerned about the increased stress levels that working from home adds to their lives. With less water-cooler chat and in-person interaction, a challenge for employers is ensuring their staff are healthy and happy, and making changes if they are not. Furthermore, employers also need to make sure employees are not overworking themselves – as research has suggested that UK workers have increased their working week by 25% since the start of the pandemic.
However, a big challenge remains when it comes to employee development in a hybrid environment. For younger employees at the start of their careers, there is a risk that they could miss out on the opportunity to learn from more experienced colleagues or have the chance to develop on-the-job skills quickly. With 72% of under-25s living in shared accommodation – often without any dedicated, private work space – there is also the danger that they will lose the opportunity for personal mentorship from their peers. It’s important, therefore, for employers to be aware of these challenges and ensure that regular check-ins are conducted with employees to develop the best course of action to combat them.
Maximising employee happiness
Prior to the pandemic, 65% of businesses in the UK didn’t offer the opportunity to work from home at all. Lockdown restrictions and government mandates, however, have forced many of these companies to utilise remote working for the first time and discover how employees have been able to adapt and work effectively under the new conditions. With 70% of people now predicting that workers will never return to the office full-time, the focus must now shift to how to maximise employee happiness and in turn, productivity, going forward.
We know that the autonomy that comes with hybrid working has already a hugely positive impact on people’s lifestyles and mental health. Research suggests that there has been an overall increase of 30% on staff wellbeing during the pandemic, as employees now have the ability to better control their work/life balance. Remote working has also led to 40% fewer sick days during the pandemic, while less commuting to the office is also more beneficial for the environment.
However, to combat challenges like employee engagement and ensuring staff enjoy a productive environment from home, SMEs will have to commit to properly supporting their workforce in hybrid working. This means investing in the right technology for remote workers and training staff to be proficient with any new software or systems that are implemented.
Businesses could also consider how to improve collaboration between remote teams and introduce new communication channels to help group projects. For some businesses, frequent remote group video sessions where employees can share ideas or interesting information they have gathered can be a great way to engage staff. For others, it may be beneficial to introduce online chat systems like Slack to replicate the kind of casual, interpersonal communication they would have previously enjoyed in the office. The key, ultimately, is to create a stimulating environment that helps foster creativity and boost employee engagement.
The good news is that SMEs are actually in a great position to adopt hybrid working going forward, and many are already doing so. Around 70% of SMEs currently have a hybrid system in place that they say will remain after the pandemic, which indicates that smaller businesses are able to adapt to this new, hybrid normal far quicker and more easily than their larger competitors – as they usually consist of smaller, more streamlined teams that can better adapt to new conditions.
The beauty of the post-pandemic world is it does not need to be strictly office-based or remote. A hybrid environment is achievable and employee happiness will lie in the power to listen to what staff want and act reasonably to provide the best and most productive option. The ideal work model looks different for all SMEs but the freedom to have some control over what works best for them will maximise happiness and generate a loyal workforce.
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