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Grant Thornton: remote working more effective for mid-sized businesses

By Karolina Skinner
26 April 2021

As the country takes its next step out of lockdown and some companies start to slowly open their doors to employees, new research from leading business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP finds that just 5% of 603 mid-sized businesses surveyed believe that full-time office working will be most effective for their people post-pandemic.

*Censuswide (on behalf of Grant Thornton UK LLP) surveyed 603 senior decision-makers in UK mid-market businesses between 19 March 2021 – 29 March 2021.

Almost half (44%) of the businesses surveyed believe that a shift towards more remote working, rather than office-based, will be most effective. Of these, 37% believe that a blended approach, with more time spent working remotely than in an office, will be best for their business, while 7% say that full-time remote working will be best for them. A further 25% believe an even split between office and remote working will work best for their people.

Due to the changing ways of working expected post-pandemic, over half (51%) of the businesses surveyed also anticipate that their office or workspace will need to be repurposed.

The past year has resulted in a fundamental shift in many businesses operations, with many having to switch to complete remote working almost overnight. Of the businesses surveyed, 80% have seen an increase in home working over the last year. While home working offers many benefits for companies, the businesses surveyed who have dealt with increased home working in the past year reported their top five people related concerns. They were led by managing the work of more junior employees (49%), the provision of training (47%), loss of culture (40%) and lack of client-facing time (40%). Mental well-being (39%) also scored highly.

With mental well-being one of the top challenges stemming from remote working, it’s encouraging to see that over half (51%) of the businesses surveyed have increased their investment in well-being over the last year.

Three quarters (76%) of those surveyed are also set to invest more or the same amount into their employee well-being services over the next six months.

Many employees have had more flexibility than ever this year in not just where they work but also when, due to the blurring of lines between personal and work routines caused by the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic. But the research found that there is an emerging expectation gap in how employees want to work going forward, and the plans that mid-market businesses have for the future. Many of the businesses surveyed (62%) believe their employees will expect more flexible working options to continue post-pandemic. Despite this, fewer (53%) of the businesses surveyed have plans to offer more flexible working arrangements post-pandemic. And 17% do not expect to offer any more flexibility.

Jim Rogers, practice leader for Grant Thornton in the Thames Valley, said: “We know people are social beings and that offices will remain fundamental to the UK business culture, but there has been a step change as a result of the pandemic.

“Hybrid approaches are already more prevalent and the focus needs to be on getting that right. Work or office space may need repurposing, and well-being and employment policies require adapting to better support the changing expectations of the workforce. Other issues include how they most effectively provide development and on-the-job learning opportunities, and how technology can be used more effectively to enable new and more disparate ways of working.

“One of the key things businesses have learnt from the pandemic is that proactive engagement with their people is vital. It’s important that businesses continue to engage and listen and use this insight to develop the right solutions. It’s an ongoing conversation and no one has all the right answers yet, but businesses that fail to adapt and listen to the changing requirements of their people run the risk of losing talent to those that do.

“One of the ironies for an innovation-rich region such as Thames Valley is that tech and software-as-a-service companies have flourished during the lockdown and subsequent shift to home-working. Two years ago these businesses might have dreamed of locating on shiny tech campus developments as, around the world, there was a race to produce the most modernist architecture and interiors for the sector. That may level-off now that remote working has become so embedded.”