19 July (England) and 9 August (Scotland) have been heralded as ‘return to the workplace’ milestones, but with many major businesses continuing to meet the preferences of the three out of four workers who still want the flexibility of working from home1 Zen Internet is urging small to medium sized firms not to neglect their homeworker needs.
Zen’s survey of UK businesses highlighted that despite nine out of 10 (86%) employers questioned professing they were willing to offer hybrid working, few felt prepared in achieving this – with one in five businesses (17%) claiming to be unprepared for long-term flexible working.
The research also highlighted the key challenges SMEs in particular were facing in realising the infrastructure needed to support flexible working practices.
- Almost half (46%) of SMEs claim poor internet connections in staff homes is a major challenge.
- One in five SMEs (21%) said staff were unable to access the company system from home.
- One in 10 (12%) SMEs vs. one in six (17%) large businesses referenced poor integration of communication systems as barriers to a smooth remote working process.
While the government is promoting its ‘back-to-work’ message, the reality is that many small businesses are still facing the same issues of catering for new hybrid and home working cultures.
This is being compounded against a backdrop of large employers who are enabling employees to continue to work in a flexible way. TUI, which last week told its UK staff that they only need to work from the office one day a month, is just one of thousands of major businesses enabling more flexible working longer term.
And according to the latest employee surveys, consensus is towards the continuation of home working. A recent study by CV-Library shows that in a poll of more than 1000 people, half felt anxious about returning to work and three out of four said they preferred the flexibility of working from home.
Whilst some businesses are geared up for longer term remote working (half of UK businesses are already using a cloud-based solution for integrating their communications channels), when figures are broken down it is clear that smaller sized firms are lagging behind, with only two fifths (40%) of SMEs having already transitioned to a cloud-based model.
Perhaps unsurprisingly over a third of business owners cited budget constraints as a hurdle to cloud adoption. However over half (53%) of SMEs and 38% of large businesses who don’t currently use a cloud-based solution claimed to be considering it.
Looking at how businesses are overcoming the other homeworking issues, the Zen Internet survey revealed that more than a fifth (22%) of businesses claimed that they planned to look to invest in providing / subsidising the cost of better home connectivity for their employees that work from home on a regular basis. Meanwhile, two fifths (39%) of businesses will invest in laptops and smart devices.
Georgina Lord, Managing Director of the retail division at Zen.co.uk, said: “As the government gives the green light for workplaces to return to normal, businesses which take their eye off the ball when it comes to catering for long-term homeworking will do so at their peril – especially as a flexible workplace and systems to support hybrid working will be high up on many job hunter’s wish list.
“There are clear indicators that it’s not a time to ditch digital advancement programmes that cater for homeworking.
“While poor internet in prosumers’ homes may have them rushing back to faster broadband speeds in the office, some sectors where there is high demand for talent, such as the digital industries, may find that employees will choose to work with firms that have focused on homeworking needs – as this is how many employees want to be able to work.
“As workers finally begin to consider the return to centrally located work spaces, or not, now is the time for organisations once again to re-evaluate their systems, IT and comms; it’s paramount that investment continues in remote working capability that truly meets the needs of their valued staff longer term.
“Where successful hybrid working is happening is where IT has become a core part of a business’ organisational strategy and a board level focus.
“From an employee perspective the crucial thing moving forward is investing in the systems and infrastructure that mean they can work seamlessly from any location – moving to cloud-based solutions, upgrading employee broadband connections and ensuring that they have the right technology and devices to do their job from anywhere. In particular, the rise of the prosumer has meant that reliable, ultrafast connectivity in the home is absolutely an essential commodity.
“And it’s not just about getting the infrastructure right for employees – customers and suppliers also demand a seamless experience when dealing with remote workforces. Taking a holistic business and board level view to remote working will continue to be vital.”
“As hybrid and more digitised working models continue to be the norm, businesses of all sizes will need to adapt to this cultural shift in modern working practices by taking a pragmatic approach and adopting new technologies which can support the ongoing, long term transition to remote working. This will ensure businesses can continue to communicate effectively with their customers, clients and colleagues.
“Organisational culture will become increasingly important. Culture has always been central to digital transformation but getting the culture right and ensuring it permeates into employees’ homes is essential in looking after employee welfare and helping build a sense of community and purpose.
“It is clear that the next two to five years will be crucial for many businesses when it comes to adapting to the so called new normal and being agile to adopt to new ways or working and new customer habits. Those organisations who embrace these new requirements will flourish, while others who revert back to old practices could struggle and lose their competitive edge as well as valued staff.”
- Survey by CV-Library June 2021
- Survey by Zen Internet of 1000 SMEs
More information on homeworking can be found here https://www.zen.co.uk/business/large-business/challenges/remote-working-solutions and https://www.zen.co.uk/the-great-british-switch-off