Health over wealth: SMEs hit hard but safety comes first – while flexi-working and human interaction set to take centre stage

Covid-19 News | Sponsored | Surveys

Despite the negative impact to their business revenues, an overwhelming 74% of SME decision makers feel that the UK should have entered lockdown earlier than it did, according to the inaugural Newable Small Business Confidence Index.

The exclusive survey of 1,006 SME decision makers by the leading provider of space, money and advice to SMEs, Newable, reveals that 59% of UK SMEs are experiencing drops in revenue and 73% have put the brakes on investment decisions. However, there are positive signs for some businesses, with almost a third of firms actually reporting a positive impact on revenues.

SMEs are optimistic that despite the current pandemic, a recovery is on the horizon. 37% think that their businesses will fully recover in under 12 months, while 55% of businesses that have been operating for under three years think they will recover within just six months, reflecting particular confidence from newer ventures.

Despite wanting lockdown to have been sanctioned earlier, 54% of SME decision makers feel that overall Boris Johnson is dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak effectively. Although Rishi Sunak was predicted to be deputy Prime Minister while Boris was unwell, only 36% of SMEs would like to see him take the stand as Prime Minister in future.

52% of SMEs think that the economic package rolled out by the Government has been favourable to them, compared to just 17% who don’t, with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (44%) and Small Business Rates Relief Grants (40%) proving most popular. However the true impacts of this stimulus package remain to be seen following reported flaws and bottlenecks with the delivery of funding from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

Chris Manson, CEO of Newable, comments: “These are unprecedented and hugely challenging times for the almost six million SMEs that form the backbone of our UK economy, however history has shown repeatedly that resilience and adaptability can prevail. It is reassuring to see many businesses prioritising collective public health over revenue, a sign that empathy and human nature are here to stay. Meanwhile the stimulus package unveiled by the UK government has provided a lifeline for many small businesses – time will tell whether it has been enough and it will be interesting to see how the package evolves in the mid-term as the ‘new normal’ develops.”

When it comes to changing working patterns, 69% of SME decision makers are enjoying working from home and 38% have reported no change in productivity – while 33% have actually seen productivity rise. However, fewer than half of respondents would like to work from home permanently given the choice, with lack of human interaction (49%), team contribution (34%) and daily routine (30%) among the things missed most. The results suggest that we may see a ‘flight to flexibility’ – with companies shifting to hybrid working styles.

55% have stated their preference for office contracts of less than three years while 42% see a bright future for the flexible office industry – compared to just 16% who don’t. The desire for flexible, short-term contracts is of upmost importance to SMEs, with 42% selecting it as the most important option when considering an office, followed by the ability to easily change the size of your space at 40%.

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.”

The exclusive Newable Small Business Confidence Index reflects the views of 1,006 small businesses across a wide variety of sectors including marketing, PR, financial services, travel and recruitment.

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