UK businesses facing hybrid-working challenges post-pandemic

Are UK businesses ready for sustained remote-working?

According to a study of senior executives commissioned by the Definition Group, a global research agency, as increasing numbers of companies offer post-pandemic hybrid working for employees, this poses challenges to maintaining culture, morale, effective training and staff loyalty.

Although the positive benefits of the new model in terms of a better work-life balance for employees leading to increased productivity are widely recognised, they are almost equally countered by concerns about the potential negative impacts on business performance.

The findings come in a survey of 504 CEOs or Board members at major UK companies, each with more than 250 employees and annual revenues ranging from £50 million to more than £500 million and in diverse sectors of the economy.

Many respondents could see the positives in hybrid working, with 33% agreeing that it offers a better work-life balance for staff, leading to increased productivity and 29% seeing financial savings through reduced real estate costs as a benefit.

However, these were countered by concerns about the adverse impact on productivity by a disengaged workforce (29%), greater challenges around training and career progression (29%) and a potential to create a two-tier workforce with negative impact on morale (26%).

Additionally, 25% of respondents envisaged hybrid working resulting in a less loyal workforce posing greater retention challenges and 23% foresaw negative impact on creative thinking and problem-solving.

Peter Davenport, Senior Strategic Consultant at Definition Group, says: “We are at a watershed moment in business life. The benefits of a strong workplace culture are widely acknowledged but how to maintain that in the ‘new world of work’ in the long term is uncertain. Balancing corporate requirements and employee preference will be a major challenge.”

In the survey, 92% of decision makers also reported that communications priorities have changed since the start of the COVID pandemic; 21% said that they want to increase the frequency of communication, 18% want to increase the use of owned media, 17% want to do more social media comms and 14% plan to do more PR.

In addition to these changing priorities, respondents believed that communicating their purpose as an organisation has become more important now than ever before, with 32% making sure their purpose is reflected in all communications activity and 29% demonstrating it in practical ways, such as supporting charities and community projects.

Values and purpose also have a significant impact on people strategies, with 31% agreeing it makes their staff proud to work for the business and 28% saying it helps with recruitment.

In a report commenting on the survey’s findings, Bill Bullen, Founder and CEO of Utilita Energy, said: “Nobody could have imagined that those values would be put to the test in quite such a dramatic way as that imposed by COVID.

“We have certainly seen the benefits of a shared sense of purpose in some of the most challenging times any of us have faced and, I have to say, I have been enormously humbled by the way our people have responded.”

More than 95% of respondents to the survey also said that reputation contributes to annual revenue, with 24% agreeing their reputation has improved since the pandemic because they have worked harder to engage their employees and customers. 44% believe it has improved because they have done more promotion.

Peter Davenport added: “British businesses have faced their biggest peacetime challenge in coping with the disruptive impacts of the pandemic. For some, the crisis created opportunity; for others, it was a question of simple survival.

“Communication was at the heart of how organisations engaged with frightened and bewildered staff as well as confused and concerned customers and clients. How well they managed both will impact on their future reputations and fortunes, post-pandemic.

“To be successful in this new world of work we all face will require innovative and effective internal and external communications, underpinned by a clear and evolved strategy.”