A third of UK businesses have already revised their working practices in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak – yet a wider lack of planning means the nation is among the world’s most ill-prepared for a sustained period of isolation and home-working.
Data released by global business solutions firm 8×8 says 36% of firms have revised their daily behaviour, with many cancelling meetings and limiting travel.
Yet its figures also show that 25% have no crisis plan in place, and while 58% are offering home-working options, some 41% have no such policy.
That is mirrored in a global workplace performance firm Leesman, which has surveyed 700,000 workers worldwide, including 139,778 in the UK – of which 55% have little or no experience working from home.
This ratio compares unfavourably with a global average of 52%, meaning the UK is one of the world’s ‘least prepared countries to weather a mass home-working strategy’, according to Leesman.
With coronavirus cases – and deaths – continuing to rise sharply around the world and the outbreak being elevated to pandemic status by the World Health Organisation, many major corporations are now advising people to work from home.
This includes the likes of Apple, Starbucks, Facebook and Twitter, who have all taken the step in an effort to curb the spread and protect their workforces.
In the UK, 40% of firms have scrapped travel and event plans, according to 8×8’s data, while others are closing sites and banning external visitors.
The UK government is now urging even mildly sick people to stay home, and researchers suggesting those who could work from home should do so, regardless of whether they are symptomatic, to reduce their risk of contracting coronavirus and fuelling the outbreak by spreading it to others.
That means companies who cannot successfully implement a home-working system face a major impact on productivity and innovation.
Tim Oldman, Leesman CEO, said: “Home-working will undoubtedly prove pivotal in limiting the impact of the coronavirus crisis. But the data suggests that many employers and employees will be out of their depth should British businesses be forced into lockdown.
“Our advice is for organisations to quickly quantify where their main obstacles will be and seek support. We know how and why corporate offices impact employee sentiment but have significantly less understanding of even the short-term impact of dispersing teams into environments designed for living, not working.
“Global business must brace themselves, but the UK perhaps more so.”
The 8×8 data says 26% of firms do not encourage remote working, while 15% do not allow it at all. Some 17% do not even have the devices needed to make this possible.
And Leesman’s survey reveals 79% of those who normally work from home typically do so for just one day a week or less, and only 1% work from home for more than four days per week.
What’s more, only 41% of sporadic home workers have a dedicated room to work from, and 39% don’t even have a designated workstation or desk.
A spokesman from 8×8 said: “For those businesses that typically do not offer remote working, now is the time to review operations and see how rapidly you can create an effective remote-working policy.
“It’s critical that businesses develop an effective crisis plan, mapping out all remote-working tools available to employees and provide appropriate user training to keep business operations running efficiently.
“Employees should be involved in outlining the contingency plan so that in the face of a disaster, so all aspects are considered and there is employee buy-in.
“Once processes are in place, run drills to familiarise your employees with the procedures and test the system. Create a best practice document that will help all employees to remain productive when working from home.”
That view is endorsed by Marc Pell, CTO at insurance firm Tempcover, who agrees advance planning – and thorough testing – can help businesses to cope.
He said: “With so much uncertainty around the future impact of coronavirus on the economy, it is essential that businesses proactively encourage more staff to work remotely when required.
“Mandatory self-isolation and remote working for millions of British office workers is becoming increasingly likely. It is important that businesses prepare for this eventuality by testing their disaster recovery systems in advance, to ensure that any fundamental flaws are identified and addressed before going into lockdown mode.”