UK small businesses set out requirements for a return to the office

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Small businesses may be returning to the workplace but many want to re-create the home comforts that got them through a year of home-working during lockdown.

From fresh coffee to cooking from scratch in a full-kitted kitchen, to putting on a wash between meetings – as well as the daily ritual of a lunch-time dog walk – so many habits from lockdown will change the face of office working in the months ahead.

With the swift roll-out of the COVID vaccine across the UK – and around half of small business owners (46%) anticipating their staff will be working from an office or official workplace by the end of the year – the new research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance shows that small businesses plan to work from a range of work environments after June. Further, for those that do plan a return to the office, the 9-5 working day will be far from the average that people were used to before COVID.

The Hitachi Capital study asked 1,032 small business leaders if they were planning to return staff to the workplace in the months ahead and, if so, what would be the essential features of the workplace going forward.

Home-from-home

Small business professionals are looking to re-create home environments that they have gotten use to over the past year. Almost one in six of respondents (16%) would want fresh coffee from an onsite café and 15% would like to have a kitchen that allowed staff to freshly prepare their daily meals at work.

Office dogs are also set to become a permanent feature in offices. After a year of lockdown, when a dog walk was a part of essential daily exercise for many – the much-loved family pooch now has a place in the modern office. One in ten respondents (10%) said daily dog walks would now become an integral part of office life.

A further 1 in 10 believe that what is most essential for the new office space is a games room, having an office based creche or child minder, and an on-site laundry. Whilst 13% like the idea of there being a gym/ work out space and 11% have plans for a shower.

An end to formality 

Having spent the past year wearing half of their pyjamas, one in five small businesses leaders (20%) would bring an end to having a dress code in the office, letting workers wear what they want. The findings also suggest a desire to scrap the traditional face-to-face meetings: 18% would plan to install big screens for video conferencing, whilst 13% would get rid of meeting rooms altogether, preferring an open plan space. 10% would get rid of designated desks and introduce hot desks and communal workstations.

However, there are still signs of the lingering effects of COVID with cautious planning for the future. More than one in five respondents (22%) want to introduce big communal spaces for people that want to social distance when in the office and 13% think that they should have a designated area for people who refuse to have a COVID vaccine.

Hybrid vs. Office working

Those looking to adopt hybrid working were more likely to look at ways to alter the physical aspects of an office, such as more recycling bins, bigger communal spaces, more bathrooms, better kitchens, electric car charging points, showers and communal desks.  In comparison, those returning to a traditional office were more likely to be focussed on more personal staff requirements, such as; a gym, a creche, a games table and a music system as well as bedrooms for working late and being allowed to bring their pets to the office.

Joanna Morris, Head of Insight Hitachi Capital Business Finance commented: “COVID has taken so much from us, but it has also shown us what is important and what is not. Workers are now wanting those home comforts at work, the things that people have come to realise matter most through the pandemic. Hours usually spent commuting have been spent having dinner with children, walking the dog or getting more exercise. A happier way of working and a healthier way of living has been established through the flexibility of location. These issues all play out in what the modern office or workplace will look like. Home working for some may have been a temporary adjustment to a pandemic, but the positive learnings will endure and will transform the modern office to something that looks quite different to what was the norm before COVID.”

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