UK SMEs keen to embrace a hybrid working style – with sustainability in demand

working from home

83% of UK SMEs have cited a sustainable office environment as being important, reflecting an increasingly environmentally conscious workforce, according to the third Newflex Small Business Confidence Index.

The exclusive survey of 1,003 SME decision makers by NewFlex (part of Newable), the U.K. operator of flexible office brands Citibase, easyHub, Serendipity Labs and Bold reveals that 71% of UK SMEs have stated they enjoy working from home up from 67% from last quarter, with 80% reporting an increase or no change in productivity.

Despite this positivity towards home working, small businesses in the U.K. have expressed a desire for a hybrid working style with 30% stating they would like a mix between office and home working and 56% stating they would like to work in an office closer to home.

Equally, companies appear to be prepared for this shift of styles, with 66% stating their offices are set up and oven ready for hybrid working. Interestingly, almost half (47%) of UK SMEs would be more inclined to spend more time in the office if on-site child care facilities were available.

The survey also reveals that human interaction is the most missed part of office working (29%), and 47% stating that home working has contributed to feelings of loneliness. More interestingly, 85% stated that human interaction in the workplace is important to them and 56% stated they believe the lack of human interaction either will or has impacted innovation and creativity.

71% of U.K. SMEs have reported that their current office space is Covid-19 secure but 47% stated they would be more inclined to work full time in an office if child care facilities were available. Sustainability also took a front seat amongst SMEs with 83% stating that sustainability is important when it comes to the office environment.

Steve Jude, CEO of NewFlex comments: “It is interesting to see that despite positive home working experiences, SMEs still see the importance of an office to nurture innovation, collaboration and creativity. Here at NewFlex we have begun helping small businesses set up a hybrid working model for their employees by rolling out suburban work hubs as we expect to see central and conventional office portfolios shrink as space is repurposed for team collaboration. Interestingly, while many amenities in flexible offices to date have included things like bars and yoga spaces, operators may be able to capitalise on the market and increase staff retention by including things like child care facilities in future.”

With the UK slowly coming out of its third lockdown, 51% of small businesses stated they believe the UK government has supported SMEs well throughout the pandemic, however 45% have stated the ongoing uncertainty has impacted their business revenue, slightly down from 49% last quarter.

This uncertainty has led to 61% of SME’s stating they are delaying either some or all investment decisions because of the coronavirus.

British SME’s are somewhat positive about the U.K’s recovery process with 51% stating they believe it will take 18 months or less to recover from the impact of Covid-19, followed by 30% who believe it will take longer than 24 months. 57% have stated that they believe their business will recover in less than 18 months. Amongst other challenges for SMEs, 38% stated that cash flow is the biggest challenge facing U.K. SMEs aside from Covid-19, while business stabilisation was the next big challenge facing their business (23%).

53% have stated their preference for office contracts of less than three years, with only 11% stating they would sign a lease of five years or more. 37% also stated that flexible short-term contracts is an important option when considering a new office, followed by the ability to easily change the size space (35%).

Steve Jude adds: “There is no doubt that U.K SMEs crave flexibility and agility – and whilst we have been seeing this for years, it has been accelerated by Covid-19 as we see a faster and more wide-spread shift to hybrid working styles. SMEs do not want to be tied down to inflexible 10, 20 year leases, leaving them exposed to financial risks in times of uncertainty.”