SMEs and Hybrid Working 

05 October 2021


It is now widely acknowledged that a full return to office-based work is unlikely across a range of industries. Instead, we are moving towards a hybrid way of working combining the benefits of remote working with those of being office based. 

Although this may be an easier step for large businesses who may have had a degree of flexible or remote working pre-pandemic, what does it mean for small or medium sized enterprises [SMEs]? 

Research carried out by GetApp amongst decision makers and employees in SMEs indicated that hybrid work is here to stay for smaller businesses too. The vast majority [70%] of business leaders who are currently using a hybrid work model plan to continue after the pandemic and 29% that are currently working remotely will follow. 

Hybrid working offers employees a level of flexibility that has been craved for many years. Up until 2020 many businesses  were nervous about the prospect of remote/flexible working

CIPD in the UK found that 65% of businesses did not offer any option to work remotely before the pandemic. A UK study by Censuswide showed half of those surveyed believed working from home would negatively impact teamwork and engagement. 

After more than a year of remote work in many instances one third of SME employers were pleasantly surprised by how adaptable their employees were. Reduction in sick days and improvements in overall wellbeing were noted by some SMEs. Now, over 71% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay. 

There is good reason to do so with UK research by Microsoft indicating 40% of employees are planning to leave their current employer in 2021. So, if employers want to avoid potentially losing valuable talent, providing a working environment that is in line with the future of work is going to matter.

Many businesses left the office in March 2020 suddenly and without much planning. If you are hoping to make the return to the new normal a more organised affair for your SME there are some considerations:

Every SME is unique. The results from every business were not universally positive. Research by GetApp showed small businesses who employed a hybrid working model did not perform as well as those based entirely in the office or remotely. Look at your businesses results but also temper any decisions with the reality that many people were also hybrid working during a pandemic. As parts of the world cycle out of the crises, the hope is hybrid working will take place without the stress of home-schooling, lack of childcare or the burden of illness.   
What will hybrid working look like for your employees? Best practice is for leaders and business owners to tailor the employee experience as much as possible. Hybrid working can be shaped around roles, preferences and personal lives. Employees who feel they can work around their personal demands are more likely to serve business goals.  

If you didn’t have secure digital equipment and software in place for remote working before the pandemic your SME may have scrambled them together to facilitate remote working in an emergency. Now that you are making hybrid working a long-term strategy for your small business, review what is currently in place and see if there are elements that require improvement. Some areas to look at include:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Anti-virus
  • Office equipment
Best practice when it comes to flexible working is to tailor it to the needs of your employees where business need will allow. This could be regularly allowing someone to take an hour in the afternoon to collect children from school, tend to a relative they care for or attend appointments. No matter the requirements, the more your business can meet the needs of your employee the more loyal they are likely to be.

If the employees in your SME have been working remotely exclusively for the last year, even transitioning back to part time in office work is likely to be challenging. Begin the return to work on a phased basis, working your way up to the agreed number of days. It may also be useful to have a trial day in advance of the office start of hybrid working to allow employees:

  1. Work out their route to work again if there have been changes to public transport.
  2. Adjust to being in the office again, particularly if there have been changes to layout or if social distancing and mask wearing remains in place in your country.
There may be a need to adjust your office space to facilitate hybrid working. This doesn’t need to be a major refurbishment. If employees need to socially distance, consider removing some of the office furniture. If the office is going to be used differently consider creating zones. As an example, employees may plan their meetings for days they are in the office so consider adding more meeting spaces both formal and informal.  

Practice around hybrid working must be from the top down. Encourage all employees no matter their level to have work life balance and to avoid presenteeism while working at home or in the office. 

If your business has expats working overseas, protect their health and wellbeing with international health insurance specifically for SMEs.