Despite there being a great push to return to normal, the legacy of home and hybrid working will linger on well into next year with less than one in two returning to a traditional office by December. Whilst nine regions in the UK will see an increase in the percentage of small businesses returning to the workplace between now and December, this will not exceed more than 50% in any regions, indicating a shift in work practices for small businesses as the legacy of the pandemic draws on.
Hitachi Capital Business Finance surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,464 small business owners, asking where they worked during the pandemic, where they work currently and where they plan to work by the end of year, focusing particularly on four groups – home, hybrid, workplace and outdoors.
The research revealed significant regional variations, with some favouring the more cautious and familiar approach of home or hybrid whilst others were eager to return to pre-pandemic bustling offices. Wales opposed this by opting for a traditional return to the office by the end of the year (49%). This is in contrast to small businesses in the East, which had the second highest percentage of those hybrid or home working currently (63%), increasing to top place when looking at their end of year plans (52%). The West Midlands revealed a potential tiring of pandemic working with the sharpest fall in working from home by the end of December (from 37% to 19%), whilst doubling the percentage of people who plan to work outdoors (12% to 25%).
Going against the grain of the UK, Wales beats other locations as the region most keen to return to the office, with nearly half of their workers planning to revert to pre-pandemic work habits (49% vs 42%). This is supported by them having the sharpest decline in home and hybrid working out of all regions asked (51% to 28%).
East of England
Around a third of small businesses in Eastern England (35%) are planning a full return to the office which is significantly lower than parts of the country such Wales (49%), the North East (45%) and the West Midlands (45%). In terms of remote working, whilst 63% of small businesses in the East currently favour this method, this will drop to just 52% by the end of this year (versus 41% national average).
The business centre of the UK revealed some interesting data, with only two fifths of workers planning to return to an office by the end of this year. Regardless of the fact that there was a big increase in people returning to the workplace from now until December (24% to 41%), it goes to show the impact that the pandemic has had on businesses, with the amount of people planning remote or hybrid almost matching the traditional office figure (39% vs 41%).
Scotland currently tops the nation with the highest percentage of people either home or hybrid working (63% vs 58% national average). Whilst this figure is due to fall quite significantly by the end of this year (46%), it is still true to say that there will remain more small business employees sticking to the new methods of working that emerged as a consequence of the pandemic than those returning to the office.
Despite hybrid working revealing itself as a popular option for many regions, the North East seem to have a preference for the other three methods – and, this will not change as we approach the end of the year and the end of the pandemic, with these percentages remaining relatively unchanged. This is against the grain of the nation at large, suggesting hybrid is not something that people have settled into.
Joanna Morris Head of Insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance: “As a nation, we are preparing to return to work in a capacity that is unrestricted by COVID regulations. How small businesses deal with this region to region. Whilst some may be ready and eager to return to a bustling workplace setting, others may feel more comfortable and settled sticking with an approach that they have become accustomed to over the past year – home working. It seems evident that many intend to get the “best of both worlds” by trialling a hybrid approach, allowing employees to harness the lessons learnt over the past year whilst also reconnecting with pre-pandemic working.
“It is important to never underestimate the impact these events can have on our small business community, and the nuances that exist between different locations in the UK. At Hitachi Capital Business Finance, we believe it is paramount to identify these in order to support small businesses in the best and most appropriate way possible, whilst understanding how they operate, think and feel.”