In the initial stages of the pandemic, short-term continuity was the goal for many small and medium businesses. Two years later, businesses are having to acknowledge that things are never going to just snap back. People have changed and expectations have changed, permanently.
Getting staff ‘back in the office’ as lockdowns ease is problematic, particularly as many don’t want to return. There could also be a future pandemic or other crisis that once again forces remote working en masse.
So even businesses that don’t plan to continue with remote and hybrid working may have to make a switch at a moment’s notice in future.
But a potential future crisis is not the only reason to continue to enable flexible working. The hybrid work environment also opens new opportunities for small businesses.
Remote working increases productivity and wellbeing
Poly’s recent Recruit, Retain and Grow research, which surveyed over 2,500 business leaders worldwide, found that 72 per cent of organisations saw an increase in productivity as a result of remote/hybrid working.
A work-from-home experiment of 16,000 employees, carried out by Chinese travel agency Ctrip, found that home working led to a 13 per cent performance increase, due to people working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and making more calls per minute, thanks to a quieter working environment.
A report by Owl Labs found that employees had better mental health when working from home. A study by Flexjobs found that offering flexibility was overwhelmingly listed as the top way that organisations could better support workers. Over 80 per cent of respondents said greater work flexibility would help them with mental health.
Other benefits include lowered business expenses. Analysis by Global Workplace Analyticsestimates that a single company can save USD $11,000 per year for each remote worker who telecommutes 50 per cent of the time. Telecommuting and virtual conferencing also enables organisations to significantly lower their carbon footprint.
Securing and retaining talent with flexible working
Workplace flexibility is key in securing and retaining the best talent. Organisations know people are their greatest asset, but many risk losing their prized talent to competitors.
One unintended consequence of the pandemic has been the Great Resignation: a sharp rise in employees leaving their jobs.
According to our survey, over half of businesses say that if they don’t sort out their hybrid work plans, they’ll start losing staff and be unable to attract new talent, and that this could put them out of business.
A recent survey by Australia’s Finance Sector Union found that 75 per cent of members were concerned about the cost and time of commuting if they had to return to the office. Escalating fuel prices and continuing fears of COVID are adding to the stress. The ELMO Employee Sentiment Index has also identified “flexible/remote working” as the top priority for employees after pay/incentives, with “easy and/or short commute” another high priority.
Enabling flexible working not only helps retain and attract talent, but also gives organisations access to a much wider talent pool. Highly sought-after skills may not be available locally, but with distributed workforces they can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
Organisations still aren’t hybrid-ready
Despite the clear benefits and need for continued workplace flexibility, many businesses still aren’t ready to offer it. Companies are of two minds: caught between accepting that hybrid work is needed to attract talent, and thinking it is just a passing trend.
Poly’s Recruit, Retain and Grow research shows that less than half (48 per cent) of organisations are “fully prepared” for the future of hybrid work. Alarmingly, over a third (37 per cent) say they are only prepared for the short-term. The remaining 15 per cent are either waiting to see what others do first; don’t know what a good hybrid strategy should look like; or don’t intend to continue with hybrid working at all.
Flexible working does present questions and challenges.
How can the mix between office and home/remote working be managed, and what balance is best for a particular organisation? What does this mean for office design and what technology is required to deliver meeting equality? For hybrid working to be successful, all employees must be able to engage and participate on an equal basis. No one should feel overlooked or less involved simply because they are working remotely.
Companies who find answers to these questions and embrace the shift to hybrid working can evolve their company culture. They can improve accessibility for all. They can transform customer interactions.
Ultimately, they will be the organisations who survive and thrive long-term, that are able to navigate future volatility, and attract and retain the best people.
By Bill Zeng, Senior Director, APAC, Poly.
This article was first published by Kochie’s Business Builders