Opinion.

A space for success: SMEs and the new ways of working

10/06/2021

At a glance

Innovation of the workplace will need to develop alongside the growth of companies as we move into a post-pandemic world, writes our head of employment Stephen Ravenscroft in this opinion piece looking at SMEs and the new ways of working.

Many large organisations have already committed to hybrid working for the foreseeable future. The past year has proven that there are advantages to homeworking and employers are able to trust that their employees can carry out tasks from home. Employees, too, have found homeworking convenient as they are able to work more flexibly and have more command over work/life balance. As companies transition out of survival mode and focus on growth, they will need to be flexible to meet their employee needs.

The British Council for Offices (BCO)’s recent research paper on the future of the office proposes the opportunity to rent space not by square feet but by square feet per hour. This will give landlords more square feet to offer and give tenants more flexibility to choose how much time and space they pay for. Growth companies can capitalise on this shift, ensuring they only pay for what they need, when they need it.

An obvious part of growing a business is recruitment and induction, promising growth not only for the company but for the employees within it. Onboarding may be possible when working from home, but in reality, there is no real replacement for in-office training. It is more efficient, and overall, more welcoming when integrating a new member into the company’s culture and way of working.

It is often the company culture towards work and play that differentiates one firm from another. As graduates and recruits choose between competing employers, the ability to provide a functioning, cohesive company culture is likely to help promote employee retention and attract quality talent. Through a hybrid working model, companies can ensure new employees get a taste of the office culture, and in doing so, cement their position as part of the long-term team.

As companies look to return to the office and expand their business, they will have to prioritise the health and safety of their employees. In part this refers to ventilation, light and general comfort offered by their office space. Expecting a home kitchen and living room in the workplace might be extravagant, but in contrast to the comforts offered by working from home, offices must necessarily up their game if they are to entice companies to fill their space.

Beyond the physical wellbeing of employees, the companies will also have to improve their mental health offerings. The claustrophobia of working from home can have a big impact on mental health, particularly for younger and lower paid employees who may in fact prefer to be in the office as their residences are not large enough or suited to home working. That being said, nobody wants to move from one stifled environment to another, so ensuring an environment is welcoming and understanding, while promoting an efficient work ethic is vital for creating a space for success.

Finally, a key impact of the pandemic has been a decentralisation of business out of the city. The BCO report describes two possible post-pandemic scenarios. In the first, there is a strong hybrid mixture of home and central office working. This will pay particular attention to community spaces and the fostering of informal staff and client interaction. As companies look to grow and innovate, physical space will be important to foster collaboration within their team.

The second scenario is a predominantly homeworking set up that provides ‘end of the street’ hubs for one-bedroom workers or workers with young children. Growth companies will also have to consider this other end of the flexible working spectrum, as employees may live and work from entirely different regions. The decision to allow entirely remote working is one that organisations will find they have to make sooner, rather than later.

As companies can stop worrying about surviving and look forward to thriving, it is important that they ensure they provide the right type of physical space for their organisation to grow. The role of commercial real estate is changing, and co-working spaces are a cost-efficient option for SMEs to begin their transition to hybrid working. Innovation of the workplace will need to develop alongside the growth of companies as we move into a post-pandemic world.

(This opinion piece was written as part of the scale-up month campaign by Business Leader in partnership with Memery Crystal. You can find out more about our scale-up offering here.)

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