Half of mid-sized businesses plan to repurpose their office

27 April 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

With the last year of lockdown having highlighted various gains resulting from home working, many mid-sized businesses are now planning to re-evaluate the way they use office space. However, according to a new study of firms in the UK, adapting to long-term remote working is not without its challenges.

One of the leading concerns many bosses went into lockdown with was that productivity would fall, as they would have a less direct impact on their workforce. Fast forward one year, however, and a majority of organisations actually witnessed strong productivity gains. Meanwhile, the prospect of downsizing office space was increasingly seen as a major revenue-saver by firms whose income had come under pressure during the crisis.

As a result, following more than 12 months of disruption and adaptation, a new study from Grant Thornton has found that just 5% of mid-sized businesses in the UK now believe a return to full time office working will be most effective for their people post-pandemic.

Challenges facedby mid-sized businesses relating to remote working

Surveying more than 600 firms, the consultancy found that 44% of the businesses surveyed believe that a shift towards more remote working would instead be most effective.

Of those in favour of remote working, 37% believed that a blended approach, with more time spent working remotely than in an office, would be best for their business, while a further 7% said that full time remote working would be best for them. At the same time, one-quarter said an even split between office and remote working will work best for their people.

While mid-sized companies look to balance their books and bolster their bottom lines, this provides a vital area of leverage. With less demand for office space, 51% informed Grant Thornton that their office or workface will now need to be repurposed – something which can enable them to reduce rent-spending in the future.

Dave Munton, Head of UK Markets and Clients, Grant Thornton UK, remarked, “Businesses and their people have had to continually adapt how they work over the course of the last twelve months and many of the changes are likely to remain, at least to some extent, as we start to resume a more ‘normal’ life… The discussion now needs to move to how businesses will support this evolution and ensure they adapt effectively, because every person’s job role and personal working style is different; there won’t be a one size fits all approach.”

To that end, Grant Thornton revealed that the changes will be more complicated than simply drawing a line in the sand. Among the 80% of businesses who said they had seen increases in home working over the last year, many had to deal with a number of complex concerns – concerns which will likely become even more pronounced in the long-term.

Most importantly, nearly half of all bosses said that managing the work of more junior employees had been difficult. Relatedly, meanwhile, 47% said that the provision of training was a key concern now. Loss of culture – with teams spending less time together – and a fall in client-facing time were both the next items on the agenda, however the fifth priority is the one which arguably be most concerning for workers and businesses alike.

Just under four-in-ten firms said mental wellbeing of employees was a key concern amid remote working. The isolation of many workers during lockdown, coupled with anxieties relating to job security and health concerns, meant that there was a sharp spike in the number of staff reporting mental illness issues in the last year. From both an ethical and business standpoint, companies will need to ensure adequate support mechanisms are put in place to address this, if they intend to maintain remote working in a long-term form.

Munton concluded, “The discussion now needs to move to how businesses will support this evolution and ensure they adapt effectively, because every person’s job role and personal working style is different; there won’t be a one size fits all approach… This will include understanding how their work or office space may need repurposing, how their wellbeing and employment policies will need adapting to better support the changing expectations of the workforce, how they most effectively provide development and on-the-job learning opportunities, and how technology can be used more effectively to enable new and more disparate ways of working.”