Remote and hybrid working models in the UK have become increasingly common for businesses since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, whilst these models may win favour with some workers, the shift to remote work in the UK has significant implications on how a business is organised.
In this article
- Flexible approaches resonate with remote/hybrid workers
- Balancing office vs remote time for productivity gains
- 2 to 3 days in the office work best for most remote/hybrid employees
- No commute is a top advantage, but remote/hybrid workers struggle to switch off
- Making remote/hybrid workplaces work successfully
There are many remote work benefits for both small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) and their staff. The shift is getting easier, too, thanks to tools such as remote work software. However, this is a major undertaking and needs to be handled correctly to work around potential downsides or changes that could harm productivity and workplace cohesion.
Remote/hybrid work is already affecting major businesses as well as smaller ones, as seen recently when HSBC announced it was downsizing from its 45-floor tower HQ in Canary Wharf to a smaller capacity office, in part because of the rise of hybrid working. Of course, before making a big decision like this, SMEs must know how to manage remote work to ensure its successful application.
GetApp surveyed 1,004 employees that work under either a remote or hybrid working model in the UK to learn more about handling work-from-home conditions. From this, we hoped to understand how remote/hybrid conditions can be effectively managed to retain and attract top talent and to ensure the best productivity and workplace culture.
Flexible approaches resonate with remote/hybrid workers
Remote work became normalised during the pandemic but, since then, has become a more mixed proposition. Many larger established firms have attempted to impose mandatory full-time returns to the office or have adjusted to more flexible hybrid workplaces where some in-office time is obligatory.
Going all-out remote can affect company culture negatively unless it is handled properly. Whereas, as recent data has shown, more than a third of UK workers would quit if forced to return to the office full time.
This was reflected in our data as well. In our sample of remote/hybrid employees, two-thirds (66%) agreed with the statement that ‘If the job/conditions are good, I would be willing to apply for a job that is not fully remote, but it would at least have to be hybrid’. Only 17% of the people we surveyed expressed wishes to apply for a fully in-person job, and 16% would only apply for fully remote positions.
Did you know?
The UK parliament recently passed a bill on flexible working which gives employees the legal right to request flexible working arrangements when they start a new job. These requests allow workers to request flexible start and finish times or days working from home up to twice a year.
The former rules in the UK allowed workers who had worked for a company for over 26 weeks one request per year for flexible conditions.
It is important to note that employers do not have to accept these requests, but they must follow them up reasonably.
Some necessary steps to deal with flexibility requests include:
- An assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of the request
- A meeting with the employee to discuss their flexibility request
- Offering an appeals process
This data shows a need for balance when planning a remote/hybrid workplace. Workers benefit from time in the office and working from home. Going to an extreme at either end of these scales appears unpopular.
When analysing workers' preferences towards remote work in general we observed positive sentiment towards working remotely. Yet, it was interesting that Londoners were the least likely to respond with a strongly positive view of it, as seen in the graph below.
Workers who work hybrid or remotely are still positive about organising their working environment in this way. Whilst working exclusively remotely or from an office seems unpopular, a happy balance seems the best option.
The findings in this study broadly align with our findings earlier this year in our study on Flexible Working Hours and 4-Day Workweek in UK companies. Here we saw two-thirds (66%) of in-office employees wanted the chance to work from home, as well as 61% of remote/hybrid workers saying they would consider leaving their current position if working from home wasn’t an option.
Balancing office vs remote time for productivity gains
A big question mark hanging over remote work is the productivity boost it does or doesn’t deliver. Studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic suggested remote work has a positive affect on productivity.
However, as the pandemic moves ever more into the rear-view mirror, a counter-narrative has emerged suggesting the gains to productivity have been overstated. Some major voices in the leadership of big tech organisations have expressed doubt over the productivity of remote workers and claimed that in-office attendance is essential for performance.
Most of our sample (46%) became remote/hybrid workers following the onset of COVID-19, although a significant number (35%) worked remotely before 2020. This represents a mix of those who have longer-term experience of this way of working and also who made the shift along with the rest of the population when COVID hit.
Despite these differences, we generally observed that workers in our sample considered themselves most productive when working remotely. However, many indicated it didn’t make much difference, and they worked just as well either way.
Thus, we can see that remote work’s link with productivity seems to be a positive one going by what hybrid and remote workers answered in our survey. Only a minority (27%) believed that being in the office got the best productivity out of them.
However, it was interesting to note that London-based employees were equally spread on finding both working from the office or fully remote more productive, whilst the rest of the country seemed to benefit most from working remotely. Northern Ireland appeared to buck the national trend with many more participants indicating they were most productive in the office than the UK as a whole. However, the sample size for this country is smaller and thus may not indicate as strong a tendency as it appears.
How to plan for productive remote workers
Whilst the best environment for productivity often depends on the worker, creating structured and effective remote/hybrid working conditions is essential. Studies show productivity can suffer a major hit when hybrid work policies are poorly applied.
The UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) notes some important guidelines on developing this policy, such as defining:
- Which roles can and can’t feasibly be done from home
- The workers who do and don’t wish to work from home
- Employee concerns and the best ways to approach them
There are also many ways technology can help define some of these factors and improve the experience of remote workers and their managers. Some practical tools include:
- Attendance tracking software to assess and monitor how workspaces are used and how much time employees spend at work
- Collaboration software to digitally facilitate collaboration between office-based and remote staff members
- Employee engagement software for keeping company culture active for both remote and in-office workers
- Policy management software, which can be used to update company handbooks and guideline documents
- Productivity software can help employers organise workloads, optimise scheduling, and gather employee productivity data
2 to 3 days in the office work best for most remote/hybrid employees
One of the biggest remote work challenges is assessing what proportion of employees wish to be fully remote and, for the rest of the workforce, getting the balance right on how many days they are expected to attend the office.
The expectation of five full days in an office is becoming less of a given, but how many days should hybrid workers be expected to attend? We asked this question to our sample of remote/hybrid employees to find out.
Most respondents (55%) believed two to three days was the right amount of time to spend in the office. These findings suggest that hybrid is the most effective way to meet employee expectations when planning a remote/hybrid policy. Despite nearly a fifth of respondents preferring a fully remote experience, a little office time (around half a working week) seems welcome to most.
However, what is it about the office that appeals most to the 82% of our sample who wanted to work some days from a company workspace? The top five reasons we observed included:
- In-person connections (50%)
- Better awareness of what's happening within the company (39%)
- Improved quality of work due to in-person meetings (31%)
- The office environment itself (29%)
- Opportunities for learning and growing (24%)
We can see that some of the biggest benefits of going to an office in a hybrid work environment is the human connection it offers. Not only can this help company communication and culture, it boosts awareness of what is happening in the company and creates learning opportunities, according to our sample.
What employers can take away from these findings is the importance of ensuring the office environment is ready to play to its strengths. This could mean, for example, scheduling important events, announcements, and meetings for in-office days when workers can benefit the most from face-to-face interactions.
Tips for SMEs
In the age of remote working models, it can be useful to create opportunities for meaningful employee connections outside the office as well as in it. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) software, for instance, can help SMEs to plan and organise activities such as volunteering or charity drives that can engage staff members positively, whilst enhancing a company’s social reputation.
No commute is a top advantage, but remote/hybrid workers struggle to switch off
There are many pros and cons to remote/hybrid working arrangements. These need to be considered carefully when drawing up plans for implementing any kind of flexible work to get successful results.
The lack of a daily commute five days a week was the most significant benefit for our sample. Many participants also highlighted other advantages, such as the flexibility to adjust work hours around personal responsibilities, whilst many highlighted productivity gains.
These advantages offer productivity solutions for managers and workers. One way this could be handled is to schedule tasks that require high concentration and focus on days when employees are working remotely. This then allows office days to focus more on employee-team interaction.
Tips for SMEs
Employee scheduling software is used by companies to understand and adjust schedules accordingly. This can help managers plan around when employees are on their remote days or in-office days to set workloads correctly.
What are the downsides of remote/hybrid work?
Remote/hybrid work, whilst popular with our sample and having some strong upsides, also has considerable disadvantages that must be addressed to keep a workplace running smoothly. We asked our sample about this topic to learn more about what reduces the effectiveness of remote/hybrid working conditions.
Whilst one of the top remote work benefits for companies is the chance to work flexibly and gain a better work-life balance, this isn’t always the reality in practice. Most hybrid/remote employees in our survey (30%) found one of the biggest challenges to be difficulty keeping to regular working hours.
Other common difficulties that appeared in our results were issues with communication or a lack of chance to interact personally with colleagues. This was not completely surprising, as it correlates with our previous result showing in-person connections were the most important factor for encouraging employees to use their company’s office on occasions during the week.
Tips for SMEs
Social isolation and burnout are two issues arising from remote/hybrid working patterns. A good overview of employee well-being is, therefore, a major consideration for small businesses.
Corporate wellness software can support alleviating these concerns by helping management and HR representatives offer ways to boost workplace mental and physical health.
The challenges selected by our sample suggest that management must be mindful of expectations and guidelines about when the working day starts and ends. This means encouraging employees to switch off at the right times to avoid fatigue and burnout whilst also looking at ways to maximise connections between employees, both on and offline.
In this sense, tools that let you manage tasks and workflow can be especially important. Having a good view of staff workloads lets managers optimise workloads between those in the office and those working from home.
Making remote/hybrid workplaces work successfully
Looking back over our results, we can see that remote/hybrid workplaces still resonate positively with SME employees in our survey. We were also able to highlight a number of areas that employers should consider when managing their hybrid workplace.
The following points detail the most important lessons we observed for maximising the effectiveness of remote/hybrid work from our survey:
- Working remotely is still viewed positively and is seen as a boost to worker productivity by most remote/hybrid SME employees
- Two or three days working from the office per week is seen as the best balance for in-office and out-of-office attendance by remote hybrid SME employees
- No commute, a better work-life balance, and improved concentration are the biggest advantages of working remotely
- The biggest downsides in remote/hybrid work are ensuring workers stick to their agreed daily hours and avoiding social isolation and communication issues
There are many ways employers can meaningfully move forward to address these considerations and decide which hybrid approaches work best. One option is to gather feedback data using survey software from your current workers to understand their preferences and identify the best way to adopt a remote or hybrid model.
Proper workplace organisation is, however, only half of the story with remote work business set-ups, another major focus is security. In part two of our report, we’ll address the cybersecurity concerns companies must consider for remote workers.
The data for GetApp’s 2023 Remote Work Survey was collected in April 2023 and comprises answers from 1,004 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following criteria:
- UK residents
- Employed full or part-time in companies with between 2 and 250 staff members
- Aged between 18 and 65
- Working fully remote or hybrid in a role above trainee level