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SME business models shift towards a hybrid workforce.

The impact of the pandemic has significantly changed our cultures, businesses and lifestyles, with SMEs at the front end of much of the disruption. Challenging times and the forced shift in working practices has led to some encouraging insights and evolutions in how SME teams can operate flexibly and use technology to support this shift towards a more hybrid workforce.

Before the pandemic, according to the professional association for human resource management professionals, CIPD’s Mega Trends Report in April 2020 report, working mainly from home has increased by 80% in 20 years to reach 5.3% of workers. Still, overall the majority of the workforce only worked from home occasionally, with 29.6% of people worked from home in the past 12 months.

But almost overnight, businesses were forced into rethinking their approaches. According to the UK government, in April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home and of those who did, 86.0% did so as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, according to NFON’s Looking to the Future Report, 17% of small businesses expect to be completely remote in the future. A significant shift when before the pandemic less than 50% of business owners encouraged any sort of remote working and 17% of survey respondents even admitted it was due to lack of trust in their staff to work as hard at home as they would in the office.

The forced shift to new ways of working driven by the pandemic has significantly altered the perception of remote working, with 25% of SMEs feeling that their team worked harder remotely than they did in an office setting. Ultimately, 33% of small business owners claimed to be ‘pleasantly surprised by the success of remote working. The benefits gained lead to a culture shift for many businesses, culminating in increased awareness and movement towards a hybrid approach to continue finding the right work-life balance for their varied team members.

So what does a hybrid approach look like? There are no set rules for the right mix, and every business will need to find the right balance. Some organisations are doing a 3/2 home office mix and other organisations even pushing it further with three weeks remote and then a week in the office with accommodation for the week covered. Law firms and similar organisations with vast paper-based files and resources which could never be duplicated at home are looking to evolve their offices into more library type locations that staff visit when required.

Whichever model the business finally lands on, according to the UK government of working adults currently homeworking, 85% wanted to use a “hybrid” approach of home and office working in the future. And there are some significant benefits for everyone involved.

For businesses, NFON’s report found the top-listed benefits of remote working for SMEs included:

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  • Reduced company expenses
  • Less absence and sickness
  • Positive environmental impact
  • Increased staff wellbeing

For employees, benefits range from

  • Less community and travel expenses
  • Flexible schedule
  • Better performance
  • Improved health and wellbeing

To ensure that everyone has the best possible experience, SMEs will need to support this evolution by continuing with the right technology, processes, and policies to ensure successful roll-out and ongoing growth. The strategic investment is projected to be geared around tech, IT, and security and the training required to support everyone involved. 49% of SEMS agree that the pandemic increased their investment in digital transformation.

Collaboration and communication become critical components in the success of any hybrid flexible working approach. How SMEs use technology to support this will continue to evolve. Still, it’s now more important than ever that employees in the office or at home can communicate smoothly and move between voice, data and video without interruption. No matter where work is happening, communicating needs to be flexible, interconnected and ubiquitous.

Inconsistent connectivity, including outages and downtime, is a constant challenge as most home workers lean on mobile networks from their personal mobile devices. But with solutions like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), as long as your team can connect to the internet, they can leverage all the capabilities of your business communications systems. VoIP empowers everyone in your organisation with the same crisp, clear voice quality – regardless of location or choice of device. Additionally, enabling remote workers to leverage geo-redundant architecture, you can reap the benefit of resilient, ‘always available’ connections.

Your technology needs to align to smarter working processes and approaches when building a remote working workforce. Management and teams must change attitudes around work being a place. There can’t be an underlying strategy that “work” and priority decisions only happen in the office. There is a cultural change to ensure that there is an effort to ensure that all stakeholders and team members, when needed or required, are included, and technology is used to support this process. No matter what hybrid approach an SME business decides the right fit, it starts with building trust with employees, celebrating success and supporting processes with the right tools and technology, all focused on building a positive team and organisation identity.

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