Following the unprecedented lockdown of the UK in March 2020, many companies have had to adapt to working from home to ensure the safety of the nation. Over one year on, and new working patterns seem to have been established, but do companies see a return to the pre-pandemic way of life. What is the sentiment from small and mid-cap quoted companies in relation to returning to the office, what does this mean for diversity & inclusion and how long will it take for the UK economy to respond?
Just over half of small and mid-cap companies were operating with staff back in their work places by the second quarter of this year. Just over one in five (21%) had staff in the workplace throughout the pandemic while around a third (32%) had staff in the workplace after some period of complete closure.
The responses predict that no more than 10% of companies will not have staff in the work place by September 2021 and a large proportion of that shift will occur in June, when all lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted.
Companies are keen to get staff back into workplaces on at least a flexible basis, with nearly 4 in 5 stating that they will be communicating encouragement to return to work with employees. However, in the meantime companies are adjusting to the, at least current, new normal.
"We have increased frequency of performance monitoring with an appraisal-lite, mainly to make sure we hear what we need to from individuals before it's too late to fix. Recruit more HR to make this work."
None of the companies that responded said they would be offering incentives to return to work and this could be in part because of lingering concerns for the health of staff and their families, which was raised by 36% of respondents. There were also a small proportion that had legal concerns, perhaps in the case that staff that they had encouraged to return to the workplace caught COVID their or on their journey.
"Full time homeworking is less than ideal but most are ready to shift toward a more flexible norm."
Generally companies do not expect to return to pre-pandemic ways of working however, at least not in the near term. Only 16% believed that they would have all staff returning to the workplace with just over half planning to have part of their workforce in the workplace and part working remotely.
The pandemic has certainly had a cultural impact on how companies will operate. An overwhelming 96% of companies felt they would have a more flexible approach to employees working remotely than they did before the pandemic. Some company directors also believed that the increase in remote working will assist in increasing the diversity of their workforce as more flexibility in working allows more flexibility in recruitment.
“We have always had a good pattern of inclusivity and family friendly policies, however some diversity has been limited by local recruitment, remote working gives the opportunity to recruit from farther afield.”
The post covid return to work progress has fed into record levels of optimism from quoted company directors. A net of 64% of the respondents to The QCA’s Q2 2021 Sentiment Survey believed that they would see improved performance internally. Similarly 58% believed that the wider UK economy would grow over the next 12 months. There certainly appears to be a correction between a return to work and views on output and employment. Company directors believed their workforces would increase by an average of 9.6% and their turnover would increase by an average of 21% in the next year.
Overall, although working patterns may not return to the pre-pandemic way, the gradual return to work, whether through hybrid or fully flexible policies, does indicate somewhat a return to normalcy. This is the normal where companies are in control of the decisions they take - one where they work from home out of choice, not necessity. With this increased control, comes increased certainty and so the confidence in the financial markets is expected to follow soon.
Read the full small and mid cap sentiment survey.