Wide differences in approach to flexible working during pandemic

A new British Chambers of Commerce survey of more than 900 UK firms shows that remote working has been by far the most common form of flexible working offered to employees, with 66 per cent of companies relying on it.

Nearly three quarters of all businesses (72 per cent) surveyed say they will have at least one member of staff working remotely over the next 12 months, with those firms expecting an average of 53 per cent of their workforce to be working remotely for at least some of their hours.

Mental health and wellbeing of employees were cited by 55 per cent of respondents as a barrier to remote working. Others mentioned requirements for face-to-face contact with staff or customers (41 per cent) and a third stated their barrier being the requirement for a physical presence to operate equipment.

The BCC’s new figures, while showing that over two thirds of businesses surveyed were offering remote working to employees, this broke down to only 54 per cent of B2C (business-to-consumer) service firms currently offering it, against 80 per cent of B2B (business-to-business) service firms.

The data, from a survey of over 900 businesses conducted in April 2021, also shows nearly three quarters of businesses expect to have at least one employee working remotely over the coming year, with the average expectation among those firms being just over half of their employees working remotely.

BCC Head of People Policy, Jane Gratton, said: “During the pandemic, many employers have learned how to manage and motivate people working from home. They’ve also experienced the advantages of an agile workforce, in terms of diversity, skills and productivity.

“It’s vital that businesses have access to clear guidance, information and best practice resources to help them embrace the broadest range of remote, workplace and flexible working options as we emerge from the pandemic.

“These results show that nearly three quarters of firms will now continue to benefit from a remote working option during the coming year.  But it’s clear that some firms and individuals are facing barriers to remote working with many employers concerned about the impact on team morale and employee wellbeing.

“Working from home is by no means the only way in which people can work flexibly. There are a great deal of flexible options available to all businesses including those which require onsite presence, for example, job sharing or self-rostering of shifts.

“Businesses need to attract the best people with the skills they need to be successful and flexible working enables employers to unlock new pools of talent. Offering flexible working opens the door for businesses to find the talent they need to fuel growth and rebuild our economy.”

Variations in the survey’s findings

There were some major sectoral differences in the results – 80 per cent of B2B services firms (such as finance and law) were able to offer working from home, while only 61 per cent of manufacturers and 54 per cent of B2C services companies (such as hospitality and retail) offered this.

For manufacturers and B2C service firms, 21 per cent were not able to offer any of the flexible working options proposed, in comparison to only 7 per cent of B2B service businesses.

Flexitime or staggered hours were offered by 38 per cent of firms and part time hours by 36 per cent, while working from different locations was on offer from 32 per cent. Only 15 per cent offered all jobs flexible as standard and the proportions offering options such as job sharing (8 per cent) and self-rostering of shifts (7 per cent) were low.

When asked what they considered barriers to implementing remote working in their businesses 55 per cent of firms said staff morale or mental health and well-being.

In addition, 30 per cent of respondents pointed to fairness to staff whose roles cannot be performed remotely. Firms also cited monitoring productivity (28 per cent), poor internet connectivity (26 per cent) and issues with IT (24 per cent) as barriers to implementing remote working.

There were further sectoral divides in the responses. For instance, 53 per cent of manufacturers cited requirement for physical presence to operate equipment, whist in B2C service firms the proportion was 35 per cent and B2B service businesses only 16 per cent.

Lastly, 39 per cent of manufacturers also cited fairness to staff whose roles cannot be done remotely, the figure being 29 per cent for B2C service firms and 25 per cent for B2B services.

**Businesses in Cumbria have until 10 June to submit their data as part of the BCC’s Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) for the second quarter (Q2) of 2021. You can submit your data here.

Since the Covid-19 crisis, the QES has consistently demonstrated the scale of impact on UK businesses. The survey has been essential in highlighting to the government both the short and longer-terms impacts on businesses of different sectors and sizes.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce