The past year has brought a fundamental change to the way we think about business and working environments, shifting expectations of what’s possible for employees and businesses of all shapes and sizes across the country.
As 76% of businesses expect hybrid working to become more common amongst their workforce, leaders and managers need to consider how they should adjust their health and wellbeing strategies for this change.
In order for SMEs to remain competitive in the talent market, they will need to consider tailoring their working models to meet the new expectations of employees. Employees’ experience of remote working varied during the pandemic: for some, lockdown was more productive, saving them time from the lack of commute and reducing workplace distractions. For others, particularly junior staff or graduates who may have been onboarded during lockdown, remote working may have been isolating and restricted their ability to establish healthy connections with co-workers.
Our recent report, Adapting to Hybrid working: Top tips for businesses making the long-term shift to hybrid working, highlighted that 91% of office workers have shown a preference to working from home at least part of the time and 86% of working parents wanting to work flexibly. Businesses should consider how introducing hybrid and flexible working could be advantageous for their business, as well as being a good opportunity to support employee wellbeing.
When thinking about the transition, leaders should focus on creating a hybrid working policy that strikes the right balance between the needs of the business and its customers, and employee preference for flexibility. Solving this puzzle will help companies retain a healthy, inclusive work culture that allows employees to balance their work and home life, while achieving the same, or better, commercial outcomes.
It goes without saying that prioritising staff wellbeing creates a more engaged, more productive workforce. Across all age groups, 48% of a person’s life satisfaction is determined by their health. To ensure health and wellbeing remains a priority in a hybrid workplace, there are a few areas where SMEs can focus their efforts.
Business owners should equip their leadership team and managers with the tools and resources to help identify signs of poor health or wellbeing, regardless of working location. Leaders and managers should also look at how to best create an environment in which employees are able to speak up about what they are facing and feel that they are able to check in with colleagues and raise any concerns.
Technology is also fundamental to the success of hybrid working and a critical tool for leaders to maintain awareness of and support staff wellbeing. Unfortunately, research has shown that SMEs only expect to make 41% of the investment in technology that they feel they need. That’s why the government’s Help to Grow digital scheme has been welcomed by many SME businesses so far. Being able to invest in technology – such as remote collaboration tools – will help to make meetings and organisational communication as inclusive as possible when working in a hybrid way.
Collaboration platforms can help businesses facilitate wellbeing support systems for remote staff, such as virtual appointments with mental health support professionals or messaging services to help colleagues foster a sense of connection while working in different places. Digital tools including cloud-based telephone solutions can enable employees to make calls from anywhere, empowering them to take screen breaks and connect with colleagues and customers while on a walk, or to stay productive while on the school run.
It goes without saying that there will be a trial-and-error period for every business as they transition to hybrid working, and SMEs should create planned opportunities to review practises and policies for necessary adjustments. In the meantime, it’s important for leaders to regularly consult with staff members to ensure the change in working model is sustainable for all parties.
Jennifer Beckwith, Head of Employment Policy, CBI
 People at the heart of the recovery: The 2020 CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey results and what they mean for business,
 Coronavirus: Why some people want to keep working from home’, BBC News, 2020
 Modern Families Index 2019, Working Families and Bright Horizons, 2019
 McKinsey, The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships (2020)
 Sage, “Invest for Recovery – supporting SME jobs & growth with digital adoption”, 2020