A new poll by the CBI shows major shifts towards hybrid working and innovation and against business travel are likely to be the result of the Covid pandemic.
Only a quarter of businesses expect to be wholly office-based after Covid, according to a CBI survey which indicates major shifts in attitudes towards home-working, recruitment and business travel during the pandemic.
The poll of 573 businesses, sponsored by Accenture and Hays Recruitment, shows more than three quarters of respondents (79%) said in 2019 their staff were entirely or mostly working in an office or workplace away from home. But beyond 2021, businesses expect that figure to be just over one quarter (28%), with almost half (47%) expecting staff to split their time evenly between home and the workplace.
Working from home is seen to be positive in terms of attracting and retaining staff, with 53% of respondents reporting a positive impact (and 14% reporting a negative one).
On average, respondents expect their office space to reduce by 18% compared with 2019. Respondents anticipate using significantly less space for desk-based activities and client meetings. However, more than half of firms (56%) say their top priority for office locations beyond 2021 is staying at or near current office locations.
The poll highlights some of the challenges of remote working, including around management and training of staff, particularly the ability of junior staff to learn from listening and observing senior colleagues.
Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “Despite the huge challenge of operating through the pandemic, this survey shows firms are committed to listening to employees and customers, innovating at speed to build back better. The rewards for those who get this right will be substantial, with clear benefits for both companies and individuals.
“Remote working has brought huge benefits. It has not led to a collapse in productivity. Often lost travel time has disappeared, together with the stress and carbon emissions of the morning commute. Many local communities have been rediscovered.
“Yet while Covid-19 may have triggered a mass migration from UK workplaces, talk of the death of the office is premature. They continue to offer real benefits, particularly for welcoming new staff, training and collaboration. So a new, flexible balance must be found – the office will survive, but not as we know it.”
The poll shows that remote working is seen to enable a greater geographical spread of the workforce. Around two-thirds (63%) expect more applications from people who live more than 1-2 hours from head office compared to 2019 and 25% expect more applications from people who live outside the UK.
Business travel was commonplace pre-COVID, with 88% saying staff regularly travelled within the UK for work and 57% internationally. Beyond 2021, 65% of responding businesses think it is likely that ‘because of video conferencing, it will no longer be necessary for [their] staff to travel within the UK to meet colleagues and clients’. International travel looks set to be curtailed too.
Respondents also believe recent months have hastened innovation among UK firms, with rapid adoption of new tech proving vital to both support operations and capitalise on a surge in online activity – a trend expected to endure.
Seven in ten of firms responding (71%) think it is likely that ‘consumers who switched to shopping online during the lockdown will keep doing so once the pandemic has passed’. Elsewhere, nearly six in ten (59%) businesses think it is likely that ‘people will shop close to where they live rather than shopping further afield’.
The CBI says one of the main findings is that firms are keen to capitalise on improving employees’ work-life balance, reducing carbon emissions and accelerating innovation.
Firms responding cited the following specific activities beyond 2021 compared to 2019: