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UK SMEs expect staff to return to the workplace full-time

Most of the UK’s SMEs are expecting their employees to return to the workplace full-time, and while resistance is expected from some, many business owners are prepared to take disciplinary action to ensure their return, according to the latest independent research* from Close Brothers Asset Finance.

Key findings:

  • 57% of SMEs expect employees to return to the workplace full-time now that restrictions have been largely lifted, while 23% are offering hybrid working; only 9% have stated their employees can continue to work from home 
  • 49% anticipate employees currently based at home will resist coming into the workplace, compared to 31% who won’t; 11% are ‘unsure’
  • 40% of firms are prepared to start disciplinary proceedings against employees who refuse to return to the workplace against 37% who will not; the remainder are ‘unsure’

Selected question analysis

With Covid restrictions easing across the UK, will you expect your firm’s employees to be back in the workplace?

For companies who employ 11-60 and 60-250 people, the expectation of full-time return to the workplace jumps significantly to 71% and 73% respectively, from the overall figure of 57%.

From a regional perspective, Greater London (71%) and the South West (66%) firms are the most likely to want to see their employees back in the workplace permanently.

At 47% and well below the national average, female bosses are far less likely to insist their staff return full-time than their male counterparts (63%).

Do you anticipate employees currently based at home to resist coming into the workplace?

Of the sectors polled, Engineering firms (71% v 49% UK avg.) expect the most resistance from their employees to return to the workplace, while from a regional perspective, it’s Greater London (65%), North West (63%) and North East (61%).

Our view

“It’s interesting to note that only 9% of SMEs polled as part of our research are inclined to allow staff to continue to work from home,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance.  “Based on the lessons from the pandemic, it’s likely firms will take a more flexible approach, particularly with operations and support staff who, for the most part, successfully transitioned to a home-based work environment.

“For many, there are multiple benefits to having their teams back in the workplace and seeing each other in person, including the ability to build real relationships and have more opportunities to network, learn, collaborate, and share skills.”

Methodology

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a Kantar survey conducted in later February 2022. The survey canvassed the opinion of over 900 SME owners across the UK and Ireland and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.