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A majority of mid-sized businesses have adopted hybrid working since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. However, one-fifth of those firms struggle to implement it effectively.

Stressed, over-worked employees are more likely to take time off sick and more likely to quit. Meanwhile, a mounting body of research before 2020 showed that over-worked employees were less engaged and productive. In contrast, flexible working offers staff a better work-life balance, less stress, and the opportunity to recoup their energies more easily. As such, it is estimated that flexible working could contribute just under £40 billion to the UK economy.

Implementing flexible working can be hard though. As in the case of any transformation programme, ingrained cultures throughout the workforce can prove resistant to change, while institutional mechanisms may also struggle to accommodate new practices.

Mid-sized businesses struggling with hybrid adoption

To this end, while a study from Grant Thornton has found that of more than 300 SMEs, 51% of companies have adopted hybrid working approaches since the lifting of lockdown, many feel unable to get the most from it. Of those firms, only 51% found it was working well in their business. Meanwhile, 19% said it was an active struggle to implement hybrid working effectively.

Dave Munton, Head of Markets and Clients, Grant Thornton UK, called for patience, stating, “With legal restrictions now completely removed, we have entered a new environment where companies and their people are learning to embrace and adopt true hybrid working approaches. With more disparate workforces, potentially spread across the country, it will take time for teams to find a rhythm that works for the individuals, the team itself and the needs of the business.”

Without lockdown restrictions in place, however, many bosses have a choice as to whether they maintain patience with hybrid working, or not. The number of firms working in a hybrid way has actually fallen from Grant Thornton’s last polling of British SMEs. In November 2021, 88% had adopted hybrid working – and 64% found it was working well, suggesting that for many firms its implementation has gone downhill.

This may be because business leaders are less invested in the change, now that they feel there is an alternative. A backlash has seen leading figures label flexible workers ‘lazy’, while others have argued it ‘kills company culture’. Recent research from Accenture suggests leaders adopting this line may be shooting themselves in the foot, though, as workers forced into the office tend to feel less ‘connected’ and productive than those working remotely.

To that end, Munton argued, “While having a choice over ways of working may take some time to adjust to, for both businesses and their people, it’s vital that businesses do prioritise this and support their talent in helping them decide how to work… There is no doubt that those that fully embrace true hybrid working, and work with their people to support them in deciding what work is best done at home and what sort of work achieves the best results when done in person, will have a sustainable, competitive advantage. Both in productivity and, critically, in attracting and retaining talent.”

Grant Thornton’s national study follows an internal survey of the company, which found that of over 2,000 people, 93% believed hybrid working allowed them to be more productive, while 91% felt it supported their wellbeing. Meanwhile, another internal poll found that 95% felt trusted by their manager to work in a hybrid way and do their job effectively no matter how, when or where they worked.