Re-imagining the workplace

Where there is crisis, there is opportunity. Here it is in re-imagining the workplace. 

During the pandemic, it has become increasingly important that managers and owners of businesses are best prepared to manage the health and wellbeing of their employees, particularly when working remotely. This is vital to maintaining a happy and productive workforce.  

In response to this challenge, a set of remote and hybrid working principles have been developed to support SMEs with the ‘new normal’. 

The principles have been created as a result of research from the Centre for SME Development and the Institute for Research into Work and Employment ar the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), into the impact of Covid on SMEs. 

The study’s aim was to understand better and support SMEs to rise from the Covid ashes, which has led to practical advice to re-imagine work through the new remote and hybrid working principles. 

They are applicable to any size SME (indeed any size of business) adopting remote working or a hybrid model. Research-informed, they are designed to act as a guide to respond to the ongoing challenges, while being productive and supporting employees’ wellbeing.

The principles ask employers to:

  • Understand flexibility to consider employees’ needs to achieve secure, sustainable and productive work wherever possible.
  • Support skills development and training to focus on development and progression for the whole workforce.
  • Create a platform to understand the employee voice and create an inclusive work environment to ensure minority voices are heard.
  • Foster social relationships between co-workers to enhance the informal dialogue across the organisation.
  • Be aware of digital presenteeism and work intensification to improve work-life balance.
  • Support physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Increase productivity 

Covid has enforced a drastic shift in the way we work; organisations and employees have had to adapt. 

Our research has found that some have found this difficult whereas others have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home. 

Common sense could probably tell us this, but the research has enabled us to delve deeper into the challenges facing SMEs and identify some of the many ways we can focus support for them.

There is clearly a moral and legal case for supporting employees and ensuring safe work conditions, but there is also a case for productivity: employees with higher levels of health and wellbeing are a happier, more productive workforce. 

Our research showed a key challenge for SMEs is the organisational capacity to manage the workforce (or themselves as sole traders) working remotely, or in a hybrid capacity, while meeting customer needs and maintaining productivity. We look to policy makers to further the anchor institution role and civic duty of higher education institutions in the socio-economic regional agenda and the importance of SMEs in this mix. 

Recent studies have shown around three-quarters of directors expect home working to continue after the pandemic, although staff’s mental health and wellbeing and interaction with employees are cited as the most worrying challenges from the shift away from the office. 

Centre for SME Development membership

Membership to the Centre for SME Development is free and can be accessed all year round – the Centre provides a gateway to our internationally recognised research centres, the expertise of staff, students and graduates. To find about joining the Centre email sme@uclan.ac.uk or call 01772 894321.

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