SMEs optimistic but crave an office environment close to home – while also bracing for Brexit fallout

At Newable, we are committed to supporting UK businesses, helping them to grow and thrive. To do this, we need to understand the current challenges SMEs are facing.

Every 6 months, we survey over 1000 UK SMEs to fully understand how current social, economic and political factors alter the landscape in which our customers operate. Here are our results.

Despite 67% of SMEs stating that they like working from home, 54% of SMEs would be more likely to work in an office environment if their company opened a smaller office closer to home and if this was the case, 36% stated they would work there full time, according to the second Newable Small Business Confidence Index. Other than the pandemic, almost half of UK SMEs stated that fallout from Brexit is the biggest challenge facing UK SMEs today.

49% of UK SMEs are experiencing drops in revenue and 63% have put the brakes on investment decisions. However, both figures are down 10% from Q2 which shows a positive sign of recovery amongst small businesses since the first lockdown. SMEs have also remained optimistic as 35% think that their businesses will fully recover in under 12 months, down only 2% from Q2.

With the U.K in the midst of its second lockdown, 46% of SME decision makers feel that overall Boris Johnson is dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak effectively, down from 56% in Q2, suggesting the recent restrictions have tempered confidence in the PM. Additionally, only 46% of SMEs think the economic package rolled out by the Government has been favourable to them. In line with this, support for Rishi Sunak has increased with 41% of SMEs wanting to see him take the stand as Prime Minister in the future, up from 36% in Q2.

Chris Manson, CEO of Newable, comments: “It is comforting to see SMEs are starting to show some signs of recovery – despite these unprecedented and hugely challenging times for the almost six million SMEs that are at the heart of the UK economy. Whilst the pandemic continues to take up most of the current debate, it clear that SMEs are fearing the fallout of Brexit and more needs to be done to ensure SMEs are supported during the transition”.

Despite SMEs expressing a willingness to work in an office close to home, 67% of SME decision makers are enjoying working from home, which is only down 2% from Q2, suggesting working from home is now a no longer a novelty.  Additionally, 40% of SMEs have seen a rise in productivity since working from home, up from 33% in Q2 and only 24 % stating they have seen a decrease in productivity.

With 40% stating working from home has not had an impact on morale, the lack of human interaction (37%), team contribution (19%) and office facilities (12%) are among the things missed most about working from home.  The results suggest that we may see a ‘flight to flexibility’ – with companies shifting to hybrid working styles.

55% have stated their preference for office contracts of less than three years while 47% see a bright future for the flexible office industry – compared to just 16% who don’t. The desire for flexible, short-term contracts is of upmost importance to SMEs, with 40% selecting it as the most important option when considering an office, followed by the ability to easily change the size of your space at 39%.  These figures suggest that SMEs crave flexibility and a lower financial risk when selecting office spaces, especially during times of uncertainty.

Chris Manson adds:

“There is no doubt the pandemic has changed the world of work forever. It is interesting to see how many SMEs actually do crave an office environment, but want to avoid the risks of long commutes and higher populated areas by staying closer to home. Here at Newable, we have begun a roll out of smaller, suburban work hubs as we expect to see conventional office portfolios shrink as space is repurposed to be more flexible. There will always be a need for human interaction and team collaboration through using an office, but it is good to see the increase in productivity generated through home-working as we fight through this second lockdown.”

The exclusive Newable Small Business Confidence Index reflects the views of 1,009 small businesses across a wide variety of sectors including marketing, PR, financial services, travel and recruitment.

Download here for the full report.