SMEs cautious about getting back into the office due to Delta variant

Research reveals that doubts persist about when to make the decision to return to the office, with the Delta variant still causing concern

As offices have reopened and vaccine programmes have been made available on a widespread basis, the spotlight has fallen on the question of what hybrid working will look like and whether there will be pressure on staff to return to their desks.

Some of the largest players in the market, including Apple and Amazon, have decided to keep offices shut until next year, and others – with HPE being a recent example – have called on staff to be double vaccinated.

At a small and medium-enterprise (SME) level, the reactions of customers seem to be influenced by location, with JumpCloud quizzing bosses in the UK and the US to gauge their reactions to the pandemic.

The 2021 impact of Covid-19 on SMEs survey revealed that there were different attitudes from firms in Greater London, with 72.8% taking steps to mandate vaccinations, compared to just 44.9% in the rest of the country. That also correlated with areas outside of London being less likely to drive vaccinations.

The Delta Variant seems to be causing some delays and caution among SMEs that are pushing back office reopening until the back end of the fourth quarter, or into next year. The JumpCloud survey found that 53.2% of respondents are currently rethinking the plan to return to the office and 14.8% have already delayed getting staff back in the office.

Hybrid working is an option for an increasing number, with 70% of SMEs on both sides of the pond offering the option to work remotely as a permanent option.

“SMEs continue to exhibit great resourcefulness, flexibility and initiative in responding to the pandemic and the Delta variant,” said Rajat Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud.

Some of those responses include requiring social distancing in the workspace, limiting numbers in the office, and requiring masks be worn. Others have invested in air filters and have put dividers up to keep staff separated.

“As an SME ourselves, we know the current conditions are extremely fluid. Like the majority of respondents, we had to rethink and delay our office return and hybrid workplace options,” added Bhargava.

It helps that the majority of workers at SMEs are understanding about the measures and the delays, and support decisions being made by their employers. Almost three-quarters of staff at UK SMEs agreed with the plans their bosses put in place.

Those differences in response can be seen with the number of staff that are back behind their desks, with a third already doing so and a similar number opting for hybrid, and just shy of 20% opting for the remote option.

Those that had problems with it and wanted life to get back to normal as quickly as possible said they felt that there “was nothing to worry about”. 

There has been some politicisation around the idea of vaccinations, with some being adamantly against, but the survey found that 57% of UK SMEs had taken steps to make it mandatory for staff to have had both jabs.

Delaying the return

The Delta Variant and the persistence of the virus has caused many SMEs to rethink the timings of their calls to staff to return to their desks.

JumpCloud found that UK respondents reported that those doubts had delayed a return to the office, with 32.4% pushing things back to September, 10.8% October, 18.9% November or later, and 37.8% not yet having a firm timeline.

Read more on Salesforce Management