Nearly two-thirds of US small businesses to continue with remote working post-pandemic

Survey reveals small businesses are having a big rethink on remote working as a fundamental business practice when the coronavirus pandemic has passed

Nearly half of US small businesses may not have been prepared for the abrupt shift to home working before the Covid-19 outbreak, but they are now well set up and the majority indicate that now teleworking has been established, they will continue with it, according to research from Zen Business.

Zen, which provides support for small firms in tackling the challenges of starting, running and growing a business, found that remote working is set to increase by 16.5% after the pandemic.

This chimes with research from companies such as Omdia, which found in April 2020 that there had been a dramatic uptake in conferencing and collaboration tools and that once collaboration tools are embraced, they are rarely cast aside.

From 25-27 April, Zen Business surveyed 1,074 decision-makers at small businesses. Just over a quarter (27.1%) were owners/founders and 72.9% were senior/management. Those who did not have decision-making responsibilities were excluded from the survey. Just over one-third (34.5%) had between two and 10 employees, 26.4% had 11-25, 19.4% had 26-50 and 19.8% had more than 51 staff.

Even though, as for all other businesses, Covid-19 has forced small businesses to change direction, furlough their staff, move to remote working and, in some cases, close their doors, it has also brought about definite characteristics determined by the business size. The Zen survey showed that 70% of small businesses were currently forced to work remotely.

In the survey, businesses were asked whether they had remote working in place before the pandemic, and how this view has changed now that they have been forced to trial it. Before the pandemic, 45.5% of businesses said they did not have remote working in place, yet when asked if they intended to adopt remote working after the pandemic, 62% said they would adopt remote working after successfully using it during the coronavirus outbreak.

Zen said this indicated that there may be an unprecedented surge in remote working after the lockdown as many businesses now understand its benefits and implementation.

As well as remote working, the survey asked small business owners about financial losses, layoffs and the effectiveness of the US government relief bill. Among the main findings, small businesses estimated their losses to be an average of $64,000. A quarter said the relief bill was not likely to help “in any way” and 27% expected to lay off between two and five employees.

A similar percentage said they didn’t expect to make any layoffs, but more than one-third (37%) of small businesses with 11-25 employees were looking to let go more than one-fifth of their workforce.

A quarter of the small firms expect to recover from Covid-19 within three to six months. Businesses with a higher number of employees expect the recovery to take longer, with 23% of those with more than 50 employees estimating the recovery to take at least six to 12 months. One-fifth expect to take a year to recover from Covid-19.

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More encouragingly, 60% of employees reported positive mental health due to working from home and Zen Business CEO Ross Buhrdorf, who commissioned the research, said it was positive to see the data confirm what many in the industry have been thinking. Also, he predicted a remote working revolution after the pandemic.

“Small businesses are the backbone of society, and unfortunately the immediate future will still be extremely challenging for them,” he said. “We hope their estimates of a six to 12-month recovery time are conservative and our nation’s small businesses are able to return, recover and thrive as fast and as safely as they can.”

As it released the the survey results, Zen Business also published the opinions of small business owners on remote working and their changed perceptions of it. Mark Evans, founder of Summer Camp Hub, said that before the pandemic started, the consulting company for summer camps had never really thought about remote working.

“With the travel bans that occurred due to the pandemic, we started only doing consultations through videoconferencing,” he said. “This actually worked out really well for us because we can now work with more camps and we are not wasting a lot of time travelling, saving us a lot of money on travel costs. We also realised that not working face-to-face didn’t have a huge impact on our marketing work as we are still producing positive results for customers. We plan to make this a permanent thing, even after the pandemic is over.”

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