With the long journey out of the third national lockdown underway, businesses will hope cautious plans to remove restrictions really are “irreversible” as the Prime Minister claims.
The most recent wave of data from Savanta’s UK Business tracker reveals the consequences of closing schools for working parents, attitudes towards the roadmap’s timings and the impact of vaccines on UK businesses.
Following on from our recent update on the impact for UK businesses of the Brexit agreement with the EU, our latest data looks at how businesses are planning ahead now that COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to ease.
Savanta has been tracking the responses of small, medium and large companies to COVID-19 since the start of the first lockdown, 12 months ago.
The most recent wave of data from Savanta’s UK Business tracker, collected in February, reveals the consequences of closing schools for working parents, attitudes towards the roadmap’s timings and the impact of vaccines on UK businesses.
Working parents during lockdown
The latest results reveal damaging effects on the UK workforce due to schools closing from 4th January.
Over half (57%) of decision-makers at medium and large businesses have reported a negative impact on their employees’ ability to work as a result of schools staying shut.
Worryingly, 61% also say that juggling home-schooling and working has affected their employees’ mental wellbeing.
Nearly half of all UK businesses (46%) have had staff working varied hours around childcare and education needs, so the news that schools can open again will be a welcome relief for working parents.
Roadmap to recovery
The government’s four-step roadmap out of lockdown, with schools reopening from 8th March, has been welcomed by UK businesses.
Nearly half overall (48%) see the timing as about right and this rises to 56% of medium and large businesses.
While nearly a third remain cautious – 30% argue schools should reopen at a later date – some UK businesses (13%) claim that schools should have reopened earlier than 8th March.
Therefore, the majority appear content for lockdown restrictions to begin easing this month, likely buoyed by the progress of the UK’s vaccine rollout programme.
Views on vaccines
There is confidence amongst decision-makers at medium and large businesses that vaccines will help firms to one day return to pre-COVID-19 working conditions.
Over three quarters (78%) are confident that vaccines will enable businesses to return to ‘normal’, although only a quarter (26%) are very confident.
However, confidence is slightly lower that vaccines will protect employees and customers from COVID-19 variants, such as the South African and Kent strains (72%), with 20% very confident.
As lockdown restrictions are removed and the vaccine rollout continues to impress, business leaders are trying to plan ahead for the implications around their real estate.
Will permanent ‘WFH’ continue?
Four in ten (42%) businesses expect WFH – working from home – or remote working to have become normalised by the end of 2021, although this is slightly less likely at medium and large businesses (39%).
One in five (21%) claim their business will have officially stopped asking staff to come to the office five days a week – and this is significantly higher for medium and large businesses, at 30%.
A third (35%) agree that virtual meetings will overtake in-person meetings as the norm.
Moreover, close to one in five (18%) of medium and large businesses expect to have closed all of their office space by the end of 2021.
Overall, our data suggests that UK businesses are optimistic for improved circumstances during the coming months.
The government’s roadmap at least provides more information to help employers make plans, with the re-opening of schools easing the burden slightly on the parents in their workforce.
Furthermore, confidence is quite high that vaccines will support the return of normal operations for businesses in the future.
However, with many businesses managing to maintain their service over the last 12 months via remote working, the days of expecting staff to spend five days a week in the office could be numbered.
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