Small Businesses Pay High Price For Inflexible Working

Flexible Working

A reluctance among small businesses throughout the UK to adopt flexible working practices is creating a narrow view of flexible working with potential benefits being missed as a result.

Despite the benefits flexible working delivers in terms of creating innovation, productivity and fulfilling business objectives, research suggests that too few small and medium sized businesses are using simple and cost effective technologies needed to make such practices a reality in their operations.

  • One in four (25%) small and medium sized business use no technology at all to facilitate flexible working
  • Just 26% have a remote working solution in place
  • Only one in five (22%) small businesses makes use of dongles to work remotely
  • 54% have never considered wireless technology to connect to each other and remotely
  • Only 22% have considered cloud services so people could work outside the office

Moreover, small businesses see flexible working primarily as an employee benefit and staff retention tool:

  • Small business cite that their flexible working policy consists primarily of flexible hours (98%) and part time working (73%)
  • 86% of small businesses believe that enabling their staff to work flexibly is a key driver to staff retention

Flexible working isn’t just about flexible hours. By allowing employees to be smarter about the way that they work and giving them the tools they need, I believe that many small businesses can actually deliver on some of the key business objectives they are setting themselves.

The research finds that many of the services and technologies that small businesses need to work productively and on the move are simple and cost effective. They far outweigh the benefits of the investment.

When questioned on their business objectives 99% cite growing existing or developing new customers as their biggest business objective for the year. More than one third (67%) has considered investing in new technology to drive innovation and this objective, but many interviewed cited good internal comms, strong leadership and employing the right people as more important. Yet research reveals that flexible working can help boost productivity and create innovation for 52% of workers.

Research shows that 31% of British workers are employed by companies that take a narrow view of flexible working. At the same time, only 11% of workers think that being physically present in the office enables them to be in tune with cost-cutting measures, reinforcing the argument that physical presence may not always lead to improved business efficiency.

In response to the findings, I’m calling on a greater number of small and medium businesses to review their flexible working arrangements to get the most from their employees. A new approach which connects a range of products and services can help all types and sizes of businesses increase productivity, work collaboratively, reduce costs and maximise competitiveness and responsiveness through flexible working. Often using simple cost effectiveness technologies that most small businesses often already have.

Flexible working can mean anything from using conference call on your mobile, getting emails on your phone, accessing the WiFi network via your laptop, setting up a home office. And everything in between.

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Claire Darley is Head of Small Business Sales at O2. She joined O2 from entertainment content company Technicolor and previously worked as chief marketing officer at nationwide recruitment agency Adecco. She also worked at Vodafone for seven years covering roles including global account manager, international sales manager and global head of marketing.