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SMEs need to help their staff work remotely

A tightening talent market and new legislation means that employers will have to offer staff more opportunities for remote working
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Smaller companies are now having to work harder to recruit and retain talent. The continuing fall in unemployment as the economy picks up and the rise in wages together with the squeeze on importing talent from abroad means that smaller employers are having to be more flexible when it comes to allowing staff to work remotely. 

Employers will also have to focus on the issue shortly. Until now, the legal right to request flexible working was reserved for parents with children under the age of 16 or those registered as carers for children or adults. However, from Monday 30th June, any UK employee with more than six months under their belt at the same company will be able to legally request flexible working from their employers. Not only that, but the employers will have a legal obligation to respond. 

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Legislation aside, more staff are looking to work remotely these days as they reject long commutes and look to achieve a better work/life balance. In a recent survey of UK workers, networking, virtualisation and cloud infrastructure provider Citrix found that nearly half (45 per cent) would like their company to offer flexible working while 58 per cent would be more productive if they didn’t have a lengthy commute and 62 per cent felt that flexible working would improve their quality of life.

Research last Autumn from Regus, the workspace provider, revealed that already 42 per cent of workers now spend at least half of their week working from remote locations.

“There’s never been a better time for SMBs to review their flexible working practices and see how they can not only improve employee satisfaction, but also cut down on costs and improve overall business efficiency,” says Andrew Millard of Citrix UK.

“There’s been a real rise in the number of SMEs deciding to offer remote working as a flexible perk for retaining key staff members, but also as a way of broadening the geographic talent pool by employing people with all the right skills but the wrong postcode,” says Jonathan Richards, co-founder of breatheHR, a cloud HR service which helps SMEs to manage staff effectively and to stay compliant with regulations.

However, he warns: “If you’re considering rolling-out remote working in your business then just hold on to your horses. Not everyone is cut out for working independently or aware from the social interaction of the office. Managing remote workers isn’t simply a case of emailing them some work and calling them once in a while to make sure it’s getting done.”

Remote workers still need the same level of motivation and personal development as the staff in your office. Maintaining regular contact is important – “remote” doesn’t mean “isolated.” Andrew Millard says: “When people work from home they can go unnoticed. As such, it’s important to schedule regular virtual meetings with employees to discuss activity, monitor results and spot potential issues on the horizon. Recognising accomplishments is very important, even when you can’t see people working.”

Amongst a flexible workforce, establishing tried and tested ways to build trust within the team in lieu of traditional office time is very important, he argues. 

It’s also important to ensure that they have access to the same level of IT. If the staff sitting around you have the latest MacBook Pro synced to iPhones, then remote workers should have something similar. 

“To make remote working work for your business it’s vital that you not only find the right individuals who can work well under their own steam, but also that you utilise the right technologies that foster good collaborative working and communication practices,” says Jonathan Richards.

Just because people aren’t in the same room, it doesn’t mean they can’t work successfully as a group. Technological advancements were one of the main catalysts for the flexible working movement and cloud collaboration tools such as Podio and Google Docs, can provide the perfect virtual environment for people working together with common goals. 

“From an SMB owner’s perspective,” says Andrew Millard, “they can also provide a central place to delegate and monitor the progress of projects and tasks without having to micromanage remote teams and individuals.”

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