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Is flexible working sustainable for SMEs?

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Nick Clegg’s concept of flexibility in business has struck a chord with me. Being an entrepreneur, and a father of two, I can see both sides.

Life and work – our roles and our priorities – are shifting. And whether we like it or not, this is putting enormous pressure on businesses infrastructures, policies and capability. 

Ensuring staff are prepared and equipped to deliver in their roles is the backbone of business efficiency, and being connected to critical business information is at the core of this. For small businesses in particular, this is where flexible working can pose a challenge.

Key skills

Small businesses will often only have one person in a key role and you need to be able to get hold of that person at a crucial point when you need a decision. No matter how well you set them up at home with the best connection and latest technology, there will inevitably be a time, particularly in fast-paced industries like finance or in complex tech businesses – when you need to get hold of them and you can’t. The importance of having effective tools in place to facilitate instant communication is key in addressing this.

Cost

Interestingly, Clegg does not give an insight into how he would address the cost of setting a business up to handle remote working. Setting people up with the best kit and connection to ensure that they don’t lose any functionality – and hence productivity – when they are out of the office can come at a cost. The apps simply aren’t there to support effective remote working, and I doubt anyone would be keen to work in an office on a mobile set up; the same goes for at home.

Culture

Another important consideration to take is whether remote working will work culturally for your business. When you start up a company, you’re probably all remote. I’ve been there. But as soon as we had an office there was a huge benefit to the company and the culture; take that away and you need to install new collaboration tools to talk and communicate effectively.

As an entrepreneur, starting up a company means that you rely heavily on the resources you have – and your people are your most valuable resource. If you lose 20 to 30 per cent of productivity through people working from home, the only way you’ll get it back is by putting in the extra yourself. So ensuring effective means and technology are in place to deliver consistent productivity and communication regardless of location becomes critical to a business.

Technology

With that in mind, arguably the biggest challenge is getting the right technology and support. As it stands, the applications aren’t there yet to support the level of connectivity and productivity most businesses need, however services and solutions, like Diffusion™, are driving this transition and supporting businesses in effective distribution of data, regardless of location or device.

Yes, technology is moving on. You are able to do things on mobiles you never used to, and you can get a decent connection at home. There will be a time when every application will be hosted in the cloud and you can access them anywhere. But as consumers we expect more from every new technology we create. 

4G has just launched in the UK and we’re already talking about 5G; businesses are trying to keep up and the government is trying to get on board. Yet amidst all this no one is asking the entrepreneurs what is fundamentally right for their specific business.

Looking to 2013

If we are trying to grow the economy we need to empower startups, and enforcing legislation around flexible working isn’t the best way to do it.

Instead, the government should be providing support and insight on how effectiveness of remote working can be achieved with the solutions currently available – to enable better understanding of what evolving technologies and devices can do, and how to effectively integrate them into business infrastructure.

For small businesses, it has to be about choice. It is essential that if and when flexible working is deployed, creativity, productivity and efficiency don’t suffer as a result. If the government can invest time in educating and encouraging small businesses rather than holding them back through legislation, then 2013 could be a really exciting time for enterprise.

Sean Bowen is the CEO of Push Technology.

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