Taking flexible working from concept to execution

Technology has undoubtedly been a huge enabler when it comes to remote working. From hardware to communication, it has allowed a whole host of young and enterprising companies to create mobile workforces.

On a small business front, flexible working can provide a way to scale-up in a much more efficient manner. Guy Blaskey, founder of dog nutrition company Pooch & Mutt, believes that small companies need to be flexible when it comes to a daily routine.

“With so many different tasks, ranging from speaking with suppliers to writing press releases, flexible working is crucial for Pooch & Mutt,” he explained. “When a small business is growing rapidly, flexibility is key and integral to success.”

When asked what kind of strategies he has employed, he broke execution down into five key components – neatly summarised using the acronym SMART. First off it is about being specific, and in his case this involves looking at the company’s goal for something like flexible working. He then moved on to the need for a strategy to be measurable, being achievable, realistic and time-targeted.

Going into more detail on how technology has helped when it comes to flexible working, he commented: “Technology is crucial to our success. Tablets are great to take to sales meetings, trade shows and local events we participate in. Especially in a growing export market, our sales team find it much easier to communicate with each other through technology.

“As well, technology has been great to speak with suppliers and export customers directly through the use of Skype and instant messaging. With such varied and flexible working hours when abroad and speaking with international customers, technology helps bridge the gap between cultures.”

For Mark Robinson, market business developer at Canon, the government’s introduction of the right to request flexible working last year made it official – the concept of working smarter without everyone having to convene in one place has become the norm.

“This means fewer companies are now preoccupied by how much time someone spends at their desk ever day – something that is especially true for small companies, as each often begin life as a laptop and a bunch of ideas,” he added.

Government legislation in 2014 made it the law for employers to reply to a request for flexible working, with a valid reason necessary if the answer is no. Prior to that, flexible working was only really possible for parents and carers.

At Babel PR, co-founder and managing director Narelle Morrison has recently implemented a one hour less initiative – with the aim of letting the team work “smarter rather than harder”.

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“As long as the office was manned every day during our core operating hours of 8:30am and 5:30pm, everyone was free to shift their working day an hour earlier or later to take advantage of some extra free time,” she explained. “We gave employees the freedom to make the most of the initiative in the way that suited them, giving them the power to fit work around life, rather than the other way around.”

Morrison went on to say that the response from employees has been “overwhelmingly positive”. From going to the gym or moving house, the extra hour has had a big impact on what staff can do – beyond working – between Monday and Friday.

“From my perspective, a team that has the time to deal with all distractions outside of working hours and is well-rested will perform much better and it makes complete sense to encourage shorter working hours where possible,” she added.

When asked why she thought flexible working is important for small businesses, Austen HR partner Kate Waters said it means the company is able to attract top talent as many senior HR women have families and don’t want to go back full-time to work.

“People have different working patterns, personally I am an early bird, the individual works when at their most productive,” Waters commented. “We profile people so they understand their talent and they work in alignment with what they are good at. We build teams that complement one another so the job gets done. We have tremendous loyalty with our staff and low staff turnover.”

So what kind of role does technology play in the space? Aaron Dicks, who is at the helm of digital marketing agency Impression, shared his experience. “We have a particularly useful project management tool which enables our colleagues to manage their tasks effectively and communicate more efficiently with the rest of the team and our clients.

“We use Google’s suite of business tools – Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and so on – to work in the cloud, which makes remote working easy as well as promoting collaboration. We also use a time-tracking tool to ensure we keep on top of what time has been spent so we can report back to our clients and also manage internally.”

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Canon’s Robinson is also a firm believer that technology can help small businesses work in a more flexible way. “Business owners can make use of mobile and cloud applications to communicate on the go and even oversee projects online as they develop. Services such as Google Docs or Evernote remove the risk of mistakes from working with outdated files and instead enable employees to update documents and approve jobs wherever they are in the world,” he added.

“By not being tied to an office, business owners can also print, sign or scan important contracts directly from their mobile devices, removing the need for them to be present at company headquarters to keep things moving.”

The one stumbling block Robinson was keen to emphasise when it comes to flexible working is bureaucracy. Canon recently surveyed 1,000 small business owners and found that half still see red tape as a challenge to setting up a flexible working environment.

“Proactively upgrading your business’ technology can help overcome these challenges and increase efficiency, which unsurprisingly many growing businesses see as a real benefit,” he suggested. “For example, why not implement a cloud-based invoice processing system as opposed to manually dealing with paper receipts?”

From our conversations with business leaders it is clear that flexible working is both possible and effective for smaller enterprise. However, a clear and achievable plan is needed to make sure it is being implemented for the right reason and bringing about positive change.

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