14/7/2011

By Philippos Nikiforou

During times of potential disruption to business - such as severe weather or major national events like the Olympics - being fully equipped to work from home, or whilst away on business, becomes increasingly essential. Similarly, if these events mean that a team member is detained or away, it is equally important that the systems and processes are in place for a colleague to pick up their work and, most crucially, respond to calls and emails.

As extreme weather in the UK and around the world becomes more frequent, it is becoming increasingly evident that businesses must adapt to survive. Lost hours can mean missed deadlines or sales leads and, in turn, lost customers and revenue.

According to the Transport Select Committee, past winter weather disruption has cost the UK economy some £280m per day in transport disruption alone, with heavy snow in particular a source of major cost and delay. In summer months, major sporting events such as the World Cup and Wimbledon, combined with annual summer holidays, can also leave workplaces thin on the ground.

The forthcoming Olympic Games in particular are set to prove a major headache for businesses, especially those operating in London. According to the Financial Times, the number of people working from home is likely to rise sharply during the event and up to one in three large UK companies intends to offer flexible working to staff seeking to avoid the commute as 5.3m visitors descend on the capital.

Deloitte, the professional services group which is an adviser to the games, says that the key issues businesses must address include security, staff availability, maintaining supply chains and adjusting to a rise or a fall in demand. The message is clear; by not planning properly for major sporting events, firms are undoubtedly leaving themselves open to disruption.

Flexible working is just as essential for small businesses as large enterprises – arguably more so. As business moves further away from a 9-5 culture, professionals need and expect to be able to access crucial files remotely. For SMBs and sole workers, not responding quickly to an email could mean missing a crucial sale or losing a client.

For this reason, tools that enable flexible working are especially important and, in particular, more firms are moving towards hosted technology that can be accessed via the web. Personal and cloud-based technology is undoubtedly fuelling this trend. As sales of tablets continue to soar, it is inevitable that a growing number of companies will see themselves under increasing pressure from employees to enable them to work on their mobile device of choice.

According to the technology analyst Gartner, by 2014, 90 per cent of organisations are expected to support corporate applications on personal devices. How this impacts on when and where professionals work will invariably depend on the nature of the business and the attitude and culture at the firm.

Cloud-based systems and hand-held devices can help workers stay in touch quickly and easily. Yet, as personal and work-based technologies become increasingly linked, a business-focused approach is essential.

Having a business disruption plan in place and planning ahead for major sporting events is crucial and requires not only the necessary technology but also best-practice policy for staff to adhere to. Small business owners in particular can combine technology with strategy and share the workload amongst colleagues and keep an open dialogue with clients by, for example, utilising inexpensive web-based tools such as email or telephone conferencing.

Feedback from the growing number of small businesses using our hosted solution has shown that a big advantage of web-based systems is that data is stored on secure servers, enabling messages and data to be retrieved quickly and easily anywhere and at any time.

And at times when colleagues are missing-in-action due to snow, transport, illness – or an influx of sports fans – the ability to grant access to review or assist with replies, or alternatively, sharing access to a generic address amongst more than one employee, is especially critical to small businesses for maintaining absolute control over email communications.