By Annabel Palmer, Business Features writer at City A.M.

In today’s globalised world, businesses of all shapes and sizes need to maximise the potential of communicating and trading internationally. According to a recent HSBC forecast, trade conditions are improving for UK businesses, with 63% of exporters expecting trade volumes to rise over the next six months.

And with the rapid pace of technological change, it has become more important than ever for companies to look ahead and see how these advances, as well as people’s desire for more flexible working, will affect the way business is carried out.

Indeed, the changing nature of the global business environment, and how we choose to live and communicate in our personal lives, means that people want more flexibility and choice. And by allowing flexible working, employers can enable the growth of trade, ideas and the flow of people between locations. “The common view supporting flexibility is that working out of the office is often seen as much more productive. Creative ideas happen when and where they happen, not necessarily between 9am and 5pm,” Vodafone report The Fluid Society points out. This, in turn, can drive business growth. According to research by the Confederation of British Industry, firms can save up to 13% of their workforce costs by embracing more sophisticated and less rigid working practices.

But while barriers, such as physical location and language, are evaporating, challenges remain for smaller companies. “Businesses need better, faster and smoother collaboration tools to become more empowered in a global economy,” says Graham Wylie of the Chartered Institute for IT. And to do so, they must embrace powerful technology enablers, like cloud computing, big data, smartphones and 4G, which allow people from different countries to communicate and collaborate across borders.

Yet SMEs with more modest internal IT skills may be concerned about the upheaval involved in trying to run voice over a data network, not to mention the cost. “But systems integrators specialising in these solutions note that a range of options now exists which have been designed — and priced — with the SME in mind,” Guardian research has found.

And Richard May of virtualDCS thinks it imperative that small businesses keep up — particularly as the cost of hiring premises, notably in major cities across the globe, becomes increasingly prohibitive. “Online collaborative working is now mainstream, with services like Skype, Meetme and PowWowNow providing easy access to services such as video conferencing and shared desktops.”

Fortunately, organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) offer support. It has launched a factsheet for businesses wanting to export for the first time, offering advice on understanding the country you may export to, knowing the competition, and finding collaborative opportunities.

The organisation estimated in July last year that if more of its members took the plunge to export for the first time, £792m could be added to the UK economy annually. So it is hardly surprising that the UK government is also doing all it can to support SME exports.

Talk to Vodafone today to find out how our suite of innovative business products can drive innovation and enhanced collaboration within your business: 08080 044 482

Originally featured on Your Better Business