By Rory Whelan, Marketing Manager, eReceptionist

There has been plenty of debate in recent weeks about the new rules around flexible working and what this might mean for small businesses. As employees with more than 26 weeks service are now able to submit one flexible working request per year, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills predicts that up to 20 million people across the country could be inundating their employees with submissions to work flexibly. A recent survey carried out by recruiter Jobsite, found that 66% of employees would be willing to ask their employers for flexible working, but a corresponding survey by law firm Squire Patton Boggs has found that 84% of business owners expect the new regulations to provoke resentment amongst their work forces. This could put business owners in difficult situations, with some being unable to fulfil requests.

However, we’re already seeing a number of successful employers who are realising the benefits of technology, in allowing flexible working arrangements which help produce happy, loyal and productive staff. In this way, business not only continues to function smoothly, but can indeed grow and flourish.

With flexible or home based working, employers still need to enable staff to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients at all times. Call forwarding can easily and quickly be put in place so that any calls to the general office number don’t get missed when working remotely, and these cost effective solutions allow employee’s extensions or direct dial business phone numbers to be rerouted to their home or mobile number during working hours when offsite.

For many businesses the question that flexible working brings up is, how will this affect my bottom line? It won’t suit every role, but employers who accommodate their staff are seen by employees as more desirable to work for, reducing staff churn, attracting the ‘brightest and best’ talent and boosting productivity. Hiring new staff is more expensive than retaining incumbents, and allowing employees to work from home once a week or a few times a month is worth the trade off in terms of retention and morale. But for this to happen, having the right business and communication technology systems is crucial.

Sending documents via cloud technology and using cloud storage is an efficient way of enabling employees from various locations to have access to vital business documents anytime and anywhere. Similarly, it eliminates the need to reimburse staff for the costs of paper and ink they might need to use in a home office. Screen share and web conferencing allows the user to be virtually present at a meeting and as many solutions already bundle this with their telephone answering systems, the office is now wherever you are.

The reality is, these changes won’t make waves for everyone. Recent research from j2 Global has shown that 24% of small business employees are already working from home, but to get the most out of home and flexible workers, small business owners need to collaborate with their staff to help them create a truly virtual office allowing those working from home to be virtually present at the bricks-and-mortar premises.

Staff are one of the biggest expenses, if not the biggest expense, your company will incur but with flexible working they can be happy, loyal and more productive, so it pays to give them the tools they need to bring in the business. As Nick Clegg said on the new regulations “modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them to keep their top talent so that they can grow”. The technology is already there to allow any company, big or small, to accommodate flexible working in a cost efficient way and reap the long-term benefits that this can bring to any enterprise.