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Flexible working is no longer regarded as something new, but as a policy that has become a standard within today’s workplace since it became a legal right for employees to ask for it almost two years ago. It’s also become a key benefit for new recruits who demand a work-life balance from their new employer, so it’s important that businesses of every size get it right if they are to retain and attract the best talent. But for the 75 per cent of businesses and public sector organisations worldwide with a policy in place, is flexible working actually working for them and delivering real business benefits?

According to a recent global study conducted by Vodafone into the adoption of such policies, yes it is. In the UK, nearly three quarters of businesses have a flexible working policy and reported increased productivity (78 per cent), improved profits (50 per cent) and greater retention (57 per cent) from employees working flexibly. These results validate the business case for adopting flexible working however organisations are still falling short of realising the full spectrum of benefits from a flexible workforce due to a significant portion of employees revealing their lack of confidence in using technology.

Meanwhile, of the 22 per cent of UK businesses that currently don’t have a policy offering flexibility in how employees work, over half of employers admitted they would welcome it, if it were introduced. What, then, is holding businesses back from adopting better, more flexible ways of working and realising even greater benefits?

Is your business ready?

Undoubtedly, the ability to work flexibly has been helped no end by the advance in technology. The rapid adoption of high-speed mobile data services, fixed-line broadband and cloud services has played an integral role in transforming how we work in and out of the office and gives employees the freedom to work in the way that suits them and the job they do. Of the employees surveyed that work flexibly, 78 per cent use their home broadband service while over a quarter rely on 3G or 4G when working remotely.

But simply equipping employees with technology is not enough, however, if smaller businesses are to reap the benefits of having a flexible working policy. Employees need to understand and feel confident with the technology and devices they are given to do their job whether it’s in the office, in a café or at a customer’s office. A large proportion of employees don’t have confidence in their ability to use tools such as audio and web conferencing (53 per cent), communication apps such as Microsoft Lync (58 per cent), emailing from a smartphone (33 per cent) and using smartphone apps to access corporate information (51 per cent).

In light of this it’s vital businesses support their employees so they can make best use of the technologies needed to work productively and collaborate with others from anywhere.

A flexible culture at no extra cost

With technology an integral part of a productive and flexible workforce, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are rightly concerned about costs however big investments are no longer needed. Businesses can now be set-up and operated more affordably than ever before thanks to mobile technology. All that’s required is a smartphone, tablet or laptop, a mobile connection and willing employees – it’s no longer necessary to lease snazzy office spaces for sky-high rent when your business is starting up and beginning to grow.

What’s vital to making flexible working successful, however, is business owners leading by example and fostering a culture where employees are no longer tied to their desk. Instead, they are empowered to choose the way in which they can work productively to suit them and the job they do.

People are a SME’s biggest asset, so it’s critical to drive a culture where employees are valued, and to ensure they are equipped with the tools and training they need to feel confident about working flexibly.

Digital technology is continuing to reshape the way we work, from 4G to the internet of things to the latest cloud services, we’re truly in an era when work is what you do, not where you go.

Given their size and innate agility, small businesses are perfectly positioned to adopt and realise the benefits from flexible working including boosted profits and productivity.

By Tony Bailey, Head of Enterprise Services at Vodafone UK