14/04/2014

By Ben Dowd, O2 Business Director

It’s no secret that the UK’s small businesses, with their dynamism and agility, have long been the envy of many of Britain’s biggest enterprises. The rate at which the UK creates and adopts new technologies plays right into the hands of those quickest to react, and small businesses are able to simply avoid many of the challenges of scale that come with size, whether that’s coordinating the work of hundreds of employees across multiple locations or sharing knowledge across disparate functional groups. As a result of this greater flexibility, small businesses are better able to respond to new challenges and opportunities as they arise.

Now more than ever, big businesses are feeling those challenges against their bottom lines. At O2, we recently commissioned research from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) which confirmed that Britain's biggest businesses are struggling under the weight of inefficiencies, particularly when it comes to adopting new productivity and connectivity technologies. All told, those inefficiencies are costing the UK economy £30 billion every year. That is a staggering figure – one that has given many big businesses reason to ask, what can we learn from Britain’s dynamic small businesses?

As I’ve argued before, there’s a sizeable benefit to be had by big businesses that find ways to act like they’re smaller. But in truth it's not only big businesses that are affected by inefficiencies in productivity. Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that the British economy on the whole is in the midst of the worst productivity gap in more than 20 years, with rates now nearly 5% lower than pre-recession levels – and falling. With SMEs constituting 99% of PLC and nearly half of total business turnover, small and medium-sized businesses need to take heed of the connectivity deficit in Britain's big businesses and ensure that they're proactively building smarter working practices right into the heart of their businesses as they grow.

So what can businesses of all sizes do to work smarter, more productively? Here are three key measures every business should take:

1. Equip employees to work from anywhere. It sounds basic, but the fact is that 80% of businesses report that staff don’t have full access to the key business systems that would make their working lives easier and more efficient, including the technology to work away from the office. For small businesses, this can mean something as simple as ensuring that every employee has a company laptop and mobile device. While the sticker price may be cause for reluctance, the gains in productivity and flexibility are sure to recoup those costs.

2. Make journeys more efficient. Businesses of all sizes spend too much time and money on travel that they don’t always need, whether it's between home and the office or between multiple corporate locations around the UK. And when journeys are necessary, they’re often nevertheless unproductive. Simple measures like investing in remote working technology, from webmail to 4G connectivity for laptops, could save employees 127 hours per year.

3. Collaborate from everywhere. Less than 30% of teams in British businesses have access to 'read and share' collaborative document viewing and editing services, such as Dropbox, Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365, which stifles productivity. Collaboration technology, which is now widely available and very often free, makes it possible to work together without physically being together.

These are great ways for businesses to give an instant boost to their productivity, and the time for excuses has passed – we must all take advantage of these new resources. The reality is that too many businesses pay lip service to the benefits that technology brings without adopting it in earnest.

2014 needs to be the year we hear the wakeup call – every employer, whether private or public sector, must understand its own connectivity deficit and take measures to close it. Even small improvements, such as using smartphones, mobile apps, and cloud computing services, will help drive business productivity and restore the UK’s competitiveness within Europe and beyond.