By Marcus Leach

A reluctance among small businesses throughout the UK to adopt flexible working practices is creating a narrow view of flexible working with potential benefits being missed as a result.

Despite the benefits flexible working delivers in terms of creating innovation, productivity and fulfilling business objectives, research from O2 supporting the launch of its Joined Up People approach, suggests that too few small and medium sized businesses are using simple and cost effective technologies needed to make such practices a reality in their operations.

· One in four (25%) small and medium sized business use no technology at all to facilitate flexible working
· Just 26% have a remote working solution in place
· Only one in five (22%) small businesses makes use of dongles to work remotely
· 54% have never considered wireless technology to connect to each other and remotely
· Only 22% have considered cloud services so people could work outside the office

Moreover, small businesses see flexible working primarily as an employee benefit and staff retention tool:

· Small business cite that their flexible working policy consists primarily of flexible hours (98%) and part time working (73%)
· 86% of small businesses believe that enabling their staff to work flexibly is a key driver to staff retention

“Flexible working isn’t just about flexible hours”, said Claire Darley, Head of Small Business Sales at O2. “By allowing employees to be smarter about the way that they work and giving them the tools they need, we believe that many small businesses can actually deliver on some of the key business objectives they are setting themselves.

"Our research finds that many of the services and technologies that small businesses need to work productively and on the move are simple and cost effective. They far outweigh the benefits of the investment.

“The announcement of our new Joined Up People strategy for businesses with less than 200 employees, means that O2 provides the full range of tools, infrastructure, service and support to enable small and medium sized businesses to work as flexibly and productively as possible. Such flexible working is a win-win all round since it benefits workers, their employers and the local community they belong to.”

When questioned on their business objectives 99% cite growing existing or developing new customers as their biggest business objective for the year. More than one third (67%) has considered investing in new technology to drive innovation and this objective, but many interviewed cited good internal comms, strong leadership and employing the right people as more important. Yet research from O2, reveals that flexible working can help boost productivity and create innovation for 52% of workers.

O2’s research shows that 31% of British workers are employed by companies that take a narrow view of flexible working. At the same time, only 11% of workers think that being physically present in the office enables them to be in tune with cost-cutting measures, reinforcing the argument that physical presence may not always lead to improved business efficiency.

In response to the findings, O2 is calling on a greater number of small and medium businesses to review their flexible working arrangements to get the most from their employees. The new approach which connects a range of products and services under the Joined Up People strategy — helps all types and sizes of businesses increase productivity, work collaboratively, reduce costs and maximise competitiveness and responsiveness through flexible working. Often using simple cost effectiveness technologies that most small businesses often already have.

Joined Up People from O2 helps businesses embrace flexible working with a range of products and services that enables them to connect better and more easily with the things that matter most. It is a consultancy based approach which tailors advice and recommendations based on businesses’ specific needs. Flexible working can mean anything from using conference call on your mobile, getting emails on your phone, accessing the WiFi network via your laptop, setting up a home office. And everything in between.

· O2 offer a wide range of devices, from entry level through to top of the range and keep businesses working with 24-hour handset replacement
· All O2 business customers are offered unlimited calls to O2 customers from their mobile phone
· Small businesses above 10 employees have their own business advisor to offer the right solutions for their business
· The UK-based Business Technical Service teams are here to help 24/7
· Business can also get help and advice for more technical issues from O2 Gurus in O2 Retail. There are 250 Gurus in O2 stores and hundreds of tips on the YouTube channel O2GuruTV
· O2 can help our customers join up their communications so that they have one contact, one bill and one point of support

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