By Ray McGroarty, EMEA Director of UC Enterprise Solutions at Polycom

Flexible working has become an important workplace trend in Britain in recent years. In the last couple of weeks it has also appeared heavily in the media, as some of the world’s largest companies review their policies. A recent survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) found that 94% of UK businesses offer some form of flexible working. Businesses evidently now understand the benefits of flexible working but how applicable are these benefits to small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) and how can they best take advantage of them?

Recent research found that workers in EMEA are up to 39% more productive when working from home than when they are in the office. This is great news for business owners looking for ways to get more done with the resources they have available.

Companies of all sizes are waking up to this potential productivity increase. Businesses are realising additional benefits ranging from lowered travel costs to increased time. In this economic climate more than ever SMBs need to reduce their overheads and keep operating costs as low as possible. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to reduce the number of people working in the office — flexible or home working is the obvious solution here.

Traditionally many businesses have taken the view that the best ideas are produced when everyone is in the same room, but by enforcing an ‘in office’ policy, businesses can in fact shrink the pool of talent at their disposal.
Geographical proximity does not guarantee the best ideas and the best person for the job in your business might live miles away. By implementing flexible working SMBs can recruit the best candidate for any role, regardless of their location.

To get the most out of a flexible working policy, employers and staff should be fully prepared. Connectivity is an important issue. In order to contribute employees need to be able to access all shared resources. This might be through a VPN connection or cloud applications but reliability is vital. Downtime means lost productivity. Employees also need to know who to contact if they do experience connectivity issues. Internet service providers supply varying bandwidths in different areas so it’s important to consider the requirements of your employees and advise them to select their internet supplier carefully.

Effective communication tools are key, so companies can keep their dispersed workforce together online. This can include basic tools such as instant messaging services, to allow for rapid fire exchanges, as well as video collaboration technologies, to simulate an ‘in office’ experience. In this way hand-picked teams can work together on projects from wherever they are. Modern video solutions are more suited than ever to collaboration as they allow for content sharing, meaning documents can be edited by all those involved in the meeting.

One of the most important aspects to consider as an SMB introducing flexible working is the culture shift. It’s essential to make all team members feel valued and supported no matter where they are. Some employees worry they will be ‘off radar’ if they work from home, and less likely to be promoted. Having regular line management meetings and appraisals is important as it confirms that the work they contribute is recognised and appreciated. Allowing your employees to work from home is a clear indicator of your trust in their ability to produce high quality work, but in order to make your staff feel recognised you may wish to set aside a regular day in which you meet face to face until they become accustomed to working remotely.

Ask any company why they are implementing flexible working and they will tell you it cuts costs, increases productivity and creates happy employees. The importance of a good work-life balance should not be undervalued; it’s instrumental in helping businesses to retain their most valued employees. Everyone has different stages in their life where a traditional nine to five routine may be more or less convenient. 70% of those surveyed by the ILM believe everyone should have the right to work flexibly. By removing this obstacle SMBs can incentivise their employees to stay with them long term. It’s a cost effective solution to attracting, building and maintaining a team that works well together.