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 naturally better able to respond to new challenges and opportunities – but it is possible for businesses of all sizes to do this and the secret to success lies in better connectivity.

Earlier this year we 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. In fact, those inefficiencies are costing the UK economy £30 billion every year. That is a staggering figure – but there are ways in which businesses can tackle this:

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. This can mean something as simple as ensuring that every employee has a company laptop and mobile. Or it could mean ensuring teams have access to 'read and share' collaborative document services, such as Box and Microsoft Office 365. Given how widely available this technology is there’s no reason why people can’t work together without physically being together.

2. Assess the suitability of remote systems. Giving your workforce access to the right technology is certainly a step in the right direction but it is absolutely essential that the right remote system is in place. Businesses must therefore assess the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of options according to the workforce’s needs. Options worth exploring include:

o MDM (Mobile Device Management) allows users to access data via multiple devices. Users save documents to a shared folder on one device and then access it from a different one
o Cloud users access cloud-based applications through a web browser, desktop or mobile app while the business software and user's data are stored on servers at a remote location
o Virtual Private Network (VPN) – a private network that can be accessed remotely through the internet, negating the need to install or change any components on the device

3. Improve connectivity. Business owners need to consider the benefits to their customer service of accessing the fast and reliable connectivity of 4G, which allows them to respond to orders and enquiries quickly and efficiently, from any location with any mobile device. The cost of connectivity equipment isn’t prohibitive. Laptops, smartphones and 4G dongles are all easily available to businesses of any size.

4. 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. Simple measures like investing in remote working technology, from webmail to 4G connectivity for laptops, could save employees 127 hours per year.

5. Lead by example. Employees trust and value a manager who empowers them to work to their own initiative. The key is for business leaders to emphasise the importance of results rather than hours spent at a desk – and to do this through leading by example.

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

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.