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Flexible working – can the SME (Small Medium Enterprises) Sector cope?

Recently the UK government gave the green light to legislation that extends the rights for a greater number of employees to request flexible working hours. The objective is to allow employees a better work life balance and improve family cohesion. Noble sentiments you might say that the government hopes to take away the pressure of conflicting work and home commitments especially with a growing percentage of women in the workplace. But at what cost?

This is a particularly contentious issue with the UK economy in recession and the SME sector, the engine of the economy, struggling to cope. Over the last decade business has argued they have been burdened with increased costs and bureaucracy that stifles their competitiveness especially globally where companies in other countries do not have the same legislative overheads. Understandably, the main objection from business to this, albeit well meaning, legislation is it could further increase businesses costs, resulting in increased business failures at the worst economic time in the last 60 years!

So should SMEs be concerned about this legislation? Predictably the answer is not necessarily and solutions exist to assist businesses to adapt and improve the effectiveness of their key assets: employees. The working environment is more matrixed and objectives driven and the need to monitor every working hour is less relevant. The ones who look further will be pleasantly surprised at the business advantages that are readily available by embracing flexible working. Businesses can make significant gains if they take an open-minded approach to this change and use the technology available to provide transparency to managers, the right work-life balance to employees and continuity to customers. The UK economy succeeds with innovation and the creative ability of its employees to create new opportunities and provide better skills than other markets. A stressed employee who is struggling to meet strenuous work like balance is less productive and creative.

With the correct service partner, implementing a flexible working policy is painless and the financial case is very strong. Where flexible working has been implemented the benefits to businesses have been strong in terms of reduced costs, increased business flexibility, greater motivated and productive employees who are loyal to an employer who understands the demands of the modern work-life balance.

Robust and reliable technology exists that now enable businesses of any size to implement flexible working without requiring expensive in-house skills or capital equipment expenditure. High speed, ubiquitous broadband networks now make critical business services easily and reliably accessible from anywhere and allow any company to leverage the benefits easily, quickly and cost-effectively. The concerns raised by some companies on employee transparency, productivity and control are readily addressed without incremental increases in existing budgets.

The gains are large in terms of reduction in required office space, cost of travel to and from work, staff loyalty and greater productivity. For the companies that see the opportunity this may be the catalyst to realize that the solutions are there to create a more competitive business. With the right combination of robust, tested telecommunications services, targeted HR policies and training for employees and management, any organization can transform this perceived headache into a competitive advantage.
In conclusion, yes the SME sector can cope. The key barrier to embracing flexible working is no longer technological or financial but cultural. Businesses who embrace the change will realize significant benefits, not only in the short-term but will be ideally placed for rapid grow as the economy recovers.

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