Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are lagging behind in the
adoption of flexible working patterns and technologies,
according to research from Citrix Online. Research carried
out in mid-2007 found that:
- 90% of companies say they offer some kind of flexible
- 78% allow staff to take days off at short notice
- 64% of companies allow variable start and finishing
- 40% of SMBs allow staff to work from home compared to
76% of large companies
- 11% of small businesses operate job sharing schemes,
compared to 43% of larger companies
- Only 1 in 4 companies offer remote access to internal
systems so that employees can work from home as if they were
in the office.
The findings are based on interviews with over 200 HR
Directors or, in the case of smaller firms with no dedicated HR
role, managing directors.
According to Simon Presswell, Managing Director EMEA of
"The most surprising finding of this research is that
SMBs, who often have greater operational flexibility than
their corporate competitors, are failing to seize the
opportunity offered by flexible working.
"Given the importance of flexible working practices in
attracting and retaining the best talent, SMBs are in danger
of missing out on the most skilled professionals, many of
whom are parents and are increasingly demanding work-life
balance. The tide is changing in favour of flexible working,
with increasing parliamentary support for flexible rules to
be extended to all parents with children under the age of
Remote collaboration and personal empowerment
Simon Presswell is a strong advocate of flexible working, and
spelt out the personal benefits he has found. He told
Flexibility he had done his years of 'commuting like
a zombie'. Now he can take the kids to school, work from
home, and be available to pick them up from school at the end of
the day. He feels he is more productive, more flexible,
and also works longer hours. "I would happily trade an
unproductive hour commuting to work for half an hour" he said.
"What's happening when you work like this is that there's a
shift in the balance of power towards the employee, who has more
control over hour they use their time."
Simon also singled out the absurdity of spending hours in
travel for a single meeting that might last only 2 or 3 hours.
Using collaborative technologies individuals and organisations
can reduce their carbon footprint, utilise their time better and
be more productive.
There are many advantages for smaller businesses in going
down this route, according to Simon.
" By deploying collaborative tools smaller companies can
punch above their weight. They make it possible to
expand the company without expanding the office, and are
ideal for managing geographically distributed teams.
We've seen a steep increase in users of GoToMyPC, our
software service which facilitates home working by giving
employees remote access to their office desktop. All
the same, for many companies there's a long way to go."
The research found, though, that equipping employees to work
remotely often means providing laptops or mobile phones, rather
than giving them the collaborative tools to access all their
Because there's an option doesn't mean people are allowed to
The figures in the Citrix Online research are the headlines,
and underneath the headlines there's another story to tell.
It's the same for research from the CIPD and Work-Life Balance
Employer surveys. Just because a flexible work option is
available in the company doesn't mean that the uptake of any
option is large. Flexible work is often treated with
caution in practice, and according to Simon is often "directly
or indirectly prevented by line managers".
The answer is to take a closer look at what the more
progressive companies are doing. "Many larger banks, for
example, are using collaborative and remote working tools both
as a business continuity option and a way to promote diversity
in their workforce."
Other recent research by Citrix Online has highlighted the
importance of flexible work in enabling mothers of young
children to return to work.
"A company that supports women in maternity leave and
encourages them to work flexibly upon returning to work will
benefit from a more highly motivated and loyal staff, with
lower levels of absenteeism. A recent study published
by The Women and Work Commission asserts that if women’s
participation in the labour market is increased, it could be
worth up to £23 billion, or 2.0%, of GDP."
While larger businesses are adapting to the new
climate of 'family friendly' legislation, the research shows
that smaller businesses are more likely to be cautious and fear
the new regulations will prove costly.
The challenge is to introduce practical forms
flexibility that will enable all companies to recruit and retain
the best staff, and empower them to be more productive.