SMEs leading the flexible working revolution


Small firms in Britain are showing their larger cousins the way when it comes to adopting remote and flexible working practices.

Research from business communications provider Mitel suggest that almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of decision-makers in small firms are happy for their staff to work remotely compared with only 44 per cent in larger British firms.

The results show a significant rise in the acceptance of remote and teleworking amongst Britain's small business community. A similar survey conducted by Mitel in 2003 found that fewer than one in three (29 per cent) of owners and managers considered managing remote staff to be as easy as working with office-based staff.

Small business owners and managers also lead the way with attitudes toward their own working practices. When asked if they would like to work flexibly themselves, eight out of 10 (83 per cent) said they would consider it compared with only six out of 10 (63 per cent) of those working in larger firms.

The Mitel survey comes hot on the heels of research by Henley Management College which argued that British management has reached a crossroads as the flexible working revolution has taken hold and warned that managers who are unable to adapt to new ways of dealing with dispersed teams will be the first to go if economic conditions tighten.

And with their willingness to embrace new working methods and technologies such as IP Telephony, it seems that SMEs are proving to be quicker and more nimble than larger employers in their adoption of converged video, voice and data communications.

Software firm Commontime is one example of a small business using IP Telephony to enable staff across several countries to work remotely and efficiently as well as delivering 24x7 customer service.

When Commontime takes phone calls, they are automatically routed to the most appropriate country that is open for business, a concept the firm calls "Follow the Sun".

Meanwhile, larger firms have also discovered that new communications technology can bring about enormous savings. Telecoms giant BT, for example, has saved itself £128 million a year by replacing many face-to-face interaction with video and web-based conferencing.

Mitel's Graham Bevington said that anyone with a laptop and a broadband connection can make calls as if they were at their office desk and on the same extension line.

"Remote staff can work from the company computer network and can take advantage or more advanced applications such as, online collaboration, video conferencing and online 'presence', which enables staff to identify where their colleagues are located and whether they are available. This is creating a more productive and happier workforce and is generating cost savings in return."