Seven tips on flexible working for SMEs

Many business owners are concerned about how the introduction of new rules on flexible working will affect them, but used effectively flexible working can offer many benefits, in particular to SMEs.

2nd April 2009 at 12:19 pm

These tips will help to allay concerns some small businesses may have about flexible working and focus on harnessing the power of flexible workers.

1. Understand the new rules on flexible working – the new rules mean that anyone with a child under 16 years of age, will have “the right to request flexible working” of their employer. Flexible working can mean working flexi-hours, part time, a job share arrangement, or even term time only, but the term also covers freelance working, contract roles, home based working and ad hoc work. The new rule however, does not mean that they are automatically entitled to flexible working arrangements just because they request it. As an employer, you have the right to refuse the request based on any of the following business grounds:

  • planned structural changes;
  • the burden of additional costs;
  • a detrimental impact on quality of performance
  • the inability to recruit additional staff;
  • the inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.

Instead of simply responding on an ad-hoc basis to requests from current employees, you could use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your approach to staffing your business. Now may be the perfect time to restructure your organisation to be more flexible – a workforce you can easily scale up and scale down as the demands of your business dictate. In the current economy, that just makes sense anyway.

2. Think flexibly – SMEs can find a whole range of skills they need at a price they can afford by thinking more flexibly. Among the mothers (and fathers) milling around at the school gates are corporate financiers, strategic marketers, PR specialists and a host of other highly skilled people. After stepping off the career escalator to care for their families, many have struggled to find fulfilling work that fits around their responsibilities. They are often willing to compromise on salary as long as the job fits their schedule. Stay at home parents returning to work may have over 10 years of professional experience before they stopped work to bring up young children. Such experience can be put to good use.

3. Treat yourself to a “Pick and Mix” – think of all the skills you could use – marketing, accountancy, administration, HR, Sales and telemarketing or IT professionals. This can be the perfect solution for start-ups and growing businesses that need an array of different skills with ever changing needs as the business develops. Think of it as a “pick and mix” of skills to utilise on your terms.

4. Try using remote workers – they can save you money and are more productive – virtual or remote workers can save you office space and can also help to create the image of a bigger company. By reducing the need for office space you can reduce your overheads and still benefit from a larger workforce. However, the key to managing remote workers is communicating well with them, and ensuring they are kept informed of what is happening so they don’t feel isolated. Open communication will help to develop a relationship built on mutual trust which is essential if remote working is going to be effective. Research has shown that people who work from home are more productive as they do not have the usual distractions found in an office environment.

5. Use technology to the full – there is an ever increasing array of technology to facilitate home working, which can be used for meetings and communicating with employees. Make sure you get the right technology for your business needs and everything should run smoothly. Remote servers, conferencing software and mobile internet mean that every employee should know what is going on in the company at all times, wherever they are.

6. Think of the environmental benefits – reductions in time spent travelling to and from the office as well as to meetings can help reduce your company’s carbon footprint and make you a more environmentally friendly company. Use this in your company’s communications, for PR benefit.

7. Improve employee loyalty – as many professionals struggle to find flexible work that does fit in with their family commitments, they will tend to be more loyal to an employer that facilitates this. Flexible working is now considered to be the number one benefit that job seekers look for in a new job. Companies that offer it, are attracting a better calibre of staff and building a happier, more loyal workforce.

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Karen Kennard

Karen Kennard is the founder of Flexible Skills Bank. Her company matches potential candidates with companies who have vacancies to fill, but keeps in mind small businesses cannot always afford large introduction fees or ongoing agency commission, so costs are kept to an absolute minimum.

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