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SMBs lag behind FTSE 100 on flexible working practices: survey

Only 14% allow staff to work flexibly or from home

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A survey of 5,000 UK small and medium businesses found most reluctant to allow staff to work flexibly or from home, with just 14% allowing it.

The government has suggested that flexible working should be extended to all parents with children under the age of 18 in 2011.

The survey, by Virgin Media Business, follows a separate survey that found that 69% of the FTSE 100 do allow staff to fit their jobs around personal commitments.

Virgin Media Business’s executive director, commercial, Andrew McGrath, said: "Given the vast difference in scale and infrastructure between a company employing 100 people and one employing 100,000 it was inevitable that we’d discover some big differences in their approach to flexible working. Yet with millions more people about to gain the right to request flexible working it’s an issue that’s going to face businesses of all sizes."

Only 11 per cent of the 5,000 businesses surveyed said they were put off flexible working by the need to set up new HR processes. Instead, employers were concerned about teamwork and worker welfare, with 43 per cent fearing that distributed teams would be less effective and leave the individuals within them feeling isolated and stressed.

Cost was also seen as a significant barrier to the adoption of flexible and remote working among SMEs. Nationally, 29 per cent of businesses felt that the technology required to roll out such programmes effectively was too expensive.

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Yet 42 per cent of respondents said that flexible and remote working improved employees’ work-life balance, and encouraged staff who might otherwise leave, such as new mothers, to stay with the company.

21 per cent said flexible working would make it easier to deal with out-of-hours work more easily, while 19 per cent thought it would make workers more productive.

McGrath added that the latest tools and technologies such as instant messaging, presence, videoconferencing and teleconferencing should put flexible working within affordable reach for SMBs: "The good news for SMEs, however, is that the technological difficulties and expense associated with rolling out these schemes even a few years ago are a thing of the past. In the days of affordable, high speed broadband, cost-effective laptops and smartphones there’s no reason why remote or flexible working programmes should be expensive or difficult to implement."

"And with the tools now widely available, there’s no reason for remote teams to lose cohesion or for workers to feel left out on a limb," said McGrath.

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