SMEs, however, tend to lag in incorporating flexibility within their company culture. The reasons for this vary. Some business owners fear that this would hinder existing business processes while others feel that it may lead to less collaborative work or that they may struggle to manage staff remotely.
However, what many business owners fail to realize is that the benefits of providing a flexible work environment far outweigh the costs.
- Improved productivity: It’s ironic that business owners establish their SMEs with the purpose of greater ownership, freedom and flexibility, yet these values are not extended to their employees. Offering flexible work conditions allows them to work at the time when they are most efficient and productive without the obligation of staying in the office for long hours when they might not necessarily be at their working best. In fact, a 2016 Vodafone survey, which looked at 8,000 business professionals across three continents, found that 83% of respondents reported an improvement in productivity.
- Greater employee satisfaction: Greater flexibility equals happier employees. This is because employees are able to achieve a greater work-life balance and engage in activities that contribute to their personal growth and professional development. Happier staff, increased productivity and employee satisfaction lead to greater employee engagement at the workplace, thereby decreasing absenteeism and reducing attrition rates among staff members. Reducing employee turn-over alone can greatly boost a business’s bottom-line, with studies showing that replacing an employee earning a median salary of $45,000 a year could cost up to $15,000.
- Access to a larger talent pool: With an increasing number of workers prioritizing flexibility over a higher income, providing flexible work benefits could attract and retain a large talent pool that may otherwise have been inaccessible to SMEs. By providing flexibility, the SMEs open themselves to a highly-engaged talent pool including mothers who have had taken time off to raise their children. By hiring highly talented staff who are more inclined to flexible working hours, SMEs can gain a significant competitive advantage.
- Increased profits: The culmination of improved morale, top talent and greater productivity inevitably benefits the bottom line. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the same Vodafone survey, 61% of global respondents said profits increased with a flexibility policy in place.
How to get started
SMEs wanting to take this route should adopt an intelligent implementation strategy to avoid complications and ensure that business continues to run smoothly.
- Adopt the latest technologies: One of the key steps that SMEs should consider is leveraging technologies such as cloud-based systems and collaborative software, which allow businesses to encourage teamwork and streamline business processes. In a tech-driven world, countless apps, software and platforms are available to drive efficiency and competitiveness even when team members are in different time zones.
- Make communication a priority: While flexibility brings about countless benefits, different work timings and schedules may leave employees feeling disengaged. To prevent this, it is important to make frequent communication –including scheduled daily or weekly team meetings by video and audio and regular virtual interactions– an essential part of your company culture. This will not only make staff feel more connected and foster an increased sense of team identity, purpose and values but also reduce inefficient email dialogue.
- Train employees to work flexibly: It may seem like common sense, but most employees aren’t necessarily familiar with how to work efficiently outside of the office. Through adequate training, employees can learn about teleworking and project managing platforms that will enable them to interact and work with their team members even when working remotely.
- Evaluate work based on deliverables: Some employers may be hesitant to offer flexitime options because they fear that they won’t be able to supervise whether employees are taking advantage of the fact that they are not being supervised. A simple solution to this problem is to evaluate employees based on the deliverables they complete instead of focusing on the amount of time spent at the office.
- Be consistent: Ensure that all employees are offered the same opportunities to benefit from flexible working hours and that the policies on this matter are clear. This will increase transparency and a create a work environment founded on trust and respect.
It’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all solution. A company should evaluate the needs of its clients and employees and create a tailored approach that works for their business. That being said, flexible working conditions are getting increasingly popular and as millennials continue to enter the job market, demands for this approach are expected to significantly increase.
Published on Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.