16% of small and medium-sized businesses offer flexible working

The report highlights the gaping difference between large and small organisations in their ability to provide flexible working options. Just 16% of small and medium-sized businesses offer employees the chance to fit their working hours in around their personal lives, compared to a whopping 69% of FTSE 100 companies.

The research comes hot on the tail of the government's suggestions that flexible working could be rolled out to all parents with children under the age of 18 in 2011.

The challenge of a dispersed team wasn't the only worry about these plans for small businesses: 29% felt the tech required to manage a flexibly-working team or team working partially from home would be too expensive, and one in 10 were worried about potential new HR processes involved.

All that said, the smaller businesses who had given flexible working a crack found it had helped employee retention and engagement. 42% of the flexi-work businesses said employees' work-life balance had improved. One in five of them said the new way of doing things had made workers more productive, and 21% said they found out-of-hours work easier to handle once team-members could pick their own hours.

Commenting on the research, Virgin Media Business's executive director of 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."

So the relative pros and cons of offering flexible working are still up for debate - and whether or not it will work for you of course depends on your working culture and how face-to-face your team needs to be. We fully concede that while flexi working can reduce (or eliminate) premises costs and overheads and incentivise staff, it's far from ideal if you want to nurture a close-knit team.

But, as McGrath points out, the continually dropping cost of the tech needed to support flexible working, along with the constant improvements to broadband speed and the like, make connectedness ever easier.

We don't know what the future for flexible working within small businesses looks like - but if the government does push through plans to make it a legally-bound option for all parents of under-18 children, the increasing standard of technology and appeal to employees will hopefully come as some solace for those otherwise reluctant to adopt.



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