Balancing the books: flexible working in smaller businesses

By Danny Palmer
08 Aug 2012 View Comments
Woman working from home while holding a baby

Almost two-thirds of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) don't cover the costs incurred by employees working from home. That's one of the findings of a recent readership survey by Computing.

Despite the growing popularity of working from home, the advantages of flexibility it offers employees and the benefits of extended operational hours it offers to companies, most firms currently see working from home as a perk rather than part of a wider strategy.

Further reading

Thirty per cent of SME respondents to the survey revealed their organisation lets many staff work from home, while 45 per cent said they allow some to do so. However only a third of those businesses contribute towards the extra costs employees incur when working remotely.
While many small businesses see a benefit in making themselves more appealing to potential employees through offering flexible working, the cost of electricity, internet and phone bills are largely borne by the off-site workforce themselves.

Covering costs

Mobile data and stationary costs are most likely to be covered, with 37 per cent of businesses that allow working from home reimbursing these expenses. Less than one-third of SMEs contribute to the costs of broadband or printing for off-site staff, with only a quarter of respondents stating their business contributes to phone line rental for employees working from home.

At present, the status quo may suit both employees (who after all save on commuting) and employers alike, but if the popularity of flexible working continues to rise – as most think it will – a more formal arrangement of allowances and monitoring will become necessary.

Another major trend, bring your own device (BOYD), is making itself felt in the SME sector, as more people work flexibly, often using their own devices rather than those provided by the company. Arguably, this is nothing new since homeworkers have long been accustomed to typing out reports on their own PCs and taking calls on their own phones. What has changed is the degree of connectivity with their employer's IT systems that the BYOD trend is driving.

Employees using their own laptops, PCs, phones, printers and so on can bring down costs for IT departments, with a reduced need to purchase devices. However, more resources may need to be put into supporting and maintaining the security and functionality of employees' personal devices (especially if they're not especially computer savvy), as well as protecting against the additional risks to company systems that BYOD entails.

Whether BYOD will provide net savings or increased costs is a moot point. What is clear, though, is that it is something that all organisations need to pay attention to.

Startlingly, however, 13 per cent of small businesses said security policy doesn't cover use of personal devices, while another eight per cent didn't know what the situation actually is.

On a more positive note, almost all small businesses – 93 per cent of them – provide remote access to emails, with over two-thirds providing access to VPN. Some 63 per cent provide access to line-of-business applications, potentially allowing employees to work on the go.
The increased blending of work and home life means businesses may need to spend more on ensuring remote workers are properly equipped in future, including when it comes to security.

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