Offering flexible work becomes challenging for SMEs as their workforce balloons: MYOB

Flexible work

Businesses are struggling to offer staff flexible work arrangements as they expand beyond four employees, according to cloud accounting provider, MYOB.

Although employees have a legal right, under the Fair Work Act, to request flexible work arrangements, MYOB’s latest SME snapshot shows that just one in two businesses with under 20 staff (54%) afford their staff flexibility. In comparison, amongst bigger businesses (20 to 199 employees), nearly three in four (73.9%) provide flexible working.

The survey of 348 business owners found that two thirds (66%) of very small businesses (up to 4 employees) offer staff some form of flexible working; however, amongst those with 10 to 19 employees, just 13% provide this benefit. Further, 42% of all SMEs were not monitoring the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Despite these findings, small business owners were not unaware of the advantages of offering flexible working, with significant numbers citing increased morale (59%) and reduced burnout (45%) as well as higher engagement and productivity (43%). Almost half (43%) of SMEs also stated that offering flexible work options positions them as an employer who cares for their staff.

When asked about the disadvantages of offering flexible work arrangements, 34% stated it made business planning harder and 16% stated flexible working diminished the sense of collaboration between staff.

Tim Reed, CEO of MYOB told Dynamic Business about why small businesses are trailing bigger ones when it comes to offering flexible working arrangements and how this can be addressed. 

DB: What’s fueling the flexible work trend and why should SMEs care?

Reed: Over the last five years, flexible working, hot desking and agile working have become a key focus for businesses globally. This trend has been fueled by employee needs and wants, technological developments in areas such as collaboration software, cloud storage and document sharing as well as businesses looking to reduce their physical footprint to save on real estate costs. Small businesses should take steps to provide this benefit for their staff to remain competitive with their larger counterparts.

DB: Why are they not offering flexibility when they expand beyond four staff?

Reed: One of the challenges small businesses face when it comes to offering flexible working practices is to change the culture of the organisation. Having four or less employees creates a workplace of intimacy and trust. These businesses are generally just getting off the ground or they have no desire to scale up. As businesses begin to grow there is often a scramble to determine cultural norms such as values and a shared vision for the company. 

DB: What are the barriers to businesses offering staff flexible work?

Reed: Barriers to providing flexible working arrangements to employees include lack of trust, resources and planning and technology. Trust is a big one and needs to work both ways between an employer and an employee. Managers and business owners should consider the way they measure the effectiveness of their staff and base it on outputs and outcomes as opposed to presenteeism. Businesses need to be prepared and equipped to move to a new way of working and the shift can result in teething problems and may not work for all businesses. Finally, the technology wrapped around the workforce will ensure more streamlined processes and effective collaboration.

DB: How can businesses make flexible work arrangements work for them?

Reed: Flexible work arrangements come in all different shapes and sizes and businesses need to land on a framework that will best suits their needs and the needs of their employees. Examples include working remotely or varying start and finish times or it could be working weekends in exchange for less hours during the week. Technology such as instant messenger tools will enable employees to communicate and collaborate in real time and using cloud software will ensure staff can access and share documents easily and efficiently.