Providing SMEs with advice and support to embed flexible work cultures

Start up business.


SMEs employ 16.1 million people in the UK and account for 60% of all private sector employment in the country, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. So anyone seeking to change the work culture of the UK and encourage greater flexibility, needs to ensure they address the challenges faced by SMEs.

These can include a lack of resources and the time to stand back and think more strategically as well as concerns about getting bogged down in red tape or not being able to cover the necessary hours

Nevertheless, within the smaller and medium-sized business group there are different challenges. Start-ups can often be fairly dynamic and embrace different ways of working in an ad hoc way – growing roles with the company. IT firm Hireserve, for instance, has spoken about how it has been able to hire very experienced workers by offering part-time roles. Those individuals have then been able to increase their hours as their children – and the business – have grown.

However, it can be more difficult for those SMEs which are growing fast or have more established policies and processes to change, particularly when they face so much other turbulence in today’s world. However, not adapting to the increasing demand for flexibility is risky, when smaller companies are coming up fast on the outside, and having the right talent in place to be able to adapt to changing conditions can be vital to the future health of the business.

Reducing absences

Research this week shows smaller SMEs much more likely than larger ones to offer flexible working as a way of reducing absences, for example. The study by Group Risk Development (GRiD), found that 35 percent of SMEs with up to 249 employees are actively using flexible working strategies to combat absence compared to just 23 percent of organisations with over 250 employees. The difference was even more marked with regard to micro-employers of one to nine employees, with 38 percent using flexible working as a means to reduce absence.

Getting the right advice and support on how to adapt policies and how to make flexible teams work is vital. Managing flexible teams requires a change of mindset; systems which are based on trust rather than presenteeism and better communication between managers and employees. It requires an ability to question established practice and to focus on the bigger vision, for instance; recruiting flexible workers requires an ability to think strategically and long term. has focused for years on highlighting best practice in flexible and gender diversity in employers of all sizes and shares what works in different settings and sectors. We are keen to find out what the current challenges are for SMEs.

So we have launched an SME survey to find out what these are with regard to recruitment and what organisations consider to be their two biggest concerns for the next two years.

The survey also seeks to find out how SMEs currently recruit, how they promote their brand in their recruitment material and whether concerns about the gender pay gap, which apply to the larger SMEs with over 250 employees, have prompted a change in attitude toward flexible working. That includes whether they are more likely to make it clear in job adverts that roles can be worked flexibly.

*If you are an SME employer, you can take part in the survey here.

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