Agile Working for SMEs

19th March 2015

Skills shortages are a real worry for UK businesses, with the Department for Work and Pensions saying that 20 per cent of vacancies are remaining unfilled, it shows a real cause for concern when employers can’t recruit anyone with the right skill set.

For SMEs, this is particularly harmful. According to research conducted by private equity firm Key Capital Partners, half of SMEs in the UK believe that the lack of experienced or qualified individuals has had a major impact on productivity and their growth prospects with the average British SME operating at just 72 per cent of its optimum performance.

With this background, it’s clear to see that competition for talent is increasingly difficult, especially in SMEs that are looking to compete with larger, better resourced corporates.

But there has been a rise in recent years around the concept of Agile Working that gives SMEs a framework for hiring and retaining the best staff they can and using them in ways that allows their businesses to compete in the modern workplace.

What is Agile Working?

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology together, allowing for agile working patterns and office space.

With the technology available to modern businesses, there are numerous tools to help us work in new and different ways, to meet customer needs, reduce costs, increase productivity and improve sustainability.

Agile working incorporates dimensions of time and place flexibility, but also involves working differently by focusing on performance and outcomes. The Agile Future Forum, whose aim is to provide leadership and practical support to disseminate agile working practices, considers agile working across 4 dimensions of work:

  1. time: when do people work?

  2. location: where do people work?

  3. role: what do people do?

  4. source: who carries out work?

Each of these 4 dimensions can be described in great detail, but generally time and location are often split into flexible working hours and location; role sees people covering various aspects of the organisation’s needs rather than focussing on a single role, and source involves using third party tools and services for business operations that don’t necessarily require a full time member of staff for a given role.

Now we know what Agile Working is, how can SMEs use these concepts to compete for talent in a corporate world and what does Agile Working look like in practice?

Offer flexible working

Remote working is a real possibility for many employees at SMEs, bringing many benefits with it. CBI data states that 59% of firms have remote-working employees and surveys carried out by The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) showed that more than 90% of companies offered flexible working of some kind.

It’s easier than ever for employers to offer flexible working to their staff. A recent change in the law means that all employees in the UK now have the right to request flexible working if they have more than six months service. In the past, only parents of children under 17 and those with caring responsibilities had this right, but now it has been extended to all. Companies don’??t have to grant all requests, but they do have to consider them??in a reasonable manner.

The ability to work remotely eliminates the necessity for presenteeism¬† being in the office as much as possible – and instead puts the focus on the quality of output that employees generate. Employers, however need to place confidence in their staff, as there is often a tendency to be suspicious about how long work is taking if companies can’t see their staff doing the work.

Just because companies can benefit from giving employees the opportunity to work remotely, it’s still important to offer them the option of office space. There shouldn’t be a technology-driven compulsion to work in a certain way and the office should remain for those that want the office.

Hire the best people, not just who is available

Businesses themselves have a responsibility to plan for hiring the best talent they can. When SME’s need to recruit, time is usually of the essence to fill any vacancy. However thinking beyond the immediate requirement and considering the skills you will need to help your business develop in the medium to long term, ensures you hire the best people for the job.

Take into account the potential of individuals you interview – do they have the capacity to grow and develop their career with your company? Do they have the skill set to transfer their skills across multiple roles or departments? Questions like these will stop many companies from hiring for the short term and prevent them from responding quickly to changes in the business environment. This is agile working at its best.

SMEs can also work to present themselves in the best light possible to make them attractive to new talent. Small businesses, a smaller team with a more??personal’?working environment allows talented individuals to shine and develop. Offering these opportunities for flexibility and diversity of work projects has been identified as a key motivator to join a company, especially for younger candidates.

Compete on quality, not cost

Large organisations can offer competitive rates due to sizes of economy, but smaller businesses can offer a higher quality service that corporates can often not compete with.

But SMEs need to be brave in how they make competing on quality work for them, as it can be risky to hire expensive talent on a permanent basis.

Agile Working offers several solutions for working with quality talent, while not having to commit to extensive costly fees:

  • Outsourcing (i.e. contracting third-party companies)

  • Sharing/partnering (i.e. having a joint labour pool with peers)

  • Fixed’??term contracts (i.e. where staff are employed to temporarily fill a role)

  • Freelance (i.e. directly sourced individuals)

  • Bidding on tasks (i.e. free market bidding on tasks by non-employees and organisations)

While each of these options comes with their own benefits and drawbacks, just by highlighting them here will get you thinking about ways your business can use quality talent without it costing more than you can afford to compete with corporates.

Is Agile Working for you?

Agile working is based on the complete flexibility of work to drive long-term organisational success. There is no one size fits all approach to agile working so the benefits will be different for every organisation.

Agile working can unlock value for both the employer and the employee, meaning that SMEs can compete more readily with corporates in hiring the best talent they can and ensuring they’??re operating at optimal performance.

If you need further proof of the benefits of agile working, take Marshall ACM for example. Agile working practices are at the heart of how we operate. By offering our staff members the opportunity for home working and flexible working hours, Marshall’s benefits by attracting the best talent from around the country and staff are able to participate in activities that develop their skill set (at Marshall’s we have a number of staff members also pursuing post-graduate and doctoral research).

If we can put agile working into practice, what’s stopping you?

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