Regina Moran, enterprise director of Vodafone Ireland, on the benefits of smart working.
The SME sector accounts for 56% of the total turnover of the Irish business economy and provides 70% of all jobs in the non-financial business economy.
They are the backbone of our local economies creating employment and generating cash flows in communities across the country.
According to the latest research from Vodafone Ireland – The Future of Business in Ireland: A Conversation with SMEs, employers and employees in SMEs have a very positive outlook in terms of future prospects.
The majority of business owners and employers are predicting growth across existing or new local markets. And many SMEs are planning to invest in their business – particularly in staff attraction and retention.
This is hardly surprising given the war for talent within the Irish economy.
How SMEs should be investing their hard-earned income in order to secure the right talent?
New technologies are changing working patterns. With at least 216,000 people in Ireland engaged in some form of smart working, which is the combined use of technology and connectivity with flexibility and agility for people to work from home, a co-working hub or using a hybrid model (part-home, part-office), it is increasingly important to Irish workers.
A third of the 300 SME employees said they would be willing to change jobs for the sole purpose of having smart working options.
But Irish SMEs have yet to capitalise on what could be a key differentiator for their business.
What’s interesting is that our report found most employees and employers recognise the benefits of smart working such as increased employee engagement and an improved employer brand.
Additionally, certain business benefits were voiced by an SME representative panel who contributed to the report.
These included improved connectivity and productivity, a reduction of operating costs, staff attrition and commuting times and a positive impact on the environment and local economy in towns, as people do not leave for jobs in cities.
It was recognised that smart working is just as much about being able to manage assets more effectively as it is about employees being able to work flexibly. And that modern technology such as IoT devices which build capability for converged communications can help businesses manage resources better.
Yet, only 9% of employers surveyed said they were fully embracing smart working and 38% of businesses suggested they were not even considering it.
The barriers called out through the research included company culture, technology and the impact on customers. But there are ways SMEs can overcome these barriers to enjoy the benefits of smart working and stay ahead of competitors – many of whom were born digital.
Both the employees and employers who took part in our research cited company culture as the main barrier to smart working practices. This barrier does not require investment in a new gadget or physical asset that would represent a major cost.
In relation to technology, any employees who wish to undertake smart working practices will already own the tools and equipment necessary for their work to be carried out. And in terms of broadband, advances are being made for smart working particularly in rural areas. With more and more initiatives underway, the hybrid model of smart working provides an optimal solution.
In terms of the impact on customers, any change in the workplace environment could create ramifications for customer service - from inputting a new system to restructuring a department. Therefore, employers are right to be wary of such changes.
If we consider the contributions SMEs make to our economy, then the ability of such businesses to remain competitive is of vital importance to our society as a whole.
It is therefore imperative that SMEs and those who support them recognise that employee expectations have changed and should seek advice as to how smart working could improve working environments and secure their future.
Alternatively, if SMEs in Ireland don’t recognise that these new workplace trends are here to stay, they run the risk of competing with other businesses who are embracing such trends and therefore able to create more efficient operating models.