Flexible-WorkingWith today’s mobile devices and the Internet, you no longer need to go to the office to get work done. People are working from home, on the road, in coffee shops and even on the beach, and the trend is not about to reverse. A survey conducted two years ago by the Society for Human Resource Management found that employer-offered flex work options will increase substantially during the next five years. Furthermore contrary to concerns that telecommuting in particular diminishes productivity, the survey found just the opposite. Among 39% of respondents that offer telecommuting, 26% said it increased productivity; and 32% of them also reported a decrease in the absenteeism rates of workers who telecommuted.

For many small business owners, offering mobile and flexible work arrangements is helping them seal the deal when it comes to hiring. In a survey conducted by CEB for Plantronics, 64% of small business owners indicated that allowing flexible, mobile and remote work options has helped them to hire and retain top talent.

Mobile and flexible work options not only help hiring and productivity, they benefit small business owners in other ways. They cut real estate costs, since allowing employees to work some or all days out of the office, enables you to free up office space for new hires or to downsize. Mobility also increases your small business sales footprint. With sales personnel located throughout a geographic region, you reduce travel expenses; and having regional sales teams can build stronger relationships with clients who are outside your headquarter territory.

Support mobile workers

In order to support mobile workers, you’ll want to consider the following technology tools and services:

Mobile apps: Mobile apps are becoming a vital tool for small business. While you can develop you own apps, there is a host of off-the shelf options from app stores for note-taking, conference call management, and travel expense tracking and more that are cost effective and help maintain the productivity of your mobile workforce.

Cloud computing: Your small business data and applications no longer reside on each desktop or somewhere on your network with cloud computing. Instead, service providers host them on remote servers, which you access over the Internet now redefined as “the cloud.” These remote servers can run anything from your email to customer relationship management (CRM) software to video conferencing and store all of your documents. You simply log into a web-based service to access all the applications you need. With cloud computing, everyone in your business can access company information from anywhere at any time and collaborate on the development of a document, when necessary, which is a great boost to productivity and collaboration.

Unified communications (UC): UC provides a platform to integrate desk phones, PCs, smartphones and tablets into one integrated data and voice network so that these devices can talk to each other digitally. It also provides e-mail, instant messaging (IM), web and video conferencing and fax and other collaboration tools to facilitate employees keeping in touch. With UC, for example, you can launch a video conference – aided by the use of a headset to cancel out background noise wherever you are – and send an IM to other team members to join.

Keep everyone in the loop

Make the transition to mobile and flexible working a group effort. Get your small business team together to discuss objectives, expectations and technology requirements. Put a plan together that addresses all of the issues with tactics for handling them.

Also implement a policy for regular communication and updates so deadlines are met and employees out of the office feel integrated all the time. As an example, you might want to ask remote employees to submit a weekly status report or schedule a call with you or their manager once a week to review action items.

Don’t expect to make an immediate switch to mobile and flexible working. Set a timeline for transitioning that takes into account equipment/technology you need to purchase and implement, having policies in place and assigning reporting responsibilities. Even after your new work program is off the ground, review it periodically to make sure that things are working.