Flexible working hours can help plug tech skills gap for SMEs

Earlier this year, it was revealed that as many as nine in ten employers are expecting a tech skills shortage in the next twelve months – despite the UK’s tech performance on the global stage.

Given the changing world of work, the rise of AI and the need for tech skills in the UK, there is an emphasis on SME’s moving with the times by seeking talent to plug into this gap – the willingness of foreign workers to fill skilled vacancies is crucial to the future of work in the UK.

It’s on the government’s agenda, and the private tech sector is spending millions on training and development for future and existing employees in the race to boost skills – to the benefit of tech departments everywhere.

However, vital as upskilling is for the future of the British economy, it doesn’t help businesses who need vacancies filled now in order to grow.

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Flexible markets

A more immediate solution to accessing the best tech talent is simple: flexible working practices.

This opens up the possibility of hiring the best talent from anywhere – whether they’re new mothers with a preference for working from home, young ‘digital nomads’ travelling the globe, living in another city or, crucially, residing in another country.

Large corporates have long had a global approach to talent and have lead the way in flexible working places – which has historically involved a lot of investment. New emerging workplace communication apps like Slack, remote access to files via the cloud and video conferencing tools like Zoom – are increasingly inexpensive ways to enable SME employees to stay inter-connected whenever and wherever. According to research group IDC, 80% of ‘technologically mature’ companies consider web conferencing to be important: just 36% of ‘technologically unware’ businesses feel the same way.

With 89% of UK employees considered flexible working a key motivator for their productivity, according to a 2017 YouGov survey, it’s no surprise that as many as half of all businesses in the UK are offering flexible working. This is a vital metric for a country where productivity is lagging 15% behind the rest of the G7.

By adopting technology like cloud communications to enable flexible working, businesses increase employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement and they might save up to 40% on costs.

However, while the evidence for the benefits of flexible working is mounting, there has been little exploration of the idea that it might help to combat our talent shortages – particularly in the UK where businesses should really be ahead of the game when it comes to technological solutions.

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Thinking global

The gains from adopting flexible working are especially great for SMEs looking to compete with tech giants from Amazon to Google in the race for talent. Google was this year named as the tech company with the best corporate culture – and its truly flexible working has been quoted as an important factor in the decision.

Despite all of this, there is still some way to go to combat negative connotations of flexible working here in the UK. Deloitte’s Timewise Survey recently highlighted that as much as 30% of the workforce feel that they are looked down on for working remotely, with 25% of these workers believing that they are given access to fewer opportunities due to their flexible working arrangements.

Our country’s tech industry can and should be leading the charge because we have the most to gain. With Brexit uncertainty showing no signs of going away, and tech talent shortages set to worsen in the coming year, flexible working practices can provide a cost-efficient, quick to implement solution.

Employees are asking for it; the best employers are already doing it. The pressure is there. Now, let’s make the UK a pioneer in flexible working.

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Written by Simon Burckhardt, Managing Director of Vonage UK

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