Nearly 40% of Irish SMEs have not considered the benefits of smart working for their business, despite 50% of employees seeing a smart working policy as a top priority in future employment decisions. That’s according to a new report – The Future of Business: A Conversation with SMEs – published by Vodafone Ireland. The study engaged nearly 600 SME business owners, industry representatives and employees about their current experiences and aspirations across business growth & investment and their views on smart working. It reveals that only 9% of Irish SME’s believe they are fully embracing smart working with 60% of employees and 34% of employers believing company culture to be the biggest barrier to adopting flexible work practices.

The report, which is the first part of a series of research and engagement exercises by Vodafone Ireland, called Open Conversations, also reveals significant optimism amongst Irish SMEs, with over 50% very confident about the future and 90% predicting growth between now and 2021. This optimism was shared by employees, with 60% confident about the future prospects of their company. There are some concerns expressed however, with nearly seven in 10 (68%) seeing barriers to growth, with 46% citing Brexit.

Regarding future investment plans, 60% of SME business owners surveyed confirmed that they plan to invest in their business within the next 12 months; with the majority (71%) being spent on staff attraction and retention, followed by sales (64%) and technology & digital tools (57%). In fact, 69% of small firms plan to increase technology investment within the next 1-5 years, higher again for medium sized firms, who are also most likely to invest upwards of €50,000.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Director of Enterprise at Vodafone Ireland, Regina Moran said: “The sentiment of this research offers SME employers extremely valuable insights into the future of the workplace in Ireland – particularly as many companies are struggling to not only attract staff, but retain their existing staff. What is evident is that employee expectations have changed and that businesses in Ireland need to accommodate that change.

“With more than 95% of Ireland’s business economy made up of SMEs, it’s never been more important for Irish businesses to talk to each other and it is vital for us to understand the sector to serve it better, help businesses realise their connected ambition and contribute to their future sustainability. We see connectivity and technology at the core of enabling Irish businesses to flourish, and want to understand businesses so we can develop technology that helps achieve this goal. Vodafone is committed to championing the digital potential of communities all over Ireland, ensuring equal benefit for all businesses in society.”

The study shows the untapped potential of smart working – the combined use of technology with flexibility and agility for employees to work from home or co-working hub or hybrid model – in attracting and retaining talent. One in three (33%) employees see it as top priority in their current role, 50% in a future job and 34% likely or very likely to move job for it.

Commenting on the findings from the report, Vanessa Tierney, Co-founder of Abodoo.com said: “Companies undoubtedly understand the numerous benefits of smart working for their employees but are often challenged to see the positive impact it has to their bottom line. Company benefits include reduced overhead costs, increased employee productivity, retention and well-being, and unlimited access to new talent pools by focusing on skills rather than location. Companies of all sizes need to consider smart working in order to remain competitive and future proof the growth of their business.”

Sven Spollen-Behrens from the Small Firms Association said: “The economy is growing and so is Ireland’s vital SME sector. However, we need to take measures to protect this growth. Whilst we are seeing confidence among our members we also see concerns around our competitiveness especially in light of Brexit. Challenges like attracting and retaining talent, the increasing cost of doing business in Ireland and a tax system that puts smaller businesses at a disadvantage need to be addressed.”

Additional content is available by searching #FutureOfSMEs

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