Accounting software firm MYOB’s quarterly SME snapshot of its client base has found that about 54 per cent of SMEs overall offer flexible working conditions, but only 13 per cent of businesses with between 10-19 employees are in a position to offer flexibility.
Business owners recognise the benefits of flexible working - 59 per cent cited increased morale, 45 per cent reduced burnout, and 43 per cent increased engagement and productivity. However, there are regulatory and cultural hurdles.
MYOB CEO Tim Reed acknowledged the occupational health and safety (OH&S) considerations of having employees work offsite, and also the mental barriers faced by professions which were built on office and desk hours.
“Small business owners in particular are pulled in every direction. They might have a plan of how to tackle the day, but then something happens and they are forced to react and respond. That makes it hard to think that they can have time out of the office,” Mr Reed told Accountants Daily.
“This is applicable to accounting as well - having the right mindset is one of the key considerations in terms of maintaining flexible work,” he said.
MYOB has a flexible work policy that says an employee can request to work offsite, and the onus is on the software firm to justify why if the answer is no.
Mr Reed said the policy is lived differently across the business, and will be reviewed in 2018 to get all business leaders on the same page.
“For us it’s more about culture than it is about policy. [We want to] ensure all business leaders understand and believe in the benefits of flexibility. We want to improve the way in which that policy is actually lived across the organisations so we have more uniformity,” he said.
On the ground
Accodex chief executive Chris Hooper, who is a staunch advocate of flexible working arrangements, finds OH&S barriers are a significant constraint for implementing these policies.
“Regulation is probably one of the biggest barriers to flexible working arrangements for SMEs,” Mr Hooper told Accountants Daily.
“On one hand employers are being compelled by legislation to provide these flexible work environments. On the other hand they're being wrapped in red tape and [there is a] dangerous precedent in attempting to do so,” Mr Hooper said.
“You only need to look at some of the case law where employers were found liable for injuries caused at home to understand why employers are reluctant volunteer such arrangements willingly,” he added.
Red tape aside, the ability to work remotely is not a problem, Mr Hooper said, given changes in IT infrastructure and software.
“In the accounting profession, the technological constraint of having to be at a workstation plugged into the main server in the office is non-existent these days,” he said.