Small business still not getting tech message


3 Feb 2005

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Although managers in SMEs are less wary of teleworking than they used to be, a large majority of executives as well as general employees never telework, according to a nationwide survey by mobile network O2 Ireland.

O2 commissioned TNS MRBI to conduct the survey of 300 managing directors, owner-managers and senior managers within SMEs. The research finds that just 25pc of Irish managers telework at least one day per month and that 14pc of employees telework. Of the 74pc of businesses whose employees do not telework, the main reason cited by bosses is that they don’t need to or it doesn’t suit the job.

“Only 2pc of bosses say they are worried that staff would relax too much out of the office environment, suggesting that one of the earlier cultural barriers to teleworking has all but disappeared,” commented Paul Whelan, chief financial officer, O2 Ireland.

Convenience is cited by 40pc of managers as the main reason for teleworking while 25pc work from home to concentrate on major projects such as new business proposals. Some 7pc say they telework to avoid traffic congestion, 9pc to get a better work-life balance and 7pc for childcare/family reasons.

This is the second year the business survey has been conducted. And while this year’s survey suggests a shift in attitudes to teleworking, this has yet to translate into significant behavioural change. In fact, there seems to have been a decline in teleworking among SMEs. Last year’s survey found that almost one in three (32pc) of senior SME executives work from home at least one day a month, while the percentage of employees within those SMEs who telework stood at 18pc.

In other areas, the signs are that SMEs are gradually embracing new technology. While 82pc of respondents in last year’s survey were found not to be using any form of automated or electronic trading, the figure falls to 70pc this year. Likewise 51pc of respondents in last year’s poll said they could access their email remotely; this year the figure has risen to 57pc.

There are still clear signs, however, that mainstream technologies are still finding it hard to penetrate the SME sector. For example, over a third (36pc) of bosses in Irish SMEs still do not use email, according to the study. “It is understandable that some single-person businesses don’t use email but it was a little surprising that one in five (21pc) of senior executives in firms employing more than 10 people do not,” said Whelan. Nearly two in five (39pc) senior executives in firms employing between four and nine people do not use email either.

Where managers do adopt email (64pc) they tend to be relatively sophisticated users however. Over half (57pc) say they can access their business email from outside the office using a combination of dial-up access from home (39pc), laptop PCs (36pc), internet cafes (17pc) and/or handheld PDAs such as the BlackBerry (10pc).

In a finding that will no doubt interest web design agencies seeking new business opportunities, the survey finds that the majority (60pc) of Irish SMEs do not have a website. As would be expected, this percentage falls according to the size of company. Even so, 28pc of firms employing more than 10 people have no web presence. For firms employing between four and nine people, the figure is 61pc and for the owner-manager type operation (one to three employees) 72pc do not have a website.

The survey also finds that SMS or texting is still not perceived as a valuable business tool by the people running most small companies. In fact, while 71pc of managers use text messaging outside of work, only 29pc of them use it for business.

The services that respondents find most useful on their mobile phones are email (35pc) followed by news (21pc) and traffic information (19pc). However, 37pc don’t want any such services, suggesting that for many, voice communications remains the sole function of a mobile phone.

The business survey was conducted amongst firms employing less than 250 people to gauge the adoption and usage of communications technology. The survey was stratified by region and size of business. Interviews were conducted with owner-managers, managing directors or directors of businesses. Some 81pc of the businesses surveyed employ fewer than 10 people, with the remaining 19pc employing between 10 and 250.

Pictured at the launch of the O2 Business Survey were Paul Whelan, chief financial officer, O2 Ireland, and Louise Miller, account director, TNS MRBI

By Brian Skelly