According to a report by Ofcom, the UK is one of Europe’s leading internet economies in terms of take-up, usage and superfast broadband coverage. But what does this mean for working on the move?
The UK’s super-charged internet economy is rapidly enabling employees to become more flexible in their working practices. Latest figures suggest that the UK currently has – by a fair margin – the highest take-up rates for superfast broadband among the EU5 countries.
But what does all this mean for businesses and the economy as a whole?
The government’s plans
Ed Vaizey, minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (with responsibility for digital industries), spoke about the government’s investment in superfast broadband late last year, explaining how it will make the UK more competitive.
“Investing in superfast broadband is a key part of the UK government’s plan to bring world-class connectivity to our homes and businesses,” he said. “We recognise that the growing demands of the digital age will have a significant impact on the UK’s competitiveness.”
The government’s scheme to deliver superfast broadband to even the more remote parts of the country is well underway, with a target of 90 per cent coverage of the UK by 2016 and universal superfast broadband availability by 2018.
Additionally, via its Connection Vouchers scheme, the government is developing 22 ‘Superconnected Cities‘ across the UK. This offers discounted access to connectivity, city Wi-Fi projects and innovative digital projects to make these areas hotspots for business. Part of the larger £1 billion Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, this vouchers scheme is investing up to £150 million into the designated cities to ensure that they’ll “remain internationally competitive and attractive for investors, business and visitors”.
A report by SWQ commissioned by the government reveals that the infiltration of superfast broadband is already having a positive impact on businesses when it comes to number of workers, productivity and costs. It’s boosting mobility, while also allowing increased numbers of workers work from home.
SWQ reveals that the proportion of workers who work mainly at or from home grew from 11.1 per cent in 2001 to 13.7 per cent in 2012, with this number accelerating rapidly over the last two years as the government continues to roll out superfast broadband. About 24 per cent of UK workers are sometimes or usually home-based, with a marked drop in this figure during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
Working from home has some obvious benefits to organisations. One of the biggest is the cost-savings in office space and travel. Flexible working allows employees to alternate between working from home and from the office, which means the company needs fewer desks and has lower overheads with fewer members of staff in the office at any one time.
Additionally, superfast broadband connections allow companies to change the way they monitor productivity – and can boost it, in many cases.
For example, instead of plotting the hours in the standard working day versus what an employee gets done, they can allow employees to work flexible hours. It may be that an employee is more productive between 7am and 2pm rather than during the standard 9.30am to 5.30pm.
If companies are able to offer employees the option to work from home, superfast broadband makes the process easier and more viable. And this means a business is able to recruit from a wider pool of talent, rather than limiting their selection to candidates living in the area. This is particularly useful for companies based in rural areas – where there may not be a wealth of relevant talent – but that nevertheless have roles that require a very specific skillset.
Improved system efficiencies
In addition to the notable benefits to both employers and employees, superfast broadband is also allowing companies to roll out more efficient technologies, both in terms of the environmental impact and improving workflows.
Cloud services have seen a noticeable increase over the last two years, as businesses opt to downsize office space and replace their physical servers with cloud-based storage. Using cloud services also reduces the energy needed to power physical servers, which has a positive effect on the environment.
Applications in the collaboration and VoIP space have also become more prevalent, with virtual communication reducing the time spent travelling to and from meetings.
The results so far
More than half of businesses surveyed in research by Superfast Cornwall – one of the regional initiatives to roll out superfast services in rural areas – reported that fibre broadband had enabled them to grow, while 79 per cent revealed that fibre broadband had saved them time or money and 55 per cent said that the technology had allowed them to work in new and different ways.
Of course, the full impact can’t be properly measured until the government has achieved its goal of implementing superfast broadband across more of the UK.
SWQ’s report concluded: “As the economy picks up, and as superfast broadband services are rolled out across the rest of the UK, it will be possible to assess empirically what, if any, impact faster broadband has on the distribution of enterprises and employment.”