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Poor UK internet connectivity and technology cited as hampering SME productivity

Study suggests small businesses could be losing out on two and a half working weeks a year from employees because of unreliable internet connections and technology issues

The average worker at a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) in the UK could be wasting 72 minutes a day – the equivalent of two and a half working weeks a year – because of connectivity and technology issues, according to a study by internet service provider Zen Internet.

The research, conducted by Censuswide between 19 and 25 November 2019, involved 1,001 UK respondents aged over 16 from a sample of employees in businesses with fewer than 250 employees. A key topline finding was that more than eight in 10 (85%) of SMEs said their productivity was impacted by an unreliable internet connection.

The study comes hot on the heels of a report from the UK’s Office for National Statistics which showed that labour productivity for the third quarter of 2019, measured by output per hour, rose by just 0.1% compared with the equivalent quarter in 2018 and following four previous quarters of contraction.

It also comes just as UK telecoms regulator Ofcom announced new regulation designed to help build a full-fibre network for the whole of the UK, addressing connectivity gaps that have plagued businesses in non-metropolitan areas. And, said Zen Internet, having just come through a General Election in which broadband reliability took centre stage, the study shows how the UK needs to solve its connectivity issue if it is going to become more productive.

Of the 83% of respondents to the survey who said they found unreliable internet connections annoying, 85% added that their productivity was impacted by it.

Unreliable internet connection could also be having an adverse impact on business success. Half of the annoyed workers (51%) said they thought it could lead to unhappy customers, and two-thirds (67%) said it also creates frustrated colleagues.

Of the workers who were annoyed by unreliable internet connections, many called on decision-makers at their workplace to take action, with 53% believing they should change service providers.

SME owners that have not been able to solve their connectivity issues could also be facing adverse effects. Nearly one-sixth of SME workers said they had left a job because of irritations with either slow or unreliable internet connectivity and/or technology issues, creating a risk of owners losing good talent.

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Georgina Lord, managing director of Zen Retail, said: “The UK has long sought ways to improve its productivity, but this research shows it’s a near-impossible task if it doesn’t solve its connectivity issue too. Connectivity is a fundamental part of how any business operates, from reaching new customers to streamlining their core services and operations.

“Businesses need a reliable internet connection that delivers the capabilities they require to do their job and doesn’t leave employees twiddling their thumbs for hours each week. Productivity isn’t just impacted by a person’s physical ability to do their job, but their emotional state as well.

“An irritated and technologically stunted workforce isn’t going to be good for anybody and business leaders in the UK need to give workers tools that are reliable in order to help them get the job done in peace. Without a productive SME community, the UK will continue to struggle to improve its productivity output for years to come.”

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