Today’s workplace environment seems to be undergoing a period of both operational and cultural change. Driven by the online world, businesses are having to adapt to rising customer expectation alongside growing demand for more flexible working. Despite this decentralisaion, organisations know it is critical to ensure that operations are not disrupted.

Service delivery and efficiency must be maintained, even when pressure is at its greatest. Britain has much of the communications tools it needs. So why is it experiencing, as a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report put it, a ‘productivity pause’.

Determined to see if the apparent flexibility of the workplace actually means more productive operations, a recent study examined how businesses are communicating and collaborating in the digital age.

The survey revealed a central paradox. In the UK, there is generally a flexible mobile workforce where the majority of communication is now taking place outside the traditional corporate headquarters. Despite this apparent freedom, staff, nevertheless, feel ill-prepared to make use of the advanced business communications tools provided by their employers.

Businesses have ‘liberated’ their workforces: only 15 per cent of staff now access their company’s IT system directly from their HQ. However, the research suggests that workplace policies and training haven’t kept pace with technology spending. The study found that, almost half (49 per cent) of those polled said their staff do not have the correct communications skills to take advantage of these tools to enhance productivity. This is particularly worrying for the future of SMBs.

Companies could be undermining the drive in flexible working by failing to provide the tools and training that ensure increased productivity through agile business operations across multiple locations.

Firms have very strongly embraced the principle of flexible working. The vast majority (86 per cent) of firms questioned already invest in collaboration and productivity tools, such as “one number” unified communications systems. The tools are in place. A more effective policy framework seems to be the missing link in boosting outputs.

This gap between technology and training is having greater consequences. Wider economic studies point to Britain’s declining productivity. A recent ONS International Comparison of Productivity report showed that UK output per worker lags behind other countries while the CIPD, Europe’s largest HR and development body, noted similar trends in its ‘productivity pause’ research. We have identified that there is a skills gap, and this needs to be filled if UK plc is to make strides in its growth.

What is necessary and what needs to be realised in 2012 is the need for joining-up business communications and addressing the workforce skills gap. Those who invest in assessing staff needs, building policies to harness communications and organise training to widen staff skill sets will not only reap the benefits of an engaged workforce, but also contribute to improving productivity by harnessing enterprise communications for more productive and effective results across the board.