A quarter of UK SMEs plan to hire more staff next year, and three-quarters are considering introducing flexible working patterns to boost productivity, according to customer research from Orange.

Orange polled 2,200 of its SME customers and found that 26 percent plan to hire more staff in 2011 than they did in 2010. In addition, 76 percent predicted either a more prosperous year for their business or the "same level of success".

Also, three-quarters (74 percent) of SMEs are considering or plan to introduce flexible working options in 2011, citing staff efficiency as the main driver.

The move towards flexible working, said Orange, is supported by the fact that more than half (52 percent) plan to spend more on IT over the next year, when compared to this year. Orange said communications equipment was at the top of the list when it came to spending.

Social media, business applications and mobile WiFi were top priorities for SMEs, showed the research.

"The plan to introduce flexible working demonstrates a strong desire to drive a more efficient business, and is also a great way to help employees strike the right work/life balance," said Martin Lyne, SME marketing director at Everything Everywhere, the company that jointly promotes Orange and T-Mobile.

In other recent SME research from HP, a quarter of SMEs admitted they did not know enough about IT and how to make it work for their business.

HP commissioned a survey among 1,000 UK companies employing between one and fifty employees to find out how small firms are using technology to grow their business.

The research found that only just over a third (36 percent) of SMEs are deploying ecommerce strategies.

Despite this, over 12 months, 37 percent said they had grown their business. And over 90 percent of respondents were optimistic about the future of their business over the next three to five years.