How tailored tech can help small firms to compete for talent

The global pandemic accelerated investment in new technology with large corporates the major investors. But thinking smart can help the SME (Small-to-Medium Enterprise) workplace bridge the gap    

The single most common characteristic that small firms, start-ups and growth companies share with the large corporate employers is an increasing reliance on technology to get work done in the hybrid era. Consequently, investment into technology has never been so crucial and can hugely impact the SME (Small-to-Medium Enterprise) workplace experience if done correctly.  

Research by Microsoft and The Boston Consulting Group reveals that not only have leading SMEs used technology to grow their businesses and reduce costs, but investment in technology has also boosted worker productivity. This suggests that there is a direct correlation between how well employees can conduct their jobs and investment in technology to support them.   

But why is technology so important for the SME workplace experience and what can small firms do to provide a better technology experience to their employees? 

In the third article in our series on the SME workplace, produced in partnership with the Director Group, a real estate consultancy that focuses on growth companies, we are looking at the role of technology to improve the workplace experience in small firms.     

Playing catch-up 

Simon Ward, Director, Real Estate and Workplace at the Director Group, explains how SMEs were put under pressure to catch up with the big corporations in terms of technology investment. As the pandemic prevented people from coming into the office, larger companies who perhaps already had work-from-home policies for some of their staff were ahead of the game when it came to hybrid technology. SMEs were left playing catch-up.  

However, this boom in flexible working provides an exceptional opportunity for smaller, fast-growing firms to attract top talent, says Ward. As they are inherently more flexible than larger companies and less constrained by bureaucracy, they have the ability to tailor their benefits package to individual workers, meaning that they can offer hybrid or remote work, flexible hours and varying benefits according to their employees’ needs. This massively increases the pool of people SMEs can hire. It also makes them a more desirable employer.  

‘The boom in flexible working provides an opportunity for smaller, fast-growing firms…’ 

Technology is the enabler of this flexibility. Without investment in technology to help staff work remotely, there is no widened talent pool and fewer perks to tempt prospective employees away from larger companies. 

Research by business analytics company Dun and Bradstreet reveals that 35 per cent of SME leaders say that talent is the biggest factor that determines their success. Therefore, hiring and retaining top talent is crucial for SMEs that are looking to expand and grow their businesses. Technology plays a vital role in talent acquisition.  

Furthermore, as Simon Ward points out, the agility and dexterity of SMEs is what makes them stand out, but they need to make the most of this advantage in order to be competitive. Investment in technology is a prerequisite to ensuring that nobody is left behind, regardless of how and where they work.  

A less stressful experience 

Ensuring that staff have appropriate software for their role, whether this be access to video calls or more specialised software for a graphic designer for example, can make the entire workplace experience less stressful and more fulfilling.  

When we list all the technology that we utilise in our day-to-day hybrid life, our reliance on this technology becomes clear. We use messaging platforms, email, document sharing platforms and virtual meeting software on a regular basis, as well as software that goes unnoticed by most workers which ensures our online security and keeps our laptops and smartphones running effectively.  

How these different platforms integrate with each other and how responsive and reactive they allow employees to be can help SMEs in their bid to compete with larger firms. Smaller enterprises with more integrated, more effective communication systems that meet their needs to a greater extent are more able to respond faster to client demands.  

‘The youngest in the workforce are unimpressed by clunky, outdated technology…’ 

Integration is also a significant bugbear with employees, who can find switching between different software fatiguing. These issues are felt even more strongly by younger generations. Research by Asana suggests that because Gen Z have grown up with technology as part of their day-to-day lives from a very young age, they have more trouble than other generations logging off from their work and find switching from one app to another for different types of work more frustrating and tiring than other generations.  

The youngest in the workforce are unimpressed by clunky, outdated technology and look for applications that can streamline their workload. They also need their technology to protect their wellbeing – they are so used to being on their technology they struggle to log off when work hours finish and need technology that provides them with guidelines and supports their wellbeing. 

Asana also reports that Generation Z are more significantly affected by video calls and meetings. More than other generations, they view unnecessary meetings as a drain on their time and are increasingly frustrated by them.  

How technology is used within an organisation is also crucial to determining the employee experience is impacted positively. Having the right technology in place is important, but so is having a structured approach that can help release staff from endless tiring back-to-back meetings. SMEs with shorter lines of command and smaller workforces need to develop a policy towards technology usage that benefits them the most – replacing unnecessary meetings with email reporting is one way to go.  

Tailored technology 

Clearly, technology is only going to become a more important issue for prospective employees as Gen Z become more prominent in the workforce. Smaller firms are in the right position to benefit from this by offering tailored benefits and contracts in order to attract new talent, but this can only be successful if companies provide the right technology and employ the right policies to allow people to work remotely if needed.  

Growth companies can also leverage their smaller scale to provide tailored tech: talking to your team, writing down the things they like about the tech they use and their frustrations, and creating a list of priorities, can help you ascertain where the downsides are in your current tech set-up and help to create a more tailored technology policy.  

Again, it need not be flashy or expensive software – it just needs to be specific to your team and respond to their needs. For example, you could discover that your team is environmentally conscious so would support a programme to provide people with refurbished laptops or phones in order to use less valuable and limited resources.  

This could save you a significant amount of money, preventing you from having to buy new laptops and thereby allowing you to invest the money saved into more efficient software for larger meetings, which you had previously identified was a need for your company through surveys. This would balance the requirement of the company to be financially frugal whilst also acknowledging and prioritising the needs of the team.   

Adapting to needs 

Communicating your intention to support your team and adapt to evolving needs is crucial to creating a positive workplace environment. As an organisation pivots towards a new market or responds to the needs of new client, it may find that what worked for them once no longer supports your employees.  

Finding a technology solution is a constant process rather than an instant fix. It should be based on establishing open lines of communication with employees that allow for a continuous back-and-forth. This is the first step towards developing a great technology experience that enables effective working and can help boost talent retention in the long run.  

However, the same principles of open communication, listening and swift adaptation apply equally to all three components of the SME workplace experience – people, place and technology. Leveraging their smaller scale and ability to move fast and flexibly is what will help smaller growth companies compete with bigger players in the race for talent. 

This is the third in a series of three articles on the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) workplace, produced in collaboration with the Director Group. Read the first and second articles here and here.
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