It’s time the UK’s small businesses got the seamless communications and collaboration tools they need

The ability to work flexibly is the new reality for the UK's small businesses

Life is not getting any easier for the UK’s small businesses.

You’re dealing with an ultra-competitive hiring environment, rapid, persistent inflation – and still going flat out to bring in new business and provide a top-class customer experience. On top of this you’re still untangling how best to make flexible, remote work – well, work – while leading a tight-knit group of people who have fundamentally changed how they define the role of work in their lives.

Tough as it may be though, companies across the UK are managing to find the opportunity in the difficulty.

According to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, 84 per cent of UK staff said they are as productive or even more productive compared to a year ago. Also, less than half (43 per cent) of business leaders in the UK said productivity had been negatively impacted since the move to remote or hybrid working.

The 2022 Index also revealed that, because most UK organisations aren’t taking a productivity hit due to remote work, they are giving employees more autonomy about whether they should commute in or work from home. Less than half (44 per cent) of business leaders in the UK say their company is planning to require employees to work in-person, full-time within the next year.

Understanding people’s new ‘worth-it equation’

Understanding the drivers and operational nuances of this new way of working can be very valuable for small business leaders, who often have to spend more time motivating and coaching the teams they work with so closely. For example, people’s ‘worth-it’ equation has changed, in terms of what people want from work – and what they’re willing to offer in return.

This is simply because people’s priorities, identities, and worldview has been irrevocably altered by the experience of the last couple of years – health, family, time, and purpose have become more important and the power dynamic has shifted towards staff.  

The ‘worth-it’ equation applies to what people are willing to come into the office for. If someone is going to commute in for say, 60 minutes each way – given it means leaving home earlier and getting back later, possibly having to arrange childcare – there needs to be a purpose for doing so.

‘This meeting could have been an email’ really hits different in 2022.    

Which is why people now want to be able to decide for themselves, based on what they must do each day, whether they will go to the office or work remotely, and take a flexible approach to getting the job done.

What this all means for genuinely seamless collaboration

When people are empowered to make these daily decisions – which they very much want to be – it sharpens the definition of what sort of flexibility small businesses really need. It’s not just about giving people the choice to work from home or somewhere else, it’s about accepting that, on any given day, some will be in the office, and some won’t, and they will still need to be able to work together effectively at all times. This realisation has become increasingly clear as we’ve been closely studying how work is changing, through our research, the daily conversations we have with our customers, and indeed the data and usage patterns we see across the Microsoft 365 platform and suite of apps.

As a result, what we’re hearing is that teleconferencing point solutions, together with different instant messaging apps, are not cutting it – they lack features, they don’t connect well with Office or your emails, and they’re too time consuming to manage and use. Plus, the costs of using multiple solutions soon adds up.

Modern SMBs who want to thrive through the seamless, fluid collaboration this new era of work requires, need digital-first, integrated tools that serve a clear purpose – helping people connect anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

That’s why we have recently launched Teams Essentials – to enable that environment of seamless collaboration small businesses need. It’s the first standalone version of teams and designed with small businesses in mind, costing just £3 per user, per month – making it the most affordable all-in-one solution on the market today.

Yet it’s still so well integrated and feature-rich, that’s it’s useful and connected enough to transform the way your SMB communicates, with clients, partners, prospects – and each other.

For example, with powerful, instant meetings you can meet, chat and share video simply from any device which helps more people to be feel seen, heard and included in the conversation – 83 per cent of Microsoft Teams users agree that Teams helped their organisation improve customer experiences.

Bristol Dental Specialists have been using Teams for everything from virtual consultations to collaboration with colleagues and have found it to be a tool that helps them deliver faster, friendlier and more cost-effective patient care.

“Communication is so important, and with Teams, we’re working together better than ever to provide patients with a standard of care that sets us apart.”

Rebecca Metcalfe, Senior Treatment Coordinator, Bristol Dental Specialists

By being able to connect your team – with shared documents and files always available – you can create, share, and exchange ideas whenever you want, and keep things moving forward together – information workers using Microsoft Teams save an average of four hours per week through improved collaboration and information sharing.

Plus, having all the meetings, chat, calls and collaboration functionality all in one place, helps your staff work in a more focused and efficient manner – with Teams reducing app switching, and saving users an average of 15-25 minutes every day.

How to encourage seamless collaboration within your SMB

You can see how having the right tools makes a big difference when trying to help people in different places, at different times, work together smoothly – but technology alone is not enough, it’s also about culture – and that comes directly from you as someone who is running an SMB.

As the saying goes, “Culture is just the behaviour of leadership”. So how can you create and establish an environment that empowers people to work independently, but still engage with others and collaborate effectively?

Much of it comes down to being very clear about what the expectations and permissions of the business are – and articulating that your organisation is one that consciously seeks to give people the space and flexibility to do their best work. Telling people that they have the freedom to set their own schedule – where viable and reasonable of course – as long as they get the job done, usually increases employee trust and engagement.

Allowing people to block out short periods of time where they can turn off notifications and ignore distractions is another way to encourage clearer thinking and more focused work. Similarly, making clear when you do or don’t expect people to give or receive instant responses gives people a framework to operate by, letting people reply when they can. Staff can also minimise interruptions by using @ mentions in docs, channels, chat and email in order to call someone’s attention specifically.

Ultimately, encouraging staff to allow a little room for each other’s different rhythms and habits will go a long way, as will people clearly communicating their own preferred hours and ways of working.   

When it comes to giving people a purpose for coming in, you might want to take a tip from the Swedish, who have a tradition called FIKA which just means ‘a coffee and cake break’. But beyond this, it’s more of a state of mind – to make time in your day to reconnect with people and share something together. These more meaningful touchpoints help people relax, refocus and make everyone feel more like part of a team.

With these kinds of behaviours, you can make your flexible working culture feel less remote, less alienating and more empowering, because it allows for both virtual and in-person fun and productivity.

If you’d like to know more about how technology can help you improve communications, collaboration, and security in a modern small business environment – please visit https://aka.ms/HybridSMB for more help and guidance.

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