The digital revolution is here. With it, all the flexibility, information and communications that company leaders of days gone by dreamed of on their daily commute. At the heart of this new digital era is communication. Work used to be where you went, not what you did; now, digital communications have smashed down office walls, giving us the freedom to work in our own style, in our own way.
But not everyone’s a fan. Irrespective of the boom in off-site working, and the technology available, business owners often seem reticent to the trend. Are they just being old fashioned, or do they have a point? This two-part investigation will hold the challenges – and also the great rewards – of off-site working to the light, to help SMBs strike the right balance and thrive in this new digital era.
It might be tempting to view off-site working in terms of upfront savings. Everything from lighting to network use costs money – and if yours are the fingers that hold the purse strings, you might leap at the chance to halve your utility and real-estate outgoings at first.
But the long-term investment in staff wellbeing is of course not to be sniffed at. Onsite, spontaneous brainstorms, camaraderie and teamwork – those seemingly trivial water-cooler discussions – often build relationships, keep people motivated and ultimately drive productivity.
If more people are regularly out of the office than in it, you need to consider how you maintain a decent sense of connection within the team. Happily, in this digital era, it is possible to have your cake and eat it. Unified communications solutions can facilitate team chit-chat, private messaging, voice and video calling and conferencing, and file sharing. In fact, in terms of personal organisation and record-keeping, it can work better than office conversation because threading technology stores and dates each interaction so that perpetual ‘now where were we?’ question becomes a thing of the past.
But it requires a different sort of investment. You, and your team, will have to shift your mindset to accommodate the use of tech in place of face-to-face conversations; and that depends on the culture and priorities within your office. If office coffee and cakes are the de facto fuel of conversation, and ‘kind regards’ is standard issue sign-off, even between neighbouring colleagues, you’ll need to make a call about whether they can embrace a new kind of camaraderie.
If however, your team fizzes with independence and innovation, lives for the next big thing and deals in busy-ness in business, the flexibility UC allows for could complement real-estate savings wonderfully.
What’s more, with the emergence of affordable, flexible UC, your tiring cacophony of comms splattered across Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Slack and Dropbox no longer pose an issue to your offsite communications.
Communication, in its truest essence, comes down to connectedness, be that with your team, with your customers or indeed, with anyone connected to the internet the world over. The face of what communication – and, beneath this, connectedness – looks like is changing.
Many consumers have easily overlaid a new digital element to their lives; and now they’re starting to expect the sorts of interaction that they enjoy in their social lives, from their vendors. How that manifests is dependent on your client-base; it can mean flexible working hours, quick turnaround projects and communications, social media interactions or face-to-face meetings. A more mobile, digi-centric working day enhances your ability to respond flexibly to your customer requirements.
Do your research and find out what your customers value
There lies within this digital revolution the opportunity to widen your customer base and streamline your communications, allowing you to spread your net and offer more services to more customers, with more efficiency. This convenience may be the innovation in communications that clients – or potential clients – of yours may have been seeking.
Equally, however, they might prefer the personal stuff: a trip to the office, a cuppa, a nuzzle with the company cat. Rookie error 101 is to get swept away with the latest trend without considering your customers’ needs. It’s a consumer’s market and you’d be wise to remember you’re always replaceable.
But – and this is crucial – don’t let customer expectations overshadow the wishes of your team. Your company culture is your essence and the very reason customers come to you; and each employee is an essential constituent part of that. Your workforce is your best asset, and their loyalty is imperative if you’re going to succeed in a market that is undeniably fierce, and only set to become more so.
Todd Carothers is executive vice president of sales and marketing at CounterPath.
Further reading on communication with staff
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