Small businesses’ remote working frustrations threaten exodus of best talent

While large firms mull massive investment to return to offices, over a quarter of European small business workers would switch jobs to somewhere better equipped for remote working

As small business owners continue to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, workers now expect their employers to offer a modern blended approach to how and where they work, according to a study from Ricoh Europe, which showed European small businesses are 42% more likely than enterprises to lose staff because of technology frustrations around remote working.

The study, of 1,300 European office workers, showed that while just over two-thirds said they had the skills to work remotely, just over a quarter (27%) of small business employees were considering switching jobs.

The study also revealed that nearly three in 10 workers at small companies found it difficult to stay motivated and engaged while working remotely because of communication and technology issues. Also, 22% felt less productive because of communication and technology restraints, while almost half (48%) have had to rely on their own technology to work remotely during the pandemic because their company did not provide equipment.

Looking at what this could mean for companies, Ricoh warned that it was not just talent retention that this tech shortfall risked. Worryingly, at a time when driving growth is critical, 24% of the survey respondents said they didn’t have the tools needed to deliver the best results for customers or to collaborate remotely with their team.

One consistent difference between large and small firms in the post-Covid world has been an acknowledgement of how the latter have been able to see increased home working as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The Ricoh survey showed that despite the technical issues surrounding remote working, small business workers will not be returning to the office en masse anytime soon.

Asked about their company’s future remote working policies, 41% thought their employer would allow them to work remotely for the rest of 2020, while 34% believed it could be indefinitely.

Small business employees were also found to expect more from their employers. Two-thirds (66%) envisaged retaining the flexibility gained during lockdown and 55% trusted their company to invest in technology that would meet the workplace requirements of the future. This included making the office safer, with 40% saying they would not be comfortable returning unless there were additional safety measures, such as temperature scanners and touchless equipment.

“While digital transformation may have been on their long-term roadmap, there is now no time to waste for small businesses,” said Ricoh Europe CEO David Mills. “Without the technology that makes it easy and safe to work effectively from anywhere, business owners are facing a brain drain of their top talent.

“Organisations are driven by the ability and quality of their people – losing them to the competition often means losing customers, too. Old ways of working can no longer be the norm. It’s not good enough for businesses to ‘get by’ with substandard equipment and processes. The next steps for small businesses will dictate how they overcome disruption and pave the way for future success.”

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