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SMEs need to acknowledge remote working lessons to prosper post-Covid

Research from integrated cloud communications platform provider finds that over two-fifths of SME employees believe that, with effective communication tools, productivity would be the most improved business challenge in the “new normal”

Just as the world’s first Covid-19 vaccination takes place, and companies, in particular small businesses, envisage that they may be finally at the beginning of the end of the business turbulence and see growth in a post-pandemic future, research from 8x8 is warning small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to heed the lessons of the pandemic and ensure there’s no return to bad habits.

Indeed, the integrated cloud communications platform provider’s survey showed that as the country looks to rebuild its economy following the pandemic, SMEs that improved their output and productivity would bring benefits not only to staff and customers, but also to the wider economy and local communities.

The survey was conducted by Censuswide, and took the opinion of 1,005 SME employees from businesses with between 2-250 employees across the UK at the end of October. High among the key items to deal with among such firms were concerns around customer service, worries about their mental health and that of their colleagues, and a lack of productivity.

Employees were fundamentally concerned for the businesses they work for, with many considering how their employers can do better to succeed long-term. Over half (54%) of SME employees said more frequent communication with customers is key to the survival of their company.

Yet, just fewer than two-fifths of those professionals surveyed said their company now prioritises customer service more than previously, and 8x8 noted that given how reliant customers were on businesses to be flexible and understanding during this difficult time, this is something all organisations must address.

What’s even more concerning is that over a third of employees (36%) now believe it’s more difficult to communicate with customers since the pandemic began – with almost a fifth (19%) of SME employees feeling their customer service has not evolved or improved due to Covid-19 and working from home.

The tech supplier cited data from McKinsey, saying that a third of Europeans regard a brand’s purpose as now more important to them than it was before the crisis. Failing to prioritise customer needs during the pandemic means they may not return after. What was making this even more of a concern is the way in which attitudes have changed since the beginning of the pandemic, as 8x8 said its research had shown customers were forgiving at the beginning of lockdown earlier this year but now expect companies of all sizes to have adjusted to the “new normal”.

Read more about the “new normal” of business

Communication now need to be “seamless”, both with customers and between colleagues, as remote working continues. Getting this right, said 8x8, is the first step SMEs can take to ensuring they are repaying their customers’ continued loyalty and trust, and in doing so, support their own survival – and even growth.

More positively, productivity among SMEs was found to be on the rise, even due to the business disruption from Covid-19, driving how colleagues communicate with one another has had to evolve virtually overnight, along with other standard working practices. However, the survey revealed that having effective communication tools would improve productivity.

More than 45% of respondents reported that they were more productive while working from home, and a similar percentage (43%) have reported that, since the pandemic started, they have been working longer hours. Fewer than half (47%) of the sample felt that the communication tools their company have in place were helping them do their own job more efficiently, with 44% of SME employees believing that, with effective communication tools, productivity would be the most improved business challenge.

While working remotely, the top three most pressing employee concerns were their personal mental health and that of their colleagues (45%), safety in the physical workplace (37%), and being able to work effectively under lockdown restrictions (35%). Despite almost three-quarters (72%) of SME employees agreeing that being able to communicate frequently is essential to the success of their team, almost a third (30%) did not feel more connected to their business and colleagues since lockdown.  

The tech supplier said that the survey had shown that the switch to working from home has had a profound impact on all office workers, but for those working for SMEs, the transition has been particularly tough.

The experience of working remotely has revealed the power of conversation, whether that be in ensuring the latest safety information gets to the right people, or in keeping customer relationships strong at a time when so many business owners are fighting to keep operations running.

In a call to action, 8x8 said that as the workforce once again shifted, SMEs need to look for partners to help them navigate the “new normal”, whatever that looks like. Enabling great conversations – both with colleagues and customers – is the key for success. This, it said, would be built on three elements: simplicity, scalability and reliability.

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