Small business workers fear missing out on hybrid opportunity

Research finds three in five small business workers expect to be predominantly office-based after Covid-19 restrictions ease, due to high levels of admin and paper-based processes

The demand for companies of all sizes to adopt hybrid working is increasing compelling, but workers at small businesses across Europe fear they will be forced to return to the office because they are unable to focus on customer experience or growing the business while working remotely, says research from Ricoh Europe.

In its study, the digital workspace productivity technology supplier took the opinions of more than 1,400 office workers at European small businesses and found that they saw a number of barriers and bottlenecks to working in the dynamic manner brought about by ever-evolving customer demands.

Cumbersome and traditional ways of working were preventing small businesses from achieving a stronger bottom line, with staff having less or limited time to upsell or propose new business models. While these opportunities are missed, Ricoh found that employee creativity, motivation and job satisfaction were being “shackled” by the necessary undertaking of laborious and mundane tasks.

Almost three-fifths (58%) said they expected to be predominantly office-based after Covid-19 restrictions ease and almost half (45%) said they would be more productive, with a reduced administrative burden.

Employee workload was seen as a central driver in the perceived requirement to return to the office, which is exacerbated by a lack of tools to support high-value tasks while remote working, and an underinvestment in automated processes. Two-fifths (40%) of employees struggled to access insights and information from company systems that they needed to deliver better customer service while working remotely, thus limiting the fast, convenient and personal service for which small businesses are traditionally recognised.

Ricoh suggested this could play into the hands of larger competitors, whose staff typically have ready access to data needed to optimise the customer experience.

Half of the survey respondents (51%) regarded automated processes as the answer to their issues. As well as improving the working experience, this would support efforts to retain top talent, such as salespeople, who were often the face of the company. In fact, a quarter (25%) said they were considering a job move to somewhere better equipped for remote working. At the same time, Ricoh noted that the automation of key processes would support efforts to drive customer loyalty and establish small businesses as more digitally savvy entities.

“Small businesses may not have the budget, or indeed the need, to completely overhaul their tech,” said Ricoh Europe CEO David Mills. “But even modest investments, such as giving teams the ability to access files remotely, can have significant and immediate impacts. Through no fault of their own, many small businesses lack the deep knowledge required to automate processes in an efficient way to achieve crucial cost savings. Finding dependable support for this could form that pivotal moment in laying the foundations for solid continued growth into the digital age.”

Ricoh Europe’s study follows similar research released in February 2021 looking at the new working environment that firms face. That revealed that sub-standard technology experiences during the pandemic have worn down company culture in mid-size businesses, risking workforce productivity and morale in the long term.

Just under one-third of employees found it difficult to feel motivated and engaged while working remotely because of communication and technological problems, while two-thirds said they missed working with colleagues face-to-face.

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