Our nation is in a busyness crisis. Business leaders across the UK are working at a hundred miles an hour and, if our recent survey is anything to go by, most are on constant over-drive.
We quizzed over 500 owners and senior decision makers in SMEs – our nation’s economic backbone – to find out exactly how they are faring in the digital era and found that time (or lack thereof) is clearly an issue. Nearly two-thirds (65%) either don’t switch off or really struggle to switch off, and 48% attributed lack of time as a key source of their work pressure.
So how can business leaders win valuable time back and, more importantly, switch off so they can achieve an all important work-life balance? There are of course many ways, which we explain in our blog post, but here I want to talk about technology and how it can alleviate some of the pressures.
Implementing a digital strategy is one of the best ways to treat a work-life imbalance. It can improve processes and reduce the amount of time wasted through inefficiencies in the way work is conducted, improving the performance and wellbeing of staff.
Reassuringly, some businesses have already taken the step. According to our survey, 35% of decision makers already use technology to automate everything at work and maximise the effectiveness of their time for every process. Imagine the impact technology would have on busyness if every business leader embraced technology. And imagine if it gave them an extra 60 minutes a day.
We would have a happier, heathier and more productive workforce for sure. It would also free up time for SME leaders to do more valuable things. In fact, when we asked them how they would spend an extra 60 minutes a day, 36% said they would reconnect with friends a family (reinforcing the all-important work-life balance), 34% would spend time on leisure activities such as running while 22% would invest in professional development. Technology, it seems, is a no brainer then.
The question is – which technology can help leaders switch off rather than switch on?
Here are the top five technologies that can drive productivity in the workplace:
1.Cloud – whether public, private or hybrid, the Cloud can help business leaders focus on driving their core business, as well as minimise cost and leverage economies of scale, improve end-user experience, and reduce operational risk. It can give them greater visibility and control of key operations in real-time, and give access to data that can positively reshape the running of every single part of the business. Aspire Furniture uses Cloud software to gain a complete view of its entire business processes from accounts and payroll through to operations, stock, customer communications and the supply chain. As a result, it is able to process 500 orders in just 15 minutes – over 150 times quicker than before.
2.Mobile– mobile technology critically underpins an efficient, agile and collaborative organisation. SMEs should look to place employees at the heart of their mobile strategy, empowering them to use mobile technology to streamline their tasks and minimising the chances of departments working in siloes. The Cloud can help facilitate mobile working, enabling users to work on the move and have all the real-time information they need at their fingertips.
3.Automation – Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools automate repetitive tasks that needn’t require manned input, enabling people to become more productive and focus on more important and strategic tasks at hand. RPA can benefit virtually any business process in any sector. For example, barristers’ chamber Clerksroom uses a junior robot clerk to automate administrative processes, saving its clerks around 200 hours every month.
4.Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Like RPA, AI applications can automate manual and low-skilled tasks from staff, freeing people from mundane tasks to enrich their roles while driving productivity and efficiencies. AI can reshape customer engagement and provide more personalised offers at scale than human-run services can. In fact, by 2020, it’s predicted that 85% of customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a business through AI.
5.Predictive analytics – pre-emptive diagnostics can use data to pre-empt problems and help organisations do more intelligently with less. With a connected modern infrastructure and data-driven dashboards, business leaders can get on the front-foot, ready to make informed decisions, anticipate challenges and maximise new opportunities. Real-time and predictive analytics help free up leaders to win back precious thinking time for future priorities, working on the business – not in it – and avoiding reactive distractions.
While some of these technologies were once seen as the domain of only the very largest of enterprises, that’s no longer the case. All businesses can benefit from any or all of the above to increase efficiencies and positively reshape their business while minimising stress.
However, for any technology implementation to succeed, there must be a willingness for change across the workforce – not just from leaders themselves. Employees have to see the value in using digital tools to drive productivity and not see them as a hindrance to their role. If they see no or little value, the implementation will be a waste of time, potentially prolonging that work-life imbalance.
While the Workforce Institute recently surveyed 3,000 employees across Europe and just over half (53%) noticed a positive impact on their productivity when new technologies were implemented at work, this figure is surprisingly low and could be much higher if the people operating the technology were engaged and motivated in the first place. Educating and training users and helping them see how new tools can make them do their jobs better, and save them time.
This is where leaders can do what they do best – lead by example. After all, our leaders are our role models. They are the key to unlocking a productive workforce. Yet, if they are stressed and under pressure, that very behaviour will filter down – and it won’t do any favours for staff morale or motivation. Leaders should therefore demonstrate the value in technology saving time.
They should also address any fears and concerns associated with technology, even if they come from personal experience. Sharing and addressing concerns is especially important with regards to disruptive technologies such as RPA and AI as they are often given a bad rap in the media which can cause additional feelings of stress and anxiety. Automation doesn’t mean that robots are going to take over our jobs – far from it. Automation and people can, and will, work in harmony.
Finally, it’s important that small businesses focus on a technology solution that will meet their own needs – like eradicating the time on tedious tasks and freeing up time for valuable activities. Technology needs to be planned and, most importantly, bought into across the business. Every employee must see it as their essential ally to their daily work. The bottom line is that if business leaders want to be able to switch off, it’s time to embrace productivity-enabling technologies.
I’ll be talking about this very topic at SME Live, which takes place this month. My session ‘Is the backbone of the UK economy burning out?’ starts at 1.30pm on 17th October. We’ll have a booth too so, if you’re there, please do come and speak to us about how technology can help you.