As the weeks simultaneously crawl and speed by, the one-year anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown is fast approaching. Over the last eleven months, businesses have seen and experienced an unprecedented amount of change and uncertainty.
Remote working, partial office openings, social distancing, home schooling and Covid test center visits have all become the norm. There are swathes of new processes and additions to the normal working schedule that have led to many businesses feeling like it’s impossible to keep up.
And data seems to back up that point, with countless home working surveys showing that communication and stress has massively increased for the general workforce as prolonged, disparate working habits set in. So, how do we solve the productivity puzzle?
Once the shape of 2020 grew clear, businesses understandably had to focus on preserving cash. For many this meant the stripping back of business processes to focus purely on revenue generators. As businesses began to see a loss of revenue as the economy slowed, many jettisoned services they were paying for in a bid to keep cash flow healthy.
While in the short term, money was certainly saved, other problems arose. As businesses continue to adapt and recover, those that decided to forgo technology subscriptions, marketing budgets and customer portals realized that those areas actually contributed far more as a net positive, helping their staff to focus on the main tasks of the business and generate money. Suddenly, with manual tasks reappearing as part of the cost-saving exercise and non-specialists trying to sort out admin and business processes, SMEs that slashed budgets realized the error of their ways and found themselves working harder, not smarter.
Lack of the right digital tools doesn't just affect baseline revenue and business efficiency, but an arguably even more important resource – a businesses’ staff. For smaller organizations, talented and engaged staff are the differentiator between surviving the current climate and falling by the wayside.
It is well documented that more hours than ever are being worked by employees remotely as the lines become blurred between home life and working practices. Many companies are removing additional supports in order to save money, where they would actually benefit by adding them.
This means that there is not just the risk of stress and general burnout, but the specific issue of ‘technostress’ being debated in the media, whereby the constant influx of communications coupled with the balancing of administrative tasks and the main thrust of the day job are leading people to feel overwhelmed. There is a pressing need for businesses to alter the way in which they are approaching the new normal of work if they are to protect and improve their staff.
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Fundamentally, return on investment is where businesses need to be focused – and not just in the immediate future. With careful planning and investment in the right areas, money spent to enable and improve business processes can recoup their costs and start delivering savings in a far shorter space of time than often anticipated.
Technostress is hitting SME workers particularly hard at the moment, and automation can help. Rather than businesses cutting costs to save expenditure, instead an investment into digital tools can give employees the headspace and time to focus on doing what they need to.
The first part of this process is scoping out what areas of a business can be succinctly improved through digital tools. For this, businesses – especially on the smaller end of the spectrum – should look at time-consuming administrative tasks. The likes of appointment booking, resource tracking, customer communications are just a few key areas that can be easily automated to free up staff.
Look to the sky
The next stage is to work out what is going to be the easiest way to introduce and maintain these systems. For this, cloud-based technology seems tailor-made for a remote working environment, allowing systems to be run on multiple machines in different geographies, rather than being tied to central hardware in an office environment.
Because cloud-based software is usually run through a program or web browser, the costs are also reduced, so no major investment is needed at the beginning. That leads nicely into the second benefit of using the cloud – scalability. By not having a physical product, many cloud automation software providers allow businesses to add or subtract the number of licenses needed for their business. So, if a tool wasn’t being used by a section of the business after purchase, or a new joiner needed to be added to the systems, the flexibility of the cloud means that changes can be done with minimal fuss.
Space to think and data to consider
Automating processes gives businesses a fundamental advantage in their operations: room to focus on revenue streams and the main aspects of their business. This, in turn, means that employees will feel more engaged and able to think strategically, knowing that after a short introduction to a program and its features, they can leave the more mundane administrative tasks to cloud systems.
But another core advantage of these systems is in the data that they collect. Take bookings systems as one example; if appointments are being automated through software, then the most immediate advantage is the ease of use for the customer, with automated time slots being put into the diaries of technicians or salespeople when they are free to help.
But on a more macro level, these systems could also show that a large number of bookings are being made towards the end of the working day, indicating a preference from customers. By looking through this data, businesses could prioritize enabling resource availability for afternoons, thus giving customers a better chance of getting the booking time that they want, whilst allowing staff time earlier on in the day to focus on other processes. Digital tools breed insight.
We don’t know what is going to happen in the near future of business; we may see further restrictions, a clamoring from employees for continued flexibility, or a continued virtual relationship with customers that have grown used to doing business online. But one thing we can be sure of is that businesses that have modernized and automated their processes won’t want to return to their previous ways of working.
The cloud will continue to have a major impact on forward-thinking SMEs, giving them insight, security, and fundamentally, time to focus on what is important. For businesses that are yet to make the leap, there is a clear path from technostress to ‘technopeace’— and it starts with smart investment in the right digital tools.
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Boyan Tanchev, CPO and co-founder, TIMIFY