Small-medium businesses (SMBs) in the UK employ more than 16 million people and make an enormous contribution to the country’s economy, but increasingly, the gap between SMB leaders and their employees is growing.
One of the main reasons for this disconnect is poor, or complete lack of, communication between teams and individuals. A recent report by YouGov and Microsoft called Driving Growth in Small Business has looked at the impact of communication on SMBs. The study included more than 1,000 SMB leaders and more than 1,000 SMB employees, and returned some startling results.
When asked, 34% of SMB employees said poor communication with other teams was the biggest cause of stress at work, closely followed by a lack of company-wide communication and transparency (29% of respondents). With problems around communication taking the number one and two spots as the biggest stress-causer in the SMB workplace, it seems there’s an opportunity for SMBs to re-evaluate how they communicate and make improvements, which in turn will positively impact staff productivity and efficiency, as well as staff morale. Add to the mix that 29% of SMB leaders said they are experiencing an increase in staff leaving, and enabling communication in SMBs becomes even more important.
It seems there’s a sense that many SMB employees and leaders feel there must be a better, more efficient and more effective way of communicating, especially when 61% of UK workers say that excessive emails get in the way of working.
In SMBs where communication tools are available, for many, they often aren’t being used to their full potential. The report found that only 19% of SMB employees use collaboration tools every day, with far more people saying they used email, phone and face to face communication. And when things get very busy, communication between teams often takes a hit.
So, what are the barriers for communication in SMBs? YouGov and Microsoft describe three prevalent kinds amongst SMBs: technological, structural and human.
Structural barriers include staff located in different offices and working remotely, and the hierarchies within organisations that can hinder the sharing of information around a business. The fact that everyone processes information differently is the human barrier to communication in SMBs; an employee might think they’ve communicated something clearly in an email, but the actual message or action might be missed by the recipient.
Perhaps the most significant of the three barriers, though, are technological ones. When we solve the technological barriers, we can address the human and structural. Technological barriers come in a few guises; maybe you don’t have any communication tools or platforms in place for staff to use. Or perhaps you do, but they don’t offer a good user experience and are difficult to use. Or maybe your collaboration tool is easy enough to use, but you haven’t given users adequate training in how to use the platform.
SMBs account for 99.9% of the business population in the UK. They make a vital contribution to the UK economy, so it’s essential that they keep the momentum going, attract and retain talent, and maintain their competitive edge and agility. Enabling employees to communicate easily (and in a way that suits them) is key to this, as is ensuring information flows freely, and creating a culture of transparency.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to improve communication in SMBs is with a communication tool that integrates with other productivity tools and allows users to communicate instantly and securely.
Microsoft Teams is a perfect example. Included as part of Office 365, Teams was designed with the intention that users wouldn’t have to switch apps and could access a single communication platform which only needs to be signed into once.
To really be worth the investment and make them a valuable addition to your organisation, user engagement needs to be high. Communication tools need to be secure and offer a variety of ways for teams and individuals to communicate, to encourage use and engagement with the platform. Group chats, instant messaging, comments, private channels and closed groups that can only be seen by certain members let users communicate in the way that is a). most suitable for the task at hand, and b). in the way that is most intuitive for them. This is more appealing than being shoehorned into communicating in a certain way; when it comes to communication, one size does not fit all – and trying to make it can result in the human barriers mentioned before.
Encouragingly, most SMB employees are open and receptive to using new technology, with 55% saying they felt “optimistic, excited or confident” about new technology being introduced to their organisation.
Communication tools, then are a welcome and essential element of improving culture, working processes and subsequently driving growth in SMBs.
If you would like to see how communication tools could transform your workplace and keep you agile in an ever-evolving business world, come along to Core's first event dedicated to the modern workplace.
Our 'Inspiring a Modern Workplace' conference takes place on Wednesday 11 December and features guest speakers from Core's experts as well as our partners Nintex and Microsoft. We'll leave no stone un-turned at this free event, as we explain the benefits of a modern workplace and the key role of communication tools both within it, and in ensuring the success of your digital transformation.