4 ways SME leaders can overcome the challenge of a distributed workforce

By Alison Bawn – People Director, Virgin Media Business

It looks like remote working is here to stay.

48% of employees expect to work from home after the pandemic and almost three quarters of SME workers have been surprised by their soaring productivity levels since Covid-19 struck, according to a recent report by Hoxby.

The rapid transformation in working patterns is even prompting some countries like Germany to establish homeworking rights in law.

But what does all this mean for people? How can small businesses ensure that employees stay happy, motivated, energised and safe over the long term?

While remote working has brought benefits, it’s also created challenges that cannot be ignored.

As an SME you need to overcome these challenges to build positive working cultures and ensure you can rebound in a changed landscape.

1. Give them the right tools to stay connected

With many of us working from home for at least the next six months, SMEs will need to keep teams working together collaboratively and effectively over the long term.

While we’ve seen an initial outburst of productivity, research suggests that remote working fatigue is setting in.

55% of employees want to return to the office to resume everyday routines and see colleagues in person, according to a recent survey by Hibob.

Tackling this fatigue is partly about showing compassion and ensuring workers don’t feel overburdened.

47% of managers surveyed by Robert Walters fear their employees are at risk of burnout due to longer hours when working from home.

So, what can you do as an SME to meet your employees’ expectations?

Having good one-to-one conversations with team members is a good place to start. Take the time to listen to concerns and remove barriers to effective working where possible before people become fatigued or overwhelmed.

Keeping employees motivated and engaged at home is also about giving them the tools to do their jobs as quickly and painlessly as they can. And one of the best ways of doing this is by upgrading your connectivity.

Technologies like leased lines empower employees with guaranteed speeds for quicker file sharing, so they can collaborate better and get things done faster.

With upload and download speeds of up to 300Mbps, you can keep your teams from being frustrated by slow connections.

2. Empower your staff to focus on tomorrow

Every business has had to react to the challenges posed by Covid.

Deloitte recently found businesses need to switch their thinking from ‘today’ to ‘tomorrow’. They need to constantly question how the landscape might change in future and prepare in the right way.

But being ready for rapid change isn’t just about having the right mentality.

For your teams to focus on tomorrow and thrive in a fast-changing world, they need to be able to collaborate, think creatively and solve problems as a team.

With a remote workforce, ensuring your SME is fully agile and able to respond to unforeseen developments quickly could be more difficult.

The answer here is again about connectivity.

By supplying superfast Wi-Fi connections and building flexible and scalable distributed networks, you can keep your employees in communication – whether on desktop or mobile.

These networks can also support new and agile ways of working, facilitating virtual customer meetings, remote consultations or face-to-face sessions in larger spaces.

By empowering your people to work in this way, your business will be ready for tomorrow.

3. Give your people and customers peace of mind

Looking after employees during this uncertain period is also about giving them peace of mind.

Interpol has reported an alarming rise in cyber-attacks since Covid-19, while research by Robert Walters found UK SMEs are at risk of 65,000 cybersecurity risks every day.

These attacks have the potential to cripple your business operations and reputation, creating anxiety and fear among your employees.

44% of consumers would stop using a company’s online services if they discovered they had fallen victim to a data breach, according to the same report.

You can bolster resilience by investing in the right networks – ones that come with robust protection and firewalls, giving your employees the reassurance they need so they can focus on helping you grow and rebound from this crisis.

4. Look after your people so they can look after your customers

Customers are at the heart of every business, large or small.

When employees feel engaged, motivated and together, there is a knock-on effect on the customer relationship, which has been redefined by Covid-19.

The pandemic has added £5.3 billion to the UK’s eCommerce sector, according to research by Edge Retail.

This shows how online channels have soared in importance. Customers now expect instant and seamless communication with brands.

But how do small businesses deliver this when everyone is working from home and relying less on face-to-face interaction with consumers?

McKinsey has recommended businesses invest in their digital channels, create agile capabilities to meet the fluidity of customer behaviour and build consumer journeys centred around care and concern.

To do this, you need networks that provide your business with greater flexibility and agility to meet customer demand after Covid-19.

Superfast connectivity is crucial to delivering seamless experiences without the risk of lags and interruptions, ensuring employees can take pride in delivering exceptional customer journeys.

Survive, thrive, and rebound

In my intro I talked about remote working being here to stay, but the truth is none of us truly know what the future holds.

But one thing is certain: change is happening and will continue.

To not only survive but thrive in the face of those changes, you need to look beyond traditional broadband packages and towards solutions that provide speed, scalability, flexibility and agility.  

By making smart connectivity investments, you can ensure you’re empowering employees with the tools they need to flourish when working from home.

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