British SME owners on remote work, software and the future post-pandemic

With the UK facing a slow return to the workplace, it has been reported that there could be a second wave and another lockdown.

In London in particular, this is a big concern, since if the new rule of six (no more than six people are allowed to gather together in the same space to help reduce the spread of COVID-19) doesn’t work out as expected, the future of office working is pretty much still up in the air. 

British SME owners on remote work and COVID-19

We wanted to hear from SME owners about their experience with COVID-19  and how software has helped them overcome the hurdle of managing a remote workforce.

#1: Adapting your business model to survive

51% of businesses had to implement new software as a response to the pandemic. Remote desktop software, live chat software and video conferencing software are the three most popular software solutions purchased by SMEs. In addition, 76% have had to change their offering to adapt to the crisis.

We asked them how this impacted their core business model and to describe any major changes they have experienced. 

Richard Westhead,CEO, One Digital Signage

“We placed three elements at the core of our response to COVID-19: the enduring viability and success of our business, the wellbeing and support of our people, and providing the solutions needed by our customers and the general public. These factors were vital in steering a business strategy that has seen the company design, develop, and manufacture a range of new COVID solutions.”

Gordon McHarg, Managing Director, AutoRek:

There has clearly been a significant impact on the market and going forward new business development will no doubt be challenging. Difficult market environments change business priorities and create opportunities for innovation, and it is important to be ready to adapt to meet client needs.”

Liam Chennells, Chief Executive Officer of Detected:

“Detected origins came about while working on another business I have. The more we helped both buyer and seller, the more we saw issues with suppliers. There wasn’t a way to verify a seller’s authenticity and we encountered plenty of unscrupulous parties. We realised business verification was something every company and marketplace needs. Detected was then born.”

Charles Henri Becquet, CEO, My Social Book

“We saw a large increase in sales during global lockdown. People were online more and took to social media to stay connected with friends and family. Customers were also after creative activities to spend time on. After all, there’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”

#2: Remote work and taking care of employees

Retaining employees (45%) and maintaining employee productivity (49%) are two of the main concerns for managers during the crisis. 

One of the key successes of collaboration tools is that they replace office interactions by allowing users to work together via virtual interaction. However, it’s important to make sure that communication between teams is efficient and well planned to avoid messaging saturation.

We asked British owners how they have handled the transition of their staff to remote working and how have their employees responded to the change.

Richard Westhead,CEO, One Digital Signage

We have supported our team to work remotely, and for all of our people we have emphasised the importance that they feel comfortable in their working environment. There has certainly been no downturn in performance and we will continue to support remote working as a choice for them if they want or require it.”

Gordon McHarg, Managing Director, AutoRek

“For many employees, working from home on an almost permanent basis has been challenging and while the company operational objectives can be met, we also recognise that it can be difficult for individuals. The workplace is not only important to people from a career/employment perspective but is often part of their social lives where they support and are supported by their friends and colleagues.”

Charles Henri Becquet, CEO, My Social Book

“For us, habits, routines and structure are crucial. We keep in touch and share information as much as possible – it’s crucial everyone knows the team’s priorities. Each of us works in a different way—some of us are good at holding ourselves to account, others need more guidance. Leaders should take this into consideration and keep adapting.”

Liam Chennells, Chief Executive Officer of Detected:  

“The most important thing is having everybody know everyone else’s role and ensuring we are all heading in the same direction. Remote working stumbles when people don’t know what others are responsible for.”

#3: Using new tools remotely (and how to get everybody on board using them)

A new software tool shouldn’t add an additional layer of responsibilities, it should remove them. 

When choosing collaboration software, there should be a good understanding of the workflows, how teams work on projects, and how a tool can help improve either of those. 

Richard Westhead , CEO, One Digital Signage

“We have invested time in ensuring our people are comfortable using Microsoft Teams. Within our business development operations Teams has also been crucial to building strong relationships with new partners.”

Charles Henri Becquet, CEO, My Social Book

“[Before COVID-19] we were already communicating via Slack, Google, Zoom and other collaboration technology before the pandemic. We are investing in our SEO and using some online tools to guide that process, however that wasn’t prompted by COVID-19.”  

Liam Chennells, Chief Executive Officer of Detected: 

“Google Hangouts is free and that’s the main tool we work in since we operate in a very lean business model”

Gordon McHarg, Managing Director, AutoRek

“A lot of our employees were already set up for the odd working from home day before COVID-19.  However, we did have to do additional VPN testing to measure how well it worked with everyone working from home. So in this case, we were quite fortunate in that it wasn’t a  huge transition.”

#4: Business continuity and the future post-COVID-19

The lack of business continuity plans meant for many SMEs had to invest in software looking at ensuring employee productivity.

The COVID-19 crisis has shaken up businesses and pushed some of them into making emergency software decisions meant to help in the short term. However, as restrictions ease and workers start to go back to the office, companies need to think about a more longer-term strategy.

We asked owners how they see the future post-crisis and how it will affect continuity plans.

Richard Westhead, CEO, One Digital Signage:

It’s important to emphasise the impact COVID-19 will continue to have on the economy and everyday life and then devise plans accordingly. In many instances, it [COVID-19] has simply accelerated changes in consumer behaviour that were underway already.”

 

Liam Chennells, Chief Executive Officer of Detected: 

“Businesses have been forced into more astute decision-making and are far more selective about who they work with, so you have to put your best foot forward. COVID-19 has created a culture of clarity and transparency.”

Gordon McHarg, Managing Director, AutoRek: 

“Significant market disruption is [obviously] a major challenge for most business owners. However, it is the case that market disruption creates a business opportunity. This is already the case for some organisations who have moved to digital channels for distribution and who are experiencing growth above the levels they would have expected prior to the pandemic. 

Understanding the changing needs and priorities both in the short and long term of your customer market is critical to identifying these opportunities and planning for your business in the future.”

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