By Howie Jones
What's one of the biggest goals of most small businesses? Efficiency. Emerging technology is helping to make companies more productive.
When operations are fast, effective, and accurate, the company can do more with less. Though the dream of full-on productivity might not be entirely feasible, many professional teams are making headway.
Three Decades of Unparalleled Tech Evolutions
During the 1990s, technology moved into uncharted territory with the advent of personal computers and the Internet. It didn't take long for the advancements to make companies more productive. Suddenly, every desk had a computer. Individual printers were everywhere. And dial-up connections kept workers tethered with the burgeoning World Wide Web.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the landscape has changed dramatically. People carry their computers with them in the form of laptops, tablets, and smartphones. As long as they have Wi-Fi access, they can stay tethered to their colleagues. And business landlines? Research from Europe suggests they may go the way of the dinosaur by 2028.
Indeed, the so-called Third Industrial Revolution spurred by the Internet's rise continues to open doors for businesses. This includes doors related to previously unavailable routes to small business productivity. Below are just some of the ways that technology is prompting more efficient work processes.
1. The cloud is becoming a virtual repository.
Remember the old days of backing up everyone's computers at five o'clock or setting aside a small, climate-controlled room as a "server farm?" The cloud has removed the need for physical storage for many companies.
During the height of the 2020 pandemic, the cloud got an extra bump in activity as more workers moved to virtual quarters. In their State of the Cloud Report, Flexera's researchers found that 86% of small to mid-sized business owners increased their reliance on cloud computing. Consequently, the cloud has become a mainstream way to store and share temporary and long-term information.
How does this improve organizations' productivity? First, having all or most data accessible 24/7 from any device allows for speedier decision-making.
2. Customer insights are instantly available.
Seasoned marketers may remember the frustrations of trying to tap into customers' mindsets offline. It took time and energy to collect surveys, contact target personas and set up focus groups. Fortunately, gathering insights about audience buckets has improved dramatically.
An article on modern content marketing authored by CRM provider Anthem Small Business Software points out some of the tech-driven advantages that have led to improved consumer-brand relationships. Foremost among these is the ability to immediately engage with users through multiple digital formats, including social media. For example, having immediate access to customers via platforms like Facebook and Twitter can inform and improve marketing messages. Direct access to data can, in turn, lead to an uptick in sales conversions.
Bottom line? When businesses have fewer barriers between them and their target bases, they can make smarter product and customer experience choices.
3. Employees can stop performing repetitive duties.
Manual tasks like transferring data from one platform to another don't just waste time. They also fall prey to the problem of human error. Unfortunately, the majority of companies don't seem to be doing much to slow down the wastefulness even though they could.
According to a UiPath study, 67% of workers lament spending too many hours each week repeating the same tasks. Yet, as a group, they estimate that they could carve out nearly five more hours each workweek if their employers leveraged automated software programs.
Though it's frustrating to see such high numbers, hope is on the horizon to make companies more productive. As more organizations test out automation systems and digitally transform their operations, they may become more comfortable with "outsourcing" workers' manual tasks. The result will be more opportunities for those workers to focus energy on higher-level responsibilities.
4. Employers can source and hire employees globally.
It used to be complicated to find and onboard employees from other cities and time zones, let alone countries. However, technology has eliminated many of the friction points related to operating with a global workforce.
Plenty of recruiting sites are visible to international job seekers. Accordingly, businesses of all sizes can tap into high performers worldwide. This isn't just great from a team perspective. It also helps to make companies more productive by meeting ambitious DEI expectations.
To be sure, it can take a bit of planning to make a smooth transition to a workforce that includes overseas employees. However, it's worth testing. As long as workers have access to dedicated WiFi hotspots, they can contribute.
5. Employees can enjoy more flexible work arrangements.
When even Wall Street begrudgingly accepts the possibility of hybrid working, you know it's a big deal—and one that's buoyed by technology. Since the end of the 2010s, remote work has become more widespread across many sectors. The result has been a rise in the desire of employees to exercise more flexibility with their schedules.
Tech solutions like cloud-based systems, private texting apps, and Zoom have made work-from-home possible for many employees. But, at the same time, they haven't destroyed the idea of the physical office. Many workers like being able to choose where they're working from day to day or week to week. Technology makes this easy, as long as calendars remain coordinated.
Though the meaning of flexibility differs from employee to employee and employer to employer, it's a good objective. Around six out of 10, Gen Z and Millennial workers say flexibility matters when choosing where to work. So leaning into tech to enable adaptable work arrangements can benefit companies looking to snag talented people ready to put forth their best efforts.
6. Brands have a broader microphone.
From blogs to podcasts and social media pages to video series, brands have more ways than ever to extend their reach. For example, with a few keystrokes, a company can tweet content that can be seen by millions of people. That's power.
Certainly, many businesses aren't using all the tech-driven megaphones they have at their disposal. That's fine. It's better to have a fantastic Instagram presence than a lackluster one on TikTok.
That said, organizations shouldn't hold back from experimenting with new-to-them platforms occasionally. That way, they can see which ones give them the most traction and ramp up leads, conversions, and repeat buyers.
7. Employees can take ownership of handling their benefits.
What's a time-zapper for smaller organizations? One huge time-zapper is handling employee benefits like retirement accounts. Unfortunately, many businesses aren't well-equipped to answer questions about 401ks or even health savings accounts.
The upshot is that many benefit and incentivization partners now offer employers the ability to give great perks to their employees without having to invest time in managing those perks. How does this work? Once user accounts are set up, employees are given special login access. Once into the system, they can move their money, download tax documents, ask questions through online portals, and just take charge of the bulk of the experience.
This type of self-service mirrors what you'll find in the digital shopping realm. Accordingly, it feels intuitive, particularly to younger workers. And that means they'll be more inclined to dive in, which frees companies from having to take on the managerial tasks associated with workplace benefits packages.
The goal of 100% efficiency is a lofty one. Nevertheless, impressive productivity isn't a pipe dream. There are constant technological advancements coming onto the market all the time to make companies more productive. With every technological advancement, businesses can inch ever closer to reducing friction points and streamlining processes.