Technology serves business, not the other way around. Technology and the services around it aren’t (or shouldn’t be) commodities. For too long, we’ve been commoditizing our capabilities and selling widgets. Help desk service, servers, this and that as a service, what have you.
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t drive home the criticality of technology to a modern business. Technology is central to virtually every business’s operation. It stores our data, organizes our workflows, and boosts speed of innovation, when properly applied. When we commoditize technology, we turn what should be a very intimate and consultative process into a big box store. The most scalable companies on the planet accomplish scalability with the proper application of technology to their workflows, and with iterative innovation.
In 2019, the shortfalls of the commoditized approach became front and center. At a time when virtually the entire office workforce had to go remote, technology wasn’t ready. We witnessed this obvious split between companies that had innovated and companies that were leveraging legacy. Workflows were broken, applications became impossible to access, security incidents skyrocketed, and many were forced into hasty digital transformations with no opportunity to strategize. This led to really bad experiences for a lot of employees.
Now is the time to strategize!
One thing is clear, there’s no going back. COVID is never going to go away, period. Humans have only ever eradicated one disease, and I don’t think it will ever happen again. We’ll learn to live with it. But that’s not why we can’t go back. We can’t go back because we’ve been forced to test the concept of hybrid work and flexibility. We’ve suddenly realized that working from home is a massively beneficial option for a huge portion of the population. We didn’t see what every CEO “predicted” when trying to keep people in the office: productivity will tank, and our business will fail. On the contrary, productivity went up for many. Teams and companies achieved more than they used to.
Perhaps more critical, the expectation of the employee base changed. Sure, there’s plenty of people that prefer to be in the office. But vast numbers of extremely talented and in-demand professionals don’t want to commute five days a week. There’s just simply not a need. Hybrid/flexible work models create a work life balance that just didn’t exist (when it’s properly managed). Personally, I found myself able to have more family time, and more time for my own hobbies and ventures. Companies that force people back to the office five days a week will lose talented members of their workforce to companies that flex and innovate.
The Advantage has Shifted
To cope with and thrive in this environment, businesses must digitally transform, particularly in the SMB arena.
In analyzing my thoughts for this post, I came to the most beautiful realization. For the first time in, well probably ever, the SMB market has an advantage here. SMB can pivot if they have the will to. And they can do it faster than enterprise. In the entire history of digital transformation, enterprise has been years ahead. That’s not due to a lack of ability, it’s due to a lack of will, education, and enablement to change in the SMB space. Now, that change is forced.
Like any company, SMBs need good talent to drive their mission. To hire good talent, you must be able to attract them. Enterprise has commonly won in this space by providing generous benefits, huge 401(k) matches, RSO’s, setting market salaries and the like.
However, for the first time, SMB’s can win in workplace experience.
How SMBs can Win
I’m not going to address pay, benefits, and culture here, though everyone needs to take a hard look at those. I’m going to focus on the employee experience when it comes to getting the job done. Obviously, this is also predicated on the ability to do the work remotely. If I were a smaller employer today, my entire model would be built on hybrid work. I would enable my people to work when, where, and how they need to.
To power that, you need to take advantage of the modern workplace. Companies will need to digitally transform if they expect to be competitive in today’s talent market. That comes with adoption of modern, cloud-native technologies that empower teamwork, and make working easier regardless of location. It means empowering hybrid experiences that are equally inclusive whether you’re at the home office or at the traditional office. It means bringing in technologies like Microsoft Teams, digital meeting rooms, SharePoint, and modern management tools like Endpoint Manager.
Your employees are not ‘privileged’ to be working for you, you’re privileged to have them.
To sum it up, I would empower and trust them to execute their mission however they feel is best. The medieval mindset of “it’s a privilege to work at my company” doesn’t fly anymore. Employees have options of who they’re going to work for, so why wouldn’t they pick the employer that provides the best experience overall for their needs? You’re privileged to have them working for your company. You owe it to them to empower work experiences that enable them to do their best work.