Staying on top of to-dos, tracking business finances, and adjusting or completing scheduled projects is difficult in the best of times, but in the current moment hitting productivity goals might seem daunting.
In a pre-pandemic study conducted by Oasis, 34% of 319 small businesses owners surveyed said that they would consider seeking assistance from an outside resource to improve productivity and efficiency.
So it might come as a surprise that, in a tumultuous year that has hit small businesses particularly hard, productivity across many global business sectors has remained steady or has slightly improved.
“Some 75% of employees said that during the first few months of the pandemic they have been able to maintain or improve productivity on their individual tasks (such as analyzing data, writing presentations, and executing administrative tasks),” notes the Boston Consulting Group, who carried out a survey of more than 12,000 remote and in-office workers in the U.S., India, and Germany. While the number is lower for employees working on collaborative tasks, 51% indicated that they were able to maintain or improve productivity on such tasks.
The Productivity Paradox
While the numbers might seem counterintuitive, productivity in this period of crisis has been aided in a few key ways. With commutes eliminated and in-office distractions reduced, many remote workers are more focused, even as home life threatens to encroach on day-to-day efficiency. Fear of burnout persists, yet most companies continue to report steady productivity figures as temporary remote work initiatives move into semi-permanence. But there is more to this paradox than simply getting on with it.
Technology and Business Intelligence
A combination of technology and business acumen has been the driving force behind steady productivity for SMBs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business intelligence, which blends analytics, data, and best business practices to make data-driven decisions have been underpinned by enterprise technologies that keep teams in constant collaboration, no matter their location. These tools have also proven powerful in developing and sustaining customer engagement, and by extension, a company’s bottomline.
In addition to maintaining company culture across all work models (work-from-home, in-office, and hybrids), unified communication and collaboration (UCC) tools — which bring together video, voice, and messaging into one ecosystem — have been employed to streamline team interactions and collaboration. Popular UCC platforms like Zoom, Cisco’s Webex, and RingCentral have seen an explosion in use, with revenue growth of 25.1% year over year and 12.4% quarter over quarter to $11.5 billion in the second quarter of 2020. Those numbers are expected to grow beyond the pandemic as remote work becomes as common as office work.
"In the second quarter, organizations worldwide turned to video and collaboration solutions in particular to meet work-from-home employee requirements during an extraordinary time of crisis," says Rich Costello, International Data Corporation’s Senior Research Analyst, Unified Communications and Collaboration. "In the second half of 2020, and beyond, as some organizations begin to move from crisis phase to recovery phase, IDC expects that worldwide UC&C growth will be driven by customers across all business size segments (small, midsize and large) with interest especially in cloud-based solutions for voice, video and collaboration, mobile applications, and digital transformation projects."
Client Growth with CRM
Coupled with UCC tools, SaaS productivity platforms like Salesforce and Zoho have long been instrumental in providing potent customer relationship management (CRM). By identifying sales opportunities and automating common customer-facing interactions, CRM platforms have kept business clients front and center during the current crisis.
In Salesforce’s recent “Small and Medium Business Trends Report,” the CRM provider noted businesses are doubling down on customer communication with 55% of respondents acknowledging that they are more careful about how they communicate with customers. At the same time, businesses are investing in technology that zeros in on productivity, including customer interactions, workflows, and internal communications.
SMBs are also turning to emerging technologies to creatively boost productivity and enhance the customer experience. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, in particular, have had a significant impact in the past year as SMBs employ them to automate operational processes, including financial management, risk assessment, and strategic and logistical planning. With these tasks automated and data analytics in place, business managers can evaluate the state of their business and more intently focus on profitable strategies.
Evolving technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are providing immersive customer experiences, especially in retail, but SMBs are also finding them valuable in the workspace. With AR’s ability to add layers of digital information to physical space and VR’s world-building capabilities via headsets, such as Apple’s ARKit and Microsoft’s Hololens, both technologies open up opportunities for businesses to conduct new hire onboarding, remote conferences, host training sessions, and allow employees to virtually customize work stations. Creating these active, stimulating environments can lead to deeper focus; less distractions means quicker retention of information and better job performance.
The Future of Workplace Productivity
As 2020 draws to a close, everything from our vocabulary (“new normal”) to how we work has been touched by the pandemic. Throughout it all, businesses, both large and small, have shown resilience and a surprising ability to not only adapt, but also innovate and evolve. That most research has shown workplace productivity to be steady and, in some instances improving, has as much to do with a workforce that is willing to roll with the punches as it does with the business leaders who have seized on hardware and software solutions to make new models of work sustainable.
Also read: How COVID-19 is Changing SMB Tech Trends