HR & Management

How to build a business fit for the future

6 min read

02 August 2016

The world of work is changing at the fastest pace since the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere, in every sector, the way in which we do our jobs, and the way in which employees are integrated into businesses, is shifting.

Clearly, this has been necessitated by huge technological and societal change since the birth of modern information technology. While manufacturing has suffered a slow decline, the knowledge economy is now booming. These are fundamentally different forms of work, and the old habits of business are no longer useful.

This has some immediate, practical implications for businesses working in every sector, the most important of which is recruitment and retention. Competition for top talent has never been higher, particularly in areas like London’s Silicon Roundabout. Businesses need to work harder than ever to secure the right people, and this has manifested in headline-grabbing initiatives from egg freezing to unlimited paid holiday.

These sorts of schemes are beyond the reach of many UK SMEs. However, there are still many ways in which the country’s small businesses can improve employee relations in a bid not only to attract and retain the best talent, but also to boost productivity and, importantly, employee wellbeing.

Time spent at work is one of the key battlegrounds here. One of Britain’s leading public health professionals said recently that long working weeks are a key factor in the UK’s employee stress crisis. Professor John Ashton, who made the claim, was calling for a four day week;. Long hours play a big part in employee stress, a problem that is estimated to cost the country 10m working days per year in leave. 

Small business owners need to think carefully about ways to ensure their employees work reasonable hours, as well as ensuring that their family and leisure time is secured. Striking a balance between engagement and downtime is crucial to the success of every workforce and business.

And small initiatives can also have a major impact – or, in the words of British cycling coach Dave Brailsford, we should all be thinking about the “aggregation of marginal gains.”

Trust is another key pillar of any engagement and productivity strategy. Presenteeism is a killer. The question should not be “are employees in the office”, but rather “what is their output”. Your employees need to know that they are trusted to work to the best of their abilities, and for many businesses this requires a major shift in thinking. Home-working days and distributed working are important parts of this, and will only continue to grow. Technology can help to make this more achievable. 

Read more about increasing productivity in your business:

For example, we use tools like Slack and Google Hangouts to make sure that we are all communicating effectively, wherever people are at the time. In fact, Slack in particular has been a major boon in a number of fields – by shifting to this internal instant messaging service we’ve seen a marked reduction in email volume, and this has had an undeniable impact on productivity and notification fatigue.

HR is also crucial, but all too often it is not given the attention it deserves. Your HR capacity needs to be commensurate with both the size of your team and your ambitions. It’s not enough to simply hire a recruiter – yes, they might be able to get you the right people, but what happens next? Your HR team should be focused not only on hiring, but also on building a company culture.

At the same time, though, that culture cannot be dictated from the top down. Instead, in order to build a business in which people want to work, and want to do their best work, you need to listen carefully to people at every level. Dictatorial strategies are ineffective and damaging, especially in this new world of work. By building an atmosphere in which your employees feel able to tell you what they need, and by acting on those needs, you can help to ensure that you are building a business fit for the future.

Jason Stockwood is CEO of Simply Business, the UK’s largest online insurer of small businesses.

Everyone needs to have them, but without a bit of management, meetings can be a major drain on your time and productivity when you’re running a business. So, what can you do to ensure your meetings improve the way you work, rather than hinder it?

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