Why Digital Work and AI are Game Changers for Small Business
Asynchronous work and virtual collaboration
Flexible work schedules
and the bridging of physical and digital workspaces
Multiple devices, communication channels
and methods of information sharing
and the need to safeguard digital information from cyber threats and theft
According to EY’s Future Workplace Index, approximately 60% of companies are operating in a hybrid model, with about 20% adopting fully-remote work and the other 20% in-office full-time.
The big shift to remote and hybrid work pushed all of us to re-evaluate our definition of how work gets done. The shift to fully remote, then hybrid workplace models over the last 3 years is being cited as one of the most significant changes in work culture since the Industrial Revolution.
It means having a flexible, hybrid work model.
This requires getting the most out of technology to free employees from tedious, repetitive tasks, so they can instead focus on high-impact work that adds more value to the business.
Workflow automation allows for seamless communication, document sharing, and improved visibility of your business. Recent advancements in AI tools present exciting new ways for getting even more out of digital work.
By empowering your employees through smart investments in digital tools and automating the tasks and workflows for everyday work, you can speed up operations, reduce labor costs and boost increase profits and competitiveness.
The rewards for getting it right are huge:
- Boost efficiency, productivity, and employee engagement.
- Grow and attract top talent without geographic limitations.
- Lower overhead costs.
- Ability to innovate better with more time and tools to do it.
- Take advantage of the latest tech such as AI, cloud and edge computing.
Getting the most out of digital work, requires knowing what you want out of it, choosing the right technology to get it done, and preparing your employees for the big changes to come.
How Digital Work Is Impacting Small Businesses
Digital work isn’t just for big corporations with huge teams and budgets. Even the smallest and newest businesses across all industries are discovering how digital work can drive huge positive impacts.
According to a recent “The Future of Digital Work” study by Adobe, most (85%) small businesses understand the need to adopt new tech, close their competitive and digital literacy gaps and boost productivity. However, over half of them (55%) still rely on mainly paper-based methods to get work done.
This lack of automation adds up over time. Over half of SMBs (58%) estimating that they lose between two and four hours of productivity each day, or 780 hours in a year.
An increasingly remote or hybrid workforce comes with the need to ensure smooth workflows for communication, collaboration, and productivity. At the same time, the productivity gains from digital work can make a huge impact on your top and bottom lines.
For example, think about all the money savings from eliminating printing and travel related expenses. Combined with the potential for boosts in customer satisfaction and employee engagement, the financial returns of digital work far outweigh the costs.
55% of SMBs still rely on mainly paper-based methods to get work done, losing between two and four hours of productivity each day.
Trends Driving Small Businesses to Play Digital Catchup
By addressing skills and technology gaps, small business owners are finding new ways to create a more conducive work environment that supports growth and success. SMBs are driven to implement their own versions of digital transformation by the trends reshaping work and the pressure to remain competitive for customers and talent.
- Changing workforce demographics: Today’s workforce is a melting pot of generations, each with unique work styles and preferences. A digital workspace helps cater to these needs, fostering a culture of inclusivity and collaboration.
- Flexible work: Employees today –especially younger generations — expect flexible work models where remote location and hybrid flex schedules provide convenience with the same level of engaging, meaningful work. Employers who don’t offer flexibility risk losing employees and new candidates to job opportunities that offer more flexibility or career changes.
- Increased focus on employee experience: In a tight job market with fierce competition for talent, businesses must prioritize providing an exceptional employee experience. A vital part of that is an engaging, seamless digital workspace that helps employees work collaboratively, even without being in-person.
- Higher customer expectations: customers today expect easier, more tailored experiences from the brands they do business with. Delivering the personalized experiences through digital channels that customers expect is the new norm for most industries.
Employee Engagement is the New Customer Experience
Following the pandemic, the ‘quit rate’ reached a 20 year high, as workers left their job to pursue better work and update their skill sets. Most people are now accustomed to and expect digitally distributed work via remote and hybrid arrangements. Employees are re-setting boundaries and seeking better work-life balance and reasonable workloads, causing them to search for employers who support their new priorities.
Progressive businesses realize that having happy employees leads to happy customers, especially in high-contact service businesses. These firms are quickly adjusting to offer flexible work models that eliminate physical boundaries and enhance workplace productivity. Along the way, they are taking advantage of the benefits that come from the new diversity of ideas, skills and experiences a more distributed workforce provides, and empowering them with the right technology to further their full potential.
- Rethinking productivity using efficient tools and technologies.
- Creating workplace systems and cultures that encourage asynchronous work and self-initiative.
- Focusing on changes that drive the right impact or outcome.
- Training and upskilling employees thoughtfully for digital work.
- Redesigning workspaces (digital and physical) to foster distributed communication and collaboration.
The Power of Automation for Small Businesses
As a growing business owner, you’re probably looking for ways to spend less time on boring tasks and more time on what you enjoy and will grow the business. For most, these things include:
- Replying to client questions and scheduling meetings
- Assigning work to your team
- Sending invoices
- Backing up data and updating computers
These time-consuming tasks steal attention away from where it should be – running a smooth and customer-centric operation and discovering new ways to grow your business.
With a little creativity and ingenuity, most routine tasks can be either full automated or made much easier with easy-to-use software tools. Doing so will save you a ton of time and frustration, so you can get back to what is most important in any service business: serving your customers.
Read our Guide to Automation for Small Businesses for a run-down of suggested tools and ways to automate your business for digital work.
The Value of Asynchronous Work
In today’s evolving work landscape, asynchronous work is becoming a valuable complement to traditional synchronous work. Asynchronous work simply means that your employees are enabled with policies and tools to work in teams and independently, regardless of their location, and on their own time with fewer meetings.
When done well, an asynchronous work environment helps to instill the values of independence, trust, responsibility, and flexibility. In addition to boosting productivity and focus in ‘deep work’, it creates a sense of self-confidence in employees and reduces the distracting drama of office politics.
Asynchronous work employs virtual meetings, digital communication, knowledge sharing and project management tools that give employees freedom to complete tasks and communicate more efficiently. That said, it’s more than just using a new set of tools.
Working asynchronously requires a commitment by leadership and updated policies to support flexible, independent work and team communication. Back-to-back, wasteful meetings are eliminated. Deadlines are loosened.
Benefits of Asynchronous Work for Small Business
This flexibility is particularly advantageous for small businesses with limited resources and diverse teams, allowing for increased productivity, work-life balance and other benefits.
- Enhanced productivity: teams work at their most productive times, leveraging their peak creativity and focus. By eliminating the constraints of real-time collaboration, individuals can work uninterrupted and allocate their time more effectively, resulting in higher-quality output.
- Seamless collaboration: tap into talent and resources anywhere and collaborate across time zones, without the need for real-time interaction.
- Increased efficiency: streamline communication and keep projects moving forward without waiting for real-time responses. Employees can access and respond to messages at their convenience, reducing delays and bottlenecks in workflows.
- Documentation and knowledge sharing: asynchronous digital work naturally encourages documentation and knowledge sharing. When discussions and decisions are captured in writing, they become accessible to everyone on the team, fostering transparency and eliminating misunderstandings. This not only boosts collaboration but also creates a valuable knowledge repository that can be referenced in the future.
- Scalability and growth: as your team expands or evolves, the flexibility of this approach allows you to easily onboard new members, integrate remote workers, and adapt to changing business needs.
- Improved work-life balance: more empowerment and flexibility reduces burnout, fosters employee satisfaction, and ultimately leads to higher retention rates within your small business.
AI Is a Game Changer for Small Business
47% of small businesses say AI could be a valuable asset or game changer for their business.
AI is a force multiplier that you can use to make huge gains in productivity and ‘punch’ above your weight competitively. The scope and breadth of how AI can benefit your small business is constantly expanding into new territories.
Here are some of the most popular ways small businesses are using AI.
Improve Decision Making
AI can analyze vast amounts of data quickly and extract valuable insights. By utilizing AI-powered analytics tools, you can gain a deeper understanding of your customers, market trends, and business performance. For example, AI algorithms can help you predict customer preferences, identify profitable opportunities, and make data-driven decisions for marketing campaigns, inventory management, or product development.
Automate Manual Tasks
AI can handle repetitive and time-consuming tasks, freeing up your team’s valuable time. Chatbots powered by AI can assist with customer inquiries and support, providing instant responses and personalized assistance around the clock. Additionally, AI can automate data entry, report generation, and routine administrative processes, reducing human error and increasing efficiency. For example, Microsoft 365 Copilot is a new feature embedded in Microsoft 365 apps you use every day — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams – to automate routine tasks, streamline workflows and ease data analysis.
Enhance Marketing, Sales and Customer Experience
AI can help you deliver personalized and seamless sales and delivery experiences. By leveraging AI, you can analyze customer behavior, preferences, and purchase history to offer personalized recommendations and targeted marketing campaigns. AI-powered chatbots can provide instant support, answer common queries, and guide customers through their buying journey. This level of personalization and responsiveness can significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
AI algorithms can analyze patterns and anomalies in digital activities with minimal human intervention, providing earlier detection of breaches and un-intentional employee activities that pose business risk if left un-checked. By continuously monitoring transactions and flagging suspicious behavior, AI-powered systems provide a cost-effective solution to continually protect your business and your customers from financial losses and security breaches.
If your business relies on machinery or equipment, AI can help optimize maintenance processes. By analyzing real-time sensor data, AI algorithms can predict equipment failures or maintenance needs before they occur. This proactive approach can prevent costly downtime, extend the lifespan of your assets, and ensure smooth operations.
AI Powered Digital Work Tools
It’s important to note that AI implementation can vary depending on your specific needs and budget. Start by identifying areas where AI can bring the most value to your business and explore available AI solutions or consult with experts in the field.
Here are some of the most common use cases and suggested tools that you might find helpful.
- Automated Data Entry. To automate data entry, reducing manual input time and cost. For instance, Klippa offers automated document management, processing, classification and data extraction solutions.
- Automated Meeting Scheduling and Note Taking. Tired of spending all the extra time on writing and sending meeting notes? Try AI powered tools such as Fireflies or Jamie. These simple to use tools help you schedule and organize meetings, take notes during your meetings, track decisions and action items, and more.
- Predictive Analytics. To gain better understanding of data for future use. Predictive analytics is an advanced form of data analytics that attempts to answer the question, “What might happen next?” Google Analytics 4 is a free tool that helps you target audiences and predict how customers might use your websites and apps. H2O AI Cloud helps you create AI models and applications with low code for a wide range of uses from financial modeling to inventory optimization to cyber threat detection and many more.
- Automated Customer Service. Deploy automated support systems and chat bots to serve customers 24/7, reducing the need for human customer support.
- CRM and Sales Process Automation. Use AI-powered tools to automate tedious tasks such as lead scoring, pipeline management, so salespeople can spend more time selling. CRM tools designed for small business that now offer AI features include HubSpot, Monday CRM and Pipedrive.
- Copywriting and Graphic Design. Generative AI tools such as Open AI’s ChatGPT and Dall-E make copywriting and graphic design tasks much simpler and faster.
- Voice to Text. AI tools such as Temi make voice transcription to text documents super easy and fast.
- Talent Acquisition. Use AI-powered recruiting systems such as Paradox and Fetcher ease the tasks of candidate sourcing and evaluation, reducing time spent on the hiring process, while potentially improving talent match.
- Inventory and Expense Management. AI models can be used to forecast demand and track inventory levels, ensuring just-in-time delivery and costs for businesses. AI-powered expense management tools such as Netstock can track spending and identify any anomalies, leading to better strategic decisions for your business.
Making Digital Work for Your Company
Implementing organizational change, especially when it comes to adopting new remote or hybrid work technology, can be a complex and challenging process. It pays to put some thought into what you want to get out of your transition to digital work before investing in new tools. It also helps to understand why so many digital work projects fail.
Why Most Tech Projects Fail
According to Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner in their book, “How Big Things Get Done,” less than 1% of projects are successful (achieving their objectives on time and on budget). Of all the project types studied, tech projects have some of the worst rates of failure, even though they are some of the most common.
Why? Because they aren’t properly planned and are doomed from the start. They start with answers, not questions (such as ‘why are we doing this?’). Most companies skip over much of the thoughtful planning process, jump to solutions and try to take on too much at once.
Less than 1% of projects are successful.
Why? Because they aren’t properly planned.
Don’t boil the ocean. Instead, ‘find your lego’ as the book suggests, which are small chunks of work and learning that you can standardize and build on. For example, start with your biggest problems to solve (for instance, cash flow or talent acquisition). Explore ways to use digital work and tech to solve them. Keep an open mind and listen to your team and customers for the best ideas. Then, implement in this fashion across more and more problems you want to solve.
Adoption is More Important Than You Might Realize
Another reason tech projects fail is resistance to change. Changing or adding new tech means changing the way people work, which can be a very uncomfortable process for a lot of people. People are naturally resistant to change and don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. This certainly applies to deploying new remote / hybrid work technology into your organization.
To help avoid change resistance and add in adoption, incorporate the following practices into your project:
- Accept Resistance: Accept resistance as natural, addressing concerns through open dialogue, reassurance, and empathy to foster a positive change attitude.
- Clear Communication: Articulate the rationale and benefits of the change, fostering trust and buy-in through transparency.
- Employee Involvement: Engage all employees in planning and decision-making to identify challenges, solutions and commit to change. Tech-savvy employees can provide peer support, best practice sharing, and foster a positive learning environment.
- Training and Support: Equip your team with the necessary skills to adapt to new processes, offering consistent training and support.
By adopting these organizational change principles and addressing pitfalls, you can effectively transition to digital workspaces and enhance productivity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction.
Start With Your Goals
Think about which business goals, digital work can most support, in the near and long-term. Do you want to hire another person within a month? Do you want to increase sales by 50% over the next 2 years? What do you want for your business 5 years from now? And finally, how do you plan to get there?
Next, translates these goals into a shortlist of use cases for digital work. To make it easy, try this template:
In order to [ goal ], we need a [ solution / feature ] for our [ users / dept ]
Map Your Workflows
Will your current workflows support the use cases you’ve defined? What inefficiencies exist in your business? What’s blocking your people from being as productive as they could be? These can be answered by mapping out all the sequences of tasks involved, who completes them, how often and what issues they have.
Map out your workflows by talking with the people who use them to get the work done. Look for tasks that are manual and repetitive, to see what can be eliminated or automated with software.
What can be automated, should be automated. This includes tasks such as:
- Sales: notifying sales when a prospect in your sales funnel reaches a certain lead score or level of engagement.
- Lead nurturing: sending an email based on a behavior trigger; initiating upsell and cross-sell motions.
- Onboarding sequences: guiding and educating a new client.
- Transactional communications: sending form fill alerts, event confirmations, event reminders, event follow-ups.
- Product change communications: sharing news on product end-of-life (EOL) or invitations to beta testing
Once you’ve audited your processes, add that to your list of goals. Prioritize your use cases by their impact on the success of your business. When you’re done, it’s time to start your search.
Plan Your Budget
Now let’s consider your budget and available resources, including time, money, people and skills. How much can you afford to invest, and how much time will it take to deploy it? Luckily, tech has become more affordable; as products become easier to use, training costs less, adoption is quicker, and opportunity cost is minimized. These facts can be reassuring if your staff’s comfort level with technology leans low.
Choose and Deploy the Right Digital Work Technology
Now that you know why and how you want to improve your work through digital, it’s time to shift your attention to finding and implementing the right solutions.
The good news is that there are a LOT of tools available in the marketplace to ease your transition to digital work. Completing the steps above before implementation will save you a lot of money, effort and frustration.
Here are some of the most common categories of digital work use cases.
- Project Management: Platforms like Trello or Asana, or Monday.com provide a visual interface to manage and track tasks, deadlines, and project progress. They allow team members to assign tasks, set priorities, and monitor the status of projects, ensuring everyone stays organized and aligned.
- Communication: Asynchronous communication is vital for remote and distributed teams. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, or Twist offer channels for team-wide or topic-specific discussions, direct messaging, and file sharing. These platforms enable team members to communicate efficiently without relying on real-time interactions.
- Email and Calendaring: Email remains a fundamental tool for asynchronous communication. Platforms like Gmail and Outlook help manage email conversations, attachments, and scheduling. Integrating a shared calendar system, such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook Calendar, enables team members to schedule meetings and share availability conveniently.
- Document Collaboration: Tools such as Google Workspace and Microsoft Teams allow team members to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real-time or asynchronously. Multiple users can work simultaneously, leave comments, and track changes, fostering efficient collaboration regardless of time zones.
- File Sharing and Storage: Cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive enable secure file sharing and storage. These platforms facilitate seamless access to files, regardless of device or location, and support version control, ensuring everyone has the latest document versions.
- Video Conferencing: While asynchronous work emphasizes flexibility, there are instances when real-time communication is necessary. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet provide video conferencing capabilities for team meetings, discussions, and virtual collaborations, bridging the gap between asynchronous and synchronous work.
- Knowledge Management: To build a repository of shared knowledge and information, consider using tools like Notion, Confluence, or Evernote. These platforms allow you to create and organize documentation, wikis, and knowledge bases, making it easier for team members to access and contribute to important resources.
Remember, the choice of tools depends on your specific business needs, team dynamics, and budget. Consider evaluating different options, testing them with a smaller group, and gathering feedback before implementing them across your entire organization.
While there are many digital work solutions available, you’ll probably find that you need a combination of tools. Try to choose the best mix of tools with minimal overlap of features and that can seamlessly integrate into your business.
At this point, it makes sense for many SMB owners to consider outside help from a trusted expert that has managed digital work transformations. If you don’t have an in-house IT department, or experience implementing digital work technology, hiring an expert may save you a lot of time and money in the long-run. Working with a technology partner can help to navigate the complicated maze of solution implementation options and cyber security concerns.
What To Look for When Hiring a Small Business Digital Work Partner
A digital work partner provides services to assist in the strategy, design, implementation and ongoing management of your digital work environment, including workflow automation, migrating your business to the cloud, and preparing for cybersecurity.
You should look for the following as you compare partners:
- Relevant competencies with small business track record. Look for certified competency in automation and cloud technologies by highly skilled professionals that have successfully completed several related projects. Seek references for this work.
- Specialized expertise to match your specific needs such as weaving in business and IT strategy, data governance, security and compliance, app and process modernization.
- Industry specific experience. Ideally, your partner would have industry experience that matches your business model and any special set of challenges.
- Cybersecurity capabilities. You’ll want to choose a partner who can incorporate information security into your solution from the beginning and help you deploy a strong security posture including regular vulnerability monitoring and a ready-to-execute incident response action plan.
Bevelroom Consulting Can Help
We can be your resource to design your digital work strategy and choose the right technology solutions and partners. We follow a people-centric approach that balances business, customer and employee needs with practical steps to get the most out of digital tools.
We’ll help you to:
- Translate your digital work aspirations into a coherent strategy and action plan that supports business goals.
- Define your KPIs and measurement system to monitor performance.
- Map your workflows and develop an automation plan.
- Identify and prioritize the best opportunities given limited resources.
- Focus on outcomes vs. just activities.
We usually start by asking a few questions to understand your customers and your business. After an exploration of your goals and what data you have available to fulfill them, we will design a tailored strategy and implementation plan to maximize the potential of your digital work project.
Let’s get started!
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