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The workplace is rapidly changing, and as the owner of a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), you must adapt.

The Great Resignation, technological advances, the war for talent, and remote and flexible working have all accelerated due to the pandemic.

Smart small business owners are quickly adapting by developing and creating new roles for workers as the requirements for some positions become automated. They are also expanding learning and development opportunities, improving communication skills, and promoting well-being and job and career security.

This article will show you how to do the same for your small business.

Here’s what we cover:

Developing new business roles

The Great Resignation continues to threaten SME business models. Employee turnover increased by 16% across all industries, according to Remchannel, Old Mutual’s reward-management platform. Just under 69% of those polled said it was difficult to find new employees or keep the ones they already had.

Employees will be more likely to stay if you can evolve and create new roles. More flexibility in hours, conditions, location, and remote or hybrid working options are also powerful persuasion tools.

How these changes affect roles varies by company and individual, so the key is to experiment to see what works best for your company.

The battle for top talent forces you to be creative, and experimentation has evolved into best practice. For example, some businesses, including SMEs, are getting rid of their offices entirely. Others are taking it further by establishing all-remote workforces across multiple time zones, which necessitates so-called asynchronous communication (async). Async focuses on collaborative tools and transparent documentation. These enable people in different time zones to collaborate without being ‘always on.’

Moving towards that model necessitates much experimentation, including determining who should work synchronously and asynchronously and how to combine the two.

More traditional ‘sync’ roles, in general, are for those who require real-time and in-person communication. Examples are executives, new hires, and client-facing and culture-building roles.

Async is best suited for those who can work mostly remotely and without real-time communication, such as coders and project managers.

However, the shift to all-remote workforces and async communication will be among the most significant changes for employers and employees in the coming years. Many more roles will almost certainly be created or adapted to work in this manner.

A related trend is that remote, hybrid, and async working are all hastening the march towards automation, which will alter the requirements for many jobs over the next decade. Technological advancements will force SMEs to evolve and create new roles even faster. That’s because technological advances are generating new jobs, including well-paying positions for highly educated workers who can develop skills that complement technology. These include roles in creativity, analysis, and communication.

Those with post-secondary education or qualifications will fare better, which poses a challenge for SMEs because they tend to have larger and more widespread graduate shortages than larger employers.

As a result, the push for automation should improve efficiency and how people experience work. Good organisations make their jobs interesting and encourage employees to use their skills to solve problems and innovate, even in small ways. They also ensure they are not doing the same thing every day and can see their work evolving.

It also helps if people can see their performance results and how they benefit customers and society. Employees in a call centre, for example, may be limited to 30 seconds per call. Or they may triage calls but never learn whether or not the problem was resolved. Neither is satisfactory to the employee.

Upskilling and career advancement

Indeed, all SME workers will require additional education and training in skills that complement technology and other workplace changes.

Some existing educational structures are outdated and unsuitable for the skills required by workers in this rapidly changing environment. As a result, some SMEs are investing more in lifelong learning for their employees.

However, many businesses do not have the financial means to invest in extensive training. If this is the case at your company, you may want to prioritise less expensive learning opportunities like job shadowing, coaching and mentoring, stretch assignments, and job enlargement and enrichment.

Addressing job and career security concerns

This is a significant challenge for SMEs because lifelong learning has become critical to job and career security. Many people now want career security rather than job security, which is why talent becomes loyal to their education rather than the company.

They believe that the more they learn, the more secure their careers become and the less vulnerable they are in their current firm.

This means they might stay if you develop them. And they will most likely leave if they believe they can grow elsewhere. This represents a significant shift in how people think.

The key is to find ways to incorporate learning into the job. It introduces new projects, leaders, teams, assignments, and roles, allowing you to learn while contributing.

Providing employees with flexible, remote, and hybrid working options

Employees also require various support structures to cope with more flexible working practices (employers can manage these structures using cloud HR software).

Flexible working poses several challenges, including encouraging employees to work harder and allowing work to intrude on family life. Some argue that, if not carefully managed, flexible working can exacerbate gender disparities. SMEs that want to offer more flexible working hours need support tools and policies to avoid or mitigate such effects.

Giving leaders and managers more time to focus on supporting teams and individuals is one way to address these challenges. If managers can act as coaches to your team and give them more decision-making autonomy, engagement in the more flexible world of work should improve.

Businesses should measure employees’ worth and output as objectively as possible and encourage good work-life balance and boundary setting, such as non-availability over email after hours.

In a hybrid model, in-office days should not look like working from home days, with lots of videoconference meetings. Instead, encourage and protect watercooler chats to ensure that people interact and bond. Use the time to brainstorm, make decisions, and save more time for individual or online work at home.

Improving communication for remote work

The shift to remote and hybrid working necessitates specific changes in how employees communicate. SMEs must prioritise fluid and consistent communication between remote working teams and people.

Too often, people become siloed as businesses adhere to the cadence of meetings they had when working in person. For example, with remote work, they must reduce the time spent on check-ins while increasing their frequency to foster connectivity.

SMEs should also set specific goals for each day or week. This allows employees to feel a sense of accomplishment each day before disconnecting. Companies should also implement technology platforms that enable remote working via workflow, communication, and other business functions.

Isolation has become increasingly difficult since the pandemic. Many businesses overlook the value of informal interactions and are still looking for ways to replicate them. Because face-to-face interactions occur naturally in an office, intentionality has become important. In a remote team, you must actively encourage informal communication that fosters bonding and camaraderie.

You could, for example, encourage recruits to participate in online coffee chats and other social interactions to get to know people outside of their team. Another suggestion is to ensure that everyone is involved in decision-making and that everything is documented transparently to promote inclusion.

People should always have the opportunity to travel and meet in person on occasion.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Companies might suggest calling each other more frequently; however, half of the company may object. So try different things and give people room to experiment if they don’t work.

Promoting employee well-being

According to the Harvard Business Review, employees would stay with their company if they showed more concern for their mental health.

One disadvantage of homeworking is that employees save time commuting but give some of that back to employers by working longer hours and feeling “always-on”. These factors increase the likelihood of burnout and stress, which can be more difficult to detect in a remote team.

GitLab recommends that corporate leaders address this by promoting a non-judgmental culture and training and encouraging teams to prevent and report burnout. Managers should also not celebrate or accept working long hours as the norm.

The UEA’s Good Jobs Project 2021 addresses this and other issues of well-being. It states that every company must begin with a foundation of employee respect, including fair pay, hours, and working conditions.

The project suggests four additional ways to boost employee morale:

  • Care about workers’ lives. This includes offering predictable shifts, learning opportunities, and flexibility around childcare.
  • Include them in conversations. And listen to their concerns.
  • Have workers’ backs. This includes avoiding blame, training to deal with difficult situations, and support when things go wrong.
  • Let them connect. Give them discretion and time to take pride and meaning from supportive interactions with customers and colleagues, and allow for unscripted interactions.

According to the project, these points are not in conflict and should result in a “win-win-win” situation for workers, customers, and employers.

It is unnecessary to be a large corporation with expensive benefits such as gym memberships or mindfulness training to care for employee well-being. A lot of help can be informal, quick, and cost-effective. There is evidence that simple things like installing the Headspace app or allowing employees to go for a lunchtime walk improve well-being.

Reviewing contracts

Reviewing employment contracts to reflect changes such as flexible, remote, or hybrid working can be difficult.

For example, where employees can do their jobs from home, most employers do not change the place of work in their contract but instead, implement a hybrid working policy. This avoids the need for changing employment contracts and gives the employer flexibility if the working model needs to be adjusted.

However, employers must review contracts to avoid unanticipated consequences, such as an expenses clause that applies regardless of where an employee lives. Employers must also ensure that other clauses, such as those relating to health and safety and data protection, are appropriate.

Job candidates increasingly want specific working arrangements written into their employment contracts, and in this competitive market, employers may be required to make legally binding commitments regarding working conditions.

Final thoughts: Meeting the challenge of redefining work

The changing workplace environment does not always benefit employers’ relationships with their employees. In some instances, it might weaken the relationship.

This explains the Great Resignation and is a concern for SMEs struggling to fill vacancies and retain valuable employees.  Redefining work and evolving roles to benefit employees and the business can be difficult and costly.

However, if you can strike that balance by implementing some of the strategies discussed here, you will have a much better chance of strengthening relationships with employees, closing the talent gap, and building a more robust and sustainable workforce.

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