Small and medium-sized businesses regularly have employees working remotely or are mobile, but with the development of smartphones and social media, some smaller businesses may be missing out on technology which can improve their employees' working experience and customer engagement. Here, Katerina Cerny, Product Marketing Manager for SMB at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, discusses how new social collaboration and mobile tools can help businesses realise the full potential of their employees.
According to recent research by communications giant Mitel, the vast majority of us – 81% – want to get out of normal nine-to-five work patterns in favour of flexible working, a key to ensuring a better work-life balance. And it seems that this is no more so than in the raft of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Recently The London Chamber of Commerce found that SMBs were the most regular users of remote working. Thirty three percent of the companies with less than 20 employees surveyed had over 90% of their employees working remotely at least once a month. Not a single company with 20 or more employees could say the same.
This trend amongst SMBs makes a great deal of sense, as they are among the best equipped to make use of remote-working. Smaller teams generally have less need to call large-scale meetings, along with the requirement for synchronised diaries. SMBs also have the most to gain. After all, maintaining office space can be extremely expensive and can be an inefficient use of financial resources – why spend huge amounts on a workspace for such a limited number of employees?
And if today's SMBs are able to leverage mobile and social media tools, they can offer employees and customers a really effective working environment.
It's time for a game-changer, and social collaboration is it
We are now seeing developments that have been designed specifically for SMBs, to give employees new capabilities that meet expectations for using their own personal mobile devices and social networking sites to work with the company infrastructure to make their jobs more productive.
Six pointers for SMBs to look for to support their workforce and customers:
- Social – Employees can get social with internal and external contacts via channels from Skype and Facebook, Yahoo and MSN plus full normal telephony capabilities with an Outlook plug in. Employees can instantly find out which communications channels co-workers are currently logged into with the Outlook.
- Mobile – Provide universal directory access, while supporting a smartphone mobile environment, so that when outside the office, employees are connected no matter where and at anytime.
- Video and Visual Collaboration – Don't just stick to one communication channel. Different types of social collaboration have different strengths – video conferencing is ideal for focused meetings, whereas instant messaging services like Skype suit conversations which need to leave room for multi-tasking.
- Unified Communications – Provide browser-based unified communication services so employees can access, monitor and manage their calls, change settings or issue a call from their favourite browser.
- Use SIP deskphones – These help to significantly reduce costs and complexity.
- Smart Call Routing – This can give SMBs the ability to best serve the customer or partner by directing incoming calls to the best destination within the business based on multiple criteria.
Enabling collaborative working rather than remote working
All this means that remote-working needn't make colleagues remote – a constant connection can be maintained between employee and employer, between office and the home office.
Having a wealth of different communication channels open to a small- or medium-sized business – instant messaging and video conferencing as well as phones and email – gives those businesses new options to continue working in their own way wherever they are, while providing a productive and interactive social environment for employees to collaborate or serve customers.
We have developed a new social collaboration suite, My IC Social Networks, as a result of our extensive policy of working through a partner network, which has allowed us to understand the needs of the SMB market in great detail. In 2012 Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise was recognised by Frost & Sullivan with its Global Market Share Leadership Award in the SMB enterprise communications platforms market. And the recognition was not just for the company's solutions portfolio but because of its successful and growing partner eco-system, which was cited as one of the factors contributing to the company's leadership position.
Real business advantages
With this technology, SMBs will be able to quickly establish a framework for how to use social collaboration tools. Just like in an office code-of-conduct, communication through social media needs clear rules to ensure everyone understands how best to use social collaboration. You don't now have to pencil in every single work conversation you have during the day – and not every work conversation requires a scheduled meeting. If you need to talk to a colleague who is working remotely, simply check on your social collaboration suite if they are currently online – no need to email to check if they are available.
Social collaboration gives businesses a golden opportunity to slim down the size and costs of running the central office, but that doesn't mean the concept of an office is completely redundant. Face-to-face contact is still important and having a work-space away from home can still play a vital part in maintaining effective working relationships.