How SMBs can fast-forward digitalization to support increased productivity

Small Business office
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For small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), digitalization - and the sometimes complicated processes that come along with it - isn't top of mind. Many entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs of these businesses are so focused on the urgent needs of their customers and employees, that it can be challenging to tackle bigger projects with a longer time horizon to payback. Unfortunately, this can become a trap that can hamper growth and overall business productivity.

When tapped into correctly - with an optimal tech stack and app integration approach - the benefits of business digitalization are significant. Not only can it save time and money, but it can also eliminate or streamline low-value, mundane tasks to allow focus on what truly matters to customers and employees.

The good news is that 7 in 10 US small business owners are confident embracing new technologies in their businesses.

Here are four ways that apps and an integrated ecosystem approach can help accelerate small businesses digitization efforts and help them manage their employees and business.

Chris O'Neill

Chris O'Neill is Chief Growth Officer at Xero.

1. Manage employee payroll and tax compliance

As a business grows - from a headcount, customer and/or globalization perspective (e.g., whether it’s operating in multiple markets) - so do the complexities of tax reporting and obligations therein. Using a payroll and/or employee management app takes a significant amount of the manual labor required as a result of a larger employee base, including inputting timesheet data, salary data, and the like. Compliance rarely makes one’s heart skip a beat, but a strategic app integration could make it a non-factor.

2. Fast-track employee onboarding and human resources

Onboarding may be the simplest portion of an employee experience to digitalize and streamline; after all, for the most part, all new starters need very similar information - items for payroll, healthcare benefits, an org chart, briefings on their new role, and beyond. Compiling all of these items into one place allows for easy referral from the employee perspective, as well as easy approval from an employer compliance perspective. Digital records for all of the above are readily accessible at any point, as well - saving admin time from both the employee and human resource perspective.

3. Streamline scheduling, time and attendance

A growing number of employees can mean juggling an increasingly complex employee roster, particularly if not all are full-time, or straddle between full- and part-time. Rather than sitting down on a Sunday and figuring out coverage for each day, digital tools can support the creation of new and flexible rosters. They can also ensure easy shift-swapping options between coworkers, removing the need for overhead intervention, as well as data-based demand forecasting - a component that is crucial for retail brands around the holidays. In addition, for businesses that bill by job or time spent, time tracking apps can make billing a breeze.

4. Prioritize employee wellbeing and productivity, together

When it comes to most things, success isn’t a one-size-fits-all, in any kind of business - but one component of success that’s ultimately non-negotiable is employee wellbeing; in small businesses, this refers to both the founder/CEO and staff. True people-focused organizations, regardless of size, look at productivity as part of a greater whole - along with employee satisfaction and the quality of their work (and how they feel about their workplace, colleagues, and boss[es]).

Fortunately, there are apps that look at both productivity and wellbeing, and track across each, figuring out where they intersect. For instance, it answers questions such as:

“Does team morale drop as meeting lengths increase?”

“Are billable hours correlated with happiness?”

“What kind of PTO allowance is appropriate for my number of employees?”

“What benefits aren’t as important to my employees?”

These insights help inform those important one-on-one conversations with your team, too - giving management clues as to who’s at risk of burning out, and who’s managing well with their workload, any recent changes that could affect productivity, wellbeing or both, and beyond.

Intuitive dashboards

Finally, one way to manage all of the above is via intuitive dashboards. They offer a holistic view of your performance, employee base, and many intricate details you may not have laid out for you otherwise. These dashboard apps consolidate real-time data from other systems (such as Xero) to produce easy-to-read graphs and insights on profit, productivity and cash flow. This helps you understand what’s working and where you need to focus your attention. It can also be used anywhere in the world, which is good news for global, remote or hybrid teams.

Taking the above into account encourages health and growth in four major areas that many businesses struggle with: digitalization of key processes, employee productivity, autonomy, and wellbeing. These suggestions may not be appropriate for all businesses, but experimenting with some may pay off in big and small ways for your business.

We've featured the best WFH apps.

Chris O'Neill is Chief Growth Officer at Xero.