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By Basha Pillay, Business Unit Lead – Modern Platform at Altron Karabina and Jacob Shihawu, Principal Consulting Services Lead – Digital Workplace

Now is the time for small businesses to take advantage of their inherent agility and enable digital working environments that will radically improve employee efficiency. This move requires more than just fibre or wireless access. At its core lies the need to migrate key organisational data and processes to the cloud.

With their focus on being customer-centric and adaptable, small businesses are ideally suited to embrace this digital transformation as they are not limited by the legacy systems and processes of their larger, more established counterparts. Because of the scale of such a transition, these smaller companies must assess their current platforms (whether on-premise or otherwise) and identify how it needs to be redeveloped for an online environment. This is followed by the actual move and training of employees on the new systems and tools they will use.

Understand what you have
This training is essential if employees are to take full advantage of the opportunities that exist in the cloud. Take for example PowerApps, one of the most powerful tools in the Office 365 suite. It allows businesses to create local apps that can enable processes such as leave applications and expense claims more dynamically than before. And yet, many small businesses are not even aware of its existence.

Education is just one component of this migration. Small business owners must understand how these tools work in a real-world environment and how they can address the specific pain points of each unique business. This is where true consultative partners become invaluable to guide decision-makers along the way.

For instance, small medical practices can revolutionise their business by embracing a digital workplace mindset. It is not even about reinventing the wheel but rather iteratively changing small processes. A basic example is to enable patients to set up appointments online. It does not have to stop there. Medical professionals can even do remote consultations using Microsoft Teams, so patients do not have to physically go to practices. This potentially unlocks significant new revenue streams for these medical professionals.

Strategic outlook
Fortunately, small businesses can more rapidly change their existing strategies to reflect the requirements of a more dynamic, digital market. They must still understand the impact of taking their data and migrating it online, but the benefits of embracing a new way of work makes this an invaluable component of the process.

Security must also be factored in. Unlike a more traditional approach centred on the network, security in a digital world moves around the individual. It is about securing the employee and not just the systems and devices that connect to the organisational network.

Small business owners must also be willing to change their mindsets about how to measure the productivity and efficiency of their people. The old-school mindset is that if a person is at the office from 09:00 to 17:00 then they have been productive. This must evolve to rather focus on measuring the outcomes as deliverables and not how many hours are spent in an office environment.

Remaining human
Throughout the move to digital, it is still important for companies not to lose the personal touch. Even if it is through social video conferencing where non-work related topics can be discussed. It is still vital to build a human connection with one another.

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to a digital work environment. The business must go in with the mindset to experiment and assess whether something is working or not. It is all about learning from failure, testing, and iterating in an agile manner. The saying of failing fast and failing forward applies now more than ever. And these are the words many small business owners live by. In turning their focus towards an outcomes-based approach, a company can move quickly into the new digital mindset required for the business environment of the future.