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The productivity gaps holding SMBs back


Over the past decade, the nature of work has changed significantly.

Economies have shifted from labour-based, to knowledge-based and service-based, and technology has enabled modern workers to collaborate wherever they may be.  

This has had a significant impact on how we think about workspaces and what skills and capabilities we look for in executives, managers and employees.

At Microsoft, we describe this new era of work, characterised by increasing globalisation, technology proliferation and a connected workforce as the New World of Work.

Although we are noticing a general shift in how Australian workplaces are addressing technology and productivity, particularly how the two inform each other, not everyone is embracing the New World of Work to full effect.

This is true in small to medium businesses where it is actually doubly important for leaders to maximise productivity and efficient use of every available resource.

A Microsoft survey of 2,600 employees in SMBs across 13 countries in Asia, found that in Australia, only 36 out of every 100 employees felt their employers are enabling them to be productive, collaborative and innovative, whilst ensuring personal wellbeing in the changing world of work.

So how can SMBs turn this around and take a holistic view that prioritises freedom, flexibility and the all-important work-life balance?

Firstly, they have to look at three key principles that facilitate success in the New World of Work: People, Place and Technology.  

When it comes to People, building a workplace culture that supports and values flexible, mobile working is essential.  Employees need to feel like they are trusted to work from anywhere, and that their workplace supports and encourages them in doing so.

According to the study though, only 34% of SMB respondents in Australia enjoyed workplace policies that embraced remote working, even though half of Australian respondents (50%) highlighted that the ability to be able to work productively from anywhere would most benefit their organisation.

To close this gap and keep up with employee expectations, leaders must learn to manage performance rather than presence, and build capabilities for employees to collaborate with others from any location. This could start with managers setting clear KPIs for staff, so there’s a greater focus on measuring outcomes, rather than how many hours are spent in the office.

Similarly, when we look at the role of ‘Place,’ it is fundamental that offices support a collaborative, dynamic workplace design.

For some SMB employees, operating in a fixed workspace isn’t necessary at all, and they may derive more value from working at client sites, from home, or in other venues where they feel more productive. As the survey showed, 65% of employees are already spending more than 20% of their time working outside offices or on-the-go.

This sort of mobility requires the right technology to be successful and effective, and tellingly, 65% of the study respondents did not have access to a breadth of tools in their workplace to facilitate this.

Completely revamping the way your organisation functions can be a daunting task for most SMBs with limited resources. Dr. James Eyring, COO of global growth consultancy firm, Organisation Solutions, whom we worked with on the study had this advice for SMBs: “The best way to ease into the New World of Work is to start small, make key changes and then build out new policies and adopt new technologies in incremental steps.”

 This could include introducing processes like saving documents to a cloud environment to enable better collaborate on, or even arming staff with portable devices they can use offsite. By implementing tablet devices to work from, staff will become more mobile, and more often than not, feel more energised.

Eyring also elaborated, “Start by reviewing internal policies and processes and identifying gaps that are impeding ability to adapt to new work requirements. Admittedly, not all employees can work from any place at any time. However, many can. Focus on employee groups that already have flexibility in their work and make sure you empower them with the capability and technology needed to work more flexibly and productively.”

SMBs in Asia Pacific should not view the New World of Work as an obstacle, but rather as an opportunity to open new doors and grow their business. In the long term, it’s the SMBs that are open to change that stand to gain the most.


The Microsoft Asia New World of Work SMB Study was conducted in September 2015 with 2,600 respondents working in small and medium businesses with less than 250 employees in 13 Asia markets including Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, China, India, Korea and Vietnam.

Microsoft worked with Organisation Solutions, a global consultancy helping companies solve the people and organization challenges of growth, to design the study and gain insights from the data.

About the author

Michelle Markham, Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft.

  • Christine Petersen

    There is definitely a new world of work – People, Place and Technology, one important component absent from this clear description is Process. We can throw as much technology as we want into our businesses yet if we don’t change how we work, all we do is speed up the process of poor productivity.

    Having owned and operated businesses in Asia for 14 years, I’m not surprised at Microsoft’s research findings for Australia. Australian SMBs have a wonderful opportunity in doing business in Asia now that the Free Trade Agreements are in place – think vitamins, baby milk and only yesterday in the Financial Review wool – the UGG boots and doonas are marching out the door (it gets cold in China).

    Some of our work practices are from the Ark; it’s a wonderful thing to behold when the process and technology are aligned. Good research Michelle.