SMBs, the Gig Economy and the New Workplace

Over one-third of U.S. workers are now part of the gig economy, up from 17% in the 1989 survey. Whether you call them freelancers, contractors or contingent workers, gig workers are expected to grow as a percentage of the workforce: Intuit predicts the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 43% by 2020 (Figure 1).

slide1

What is the gig economy?

Gig workers don’t have traditionally-defined, salaried relationships with employers, or benefits such as medical insurance or a 401(k), but they do have more flexibility and autonomy. The category includes self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees, spanning industries from construction to pet care, and from professional services, such as web design and programming, to Uber and Lyft drivers.

The gig economy started to take off in the 2008 great recession, when layoffs hit hard and hiring ground to halt. Workers needed income, and many turned to contingent work to make ends meet. Many businesses brought on contract workers rather than staff employees to keep overhead down and gain flexibility to scale the workforce up or down. At the same time, new marketplaces for freelancers, such as Elance (now UpWork), Freelancer, Guru and others started providing matchmaking services to bring employers and freelancers together.

Since then, the economy overall has rebounded but the gig economy continues to grow.

The Gig Economy and SMBs

The gig economy is certainly an important factor for SMBs. Of course, “non-employer” businesses of one are gig workers. And, they are also small businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 22 million U.S. businesses have a single owner, but no paid employees.

In addition, SMBs rely on external workers/freelancers to perform a wide range of business functions (Figure 2).

slide2

SMBs are most likely to depend solely on gig workers to get the job done in accounting/financials, workforce management/payroll and marketing. SMBs are also most likely to use a combination of salaried employees and gig workers for these areas, along with business intelligence/analytics.

Overall, SMB plans to hire more workers in the next 12 months are robust (Figure 3), with larger SMBs more bullish on hiring than smaller ones. As shown, while plans to hire salaried employees are strongest, SMBs also expect to hire more contractors and freelancers, with   marketing, business intelligence, accounting/financials and customer service cited as the top areas.slide3

Perspective

In addition to dealing with different regulatory and compliance requirements, SMBs that hire gig workers often have to juggle workers who are frequently off-site and schedule their own hours. Gig workers are likely to have competing priorities, and lack insight into the operations, values or mission of the companies they work for. 

As discussed in SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, this trend, as well as the rise of remote working (telecommuting and traveling workers), along with the influx of millennials into the workforce, highlight the changing face of the workforce and workplace.

While traditional tools such as email, file sharing and web conferencing aren’t going away, stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily (Figure 4).

slide4

For instance, stream-based messaging and collaboration solutions provide a unified view and access to information across servers, clouds, apps, devices and locations. Examples include Slack, Salesforce Chatter and Quip, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark and RingCentral Glip. These solutions not only help facilitate collaboration between employees and contractors across physical locations, but also across digital ecosystems.

Since SMB reliance on gig workers is likely to continue to grow, now is the time for SMBs to refresh workplace culture, strategy and solutions to attract, engage and retain employees and contractors. SMBs that use figure out how to and streamline collaboration will reap productivity gains today, and the flexibility necessary to scale the workforce–whether salaried employees or contractors–up or down in the future.

For more information on SMB Group studies referenced in this post, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services & Business Development, SMB Group, at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com.

SMB Adoption of Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) On the Rise

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

Today’s small businesses need the right mix of collaboration tools to create a productive work environment. SMBs looking for new collaboration solutions that will help them work smarter, and achieve top business goals of attracting new customers, growing revenue and improving customer experience. Flexible solutions that connect employees with each other and with customers and partners from any location, device or network will play a big part in achieving these goals.

But as SMBs increase their reliance on collaboration tools, managing and integrating multiple solutionsincluding email, instant messaging, voice, click-to-dial, presence, videoconferencing, and morecan become difficult. As a result, more SMBs are considering unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions to aggregate and integrate these functions and bring some order to collaboration chaos.

Mainstream VoIP Adoption Lays the Foundation for UCC

SMB adoption of voice over IP (VoIP) solutions is already well underway. According to SMB Group’s recently completed 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, 53% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 68% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) are currently using VoIP. In addition, 16% and 10%, respectively, plan to implement VoIP within the  next 12 months.

Figure 1: SMB VoIP and UCC Adoption

b2-picture1-768x383Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

With a VoIP foundation in place, more SMBs are considering deploying UCC solutions. Currently, just 12% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 28% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) use UCC solutions. But, over the next 12 months, 17% of small and 35% of medium businesses say they plan to deploy a UCC solution, potentially doubling year-over-year penetration.

SMBs Are Split on UCC Implementation Preferences

Our study shows differences in SMBs’ UCC implementation preferences. While small businesses tend to gravitate to cloud-based solutions, medium businesses are more likely to choose on-premises deployments. In addition, 14% of small and 20% of medium businesses favor a hybrid UCC approach.
Figure 2: SMB UCC Implementation Methods

b2-picture2-768x320Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Drivers for UCC Adoption

As shown on Figure 3, SMBs are turning to UCC to:

  • Improve employee productivity from any location, device or network
  • Standardize communication and collaboration tools
  • Increase security
  • Easier to use, monitor and manage
  • Better integration between communication solutions and business applications
  • Lower telecommunication costs
  • Create a more professional image with customers, suppliers and partners

Figure 3: Top Reasons to use UCC

b2-picture3-768x340Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

UCC Solution Purchase Channels

32% of the small businesses and 23% of medium businesses have purchased or plan to buy their UCC solution from their traditional phone carrier (Figure 4). A greater percentage 28% of medium businesses have purchased these solutions from an Online UCC service provider vs. 24% of small businesses. Small businesses prefer to buy from channels they have an existing relationship with. Medium business that have some more IT resources prefer to buy from newer online channels or VARs (if their requirements are more complex).

Figure 4: UCC Solution Purchase Channels

b2-picture4-768x354Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Most Important UCC Features

SMB survey respondents ranked the UCC features that are most important to them (Figure 5), with the following coming out on top:

  • Better security and compliance capabilities
  • Lower cost
  • Easier for end-users to use
  • Easier to integrate with other business applications
  • Easier and flexible to deploy, manage and extend
  • Better voice and video quality and reliability

Figure 5: SMB Rank Importance of UCC Features

b2-picture5-768x378Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Summary and Perspective

The market opportunity for UCC in the U.S. SMB segment is around $4.5B. Adoption among both small business and medium business segments should be continue to rise, as more employees work away from their companies’ main offices. Traveling employees, telecommuters and employees in remote offices represent different types of mobile workers and cloud-based UCC solutions can help keep them connected—both among themselves and with their customers—in a more streamlined and manageable way.

Integrated UCC solutions that also connect easily with key business applications can further fuel adoption. And, UCC solutions can help SMBs gain more control, and as a result—security—when compared to a hodge-podge of disjointed point solutions.

Especially in the resource-constrained small business segment, cloud-based options, which offload deployment and management headaches, and offer more affordable subscription pricing, will continue to help facilitate UCC adoption among SMBs.

However, the concept of UCC as an integrated set of systems and applications is still confusing and complex for SMBs who have yet to adopt these solutions. UCC vendors and their channel partners need to help SMBs better understand benefits and evaluate the best-fit alternatives to best capitalize on the growing interest in UCC.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

Where is SMB Collaboration Headed?

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

 In today’s digital age, location no longer needs to be a barrier between co-workers. Whether the other person is sitting next to you or on the other side of the world, collaboration solution—such as email, audio and video conferencing, cloud-based file sharing and stream based messaging—make it easier for people to communicate and get their jobs done.

However, the business and technology landscape is always changing. Solutions that may have worked fine in the past may not be the best fit for new requirements. As shown on Figure 1, 34% of SMBs agree that they “spend too much time going back and forth” between solutions, and 42% say employees use collaboration tools without IT approval/support.

Since collaboration solutions are key to improving employee productivity and customer satisfaction, business decision-makers need to periodically reassess their collaboration needs and how they’re filling them to make sure they have the right mix of solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Views On Collaboration Solutions

chart1Source: 2016 SMB Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

SMB Group’s 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study shows that small and medium businesses are expanding their use of collaboration solutions (Figure 2). While use of more established collaboration solutions, such as file-sharing and instant messaging is pervasive, SMBs are also adding newer solutions, such as video conferencing and stream-based collaboration. This highlights the fact that businesses are looking to create a more social collaborative environment. Interestingly, however, SMBs are not displacing older solutions with newer ones, but instead expanding the types of tools they use to better meet evolving collaboration needs.

Figure 2: SMB Collaboration Solutions Use and Plans

chart2

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Brands SMBs Use For Collaboration

The good news is that SMBs have a multitude of choices when it comes to collaboration solutions, and the cloud has made them easier and more affordable to access and use. The bad news is that it’s often hard to figure out which ones are the right fit. In fact, 41% of SMBs in our survey say that “figuring out which solutions can best help my business” is one of their top 3 technology challenges.

In our study, we asked business decision-makers what brands they’ve selected in the solution categories used by them. Here’s how the rankings stack up for a few of them.

Email:

Microsoft Office 365 tops the rankings, followed by Microsoft Exchange. Google for Business came in third as the top email solution provider chosen by SMB owners. Microsoft’s two solutions now own more than 50% of the U.S. SMB market, Google is losing momentum and now has about a quarter of Microsoft’s adoption.

File Sharing & Data Storage

DropBox is the top file sharing service used by small businesses (companies with 1-99 employees), followed by Google Drive and then Microsoft OneDrive.

Figure 3: Small business file sharing and storage solutions 

chart3

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Among medium businesses(companies with 100 – 1,000 employees), Microsoft OneDrive is the top solution, followed by Dropbox, on-premises solutions and Citrix ShareFile.

Figure 4: Medium Business File Sharing and Storage Solutions

chart4

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Video Conferencing

SMBs are most likely to se Citrix GoToMeeting for video conferencing. Microsoft Skype for Business is number two, Cisco WebEx number third and Google Hangout has the number four spot.

Stream Based Messaging

Although relatively new to the market, SMB adoption of stream based messaging is gaining momentum. SalesForce Chatter and IBM Connections, which were among the first to offer these solutions, lead in adoption, followed by Citrix Podio, Slack and Flow.

Figure 5: Small business stream-based messaging solutions

chart5

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

 

 

Figure 6: Medium business stream-based messaging solutions

chart6

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

 Perspective

As the pace of business accelerates, we all have to operate in and connect with more people and business networks, and connect to and collaborate with people in different locations, in different ways and on different devices. The right collaboration tools can help people more easily share and manage information, get their jobs done and make better business decisions.

With so much of our business work being done today within digital environments, creating an effective digital workplace that empowers people to work more efficiently and effectively should be a top priority.

SMBs that start by reassessing their collaboration requirements and employee preferences will find it easier to sort through the proliferation of available collaboration solutions, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they have the right tools in their collaboration toolkits.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

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Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

How Scribe Software Solves the Integration Puzzle for SMBs 

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with the SMB Group Spotlight and today I’m talking to Peter Chase, who is the founder and executive Vice President for Business Development at Scribe Software. Scribe specializes in providing integration solutions both in the cloud and on premise to help business integrate and get more value from their business solutions. So Peter, welcome and thanks for joining me today.

Peter: Thanks for having me.

Laurie: Before we get into a lot of detail about what you guys do can you give us a little bit of background on the company?

scribe logoPeter: We’ve been around for 18 years now, so 1996. We are in the same business we started out in, which is helping companies get their business systems to connect with one another. We sell across the globe so we have customers all over the world. We do about 25% of our business in Europe and we have a large partner network that we work with that help us deliver value to customers across that global footprint.

Laurie: Okay, that’s a good introduction, so given that what you do is integration can you tell us a little bit more about the kind of integration solutions that you provide to small and medium businesses?

Peter: Sure. Most small and medium businesses are using multiple systems. There was a recent Venture Beat survey that said small businesses use somewhere between two to five, on average, different marketing systems just to run their different parts of their business as well as now the advent of CRM and other types of system support, your back office systems. None of those applications were really meant to design to communicate well with one another, especially as we’ve added all of these new cloud applications. So how do we as a small business make sure that we have a single view of the truth around a customer, how do we make sure that we have efficient processes so that when, let’s say some marketing activity, say you’ve done a webinar, how do we know when that prospect shows interest that gets followed up by the sales team while they use different systems. We sort of sit in between and it enables companies to be able to define those data exchanges without having to write code in a visual environment, so it really lowers the barrier for small/medium businesses.

puzzleLaurie: So basically you’re helping them integrate those different workflows among the point solutions, which we’ve found in our research is a very big problem. Most small businesses and even medium businesses have barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that kind of integration.

Peter: Exactly, and part of that reason is because the barrier to get that done has been so high. You need programmers, you need large IT staffs, and most organizations don’t have those staffs or those specialized skills to be able to do that effectively.

Laurie: Right, and the promise has been a long time from a lot of vendors is that we’re going to make integration easy. How are you guys trying to do that at Scribe?

Peter: Well, there has been a lot of progress in that area, especially in the cloud-based applications with better application programming interfaces, what they call APIs, which make those applications more open, but companies still have to define how they want that information to be exchanged, when it happens, how it happens, and that information isn’t always compatible so you might have to sort of build some business rules and some data rules around how you exchange that data. We provide this nice visual environment that allows you to be able to do that, and not having to be a programmer, just that you understand your data and how you want to exchange it. That really is critical to enabling small/medium business to affect that.

Laurie: So it sounds like it’s a storyboarding kind of thing almost, a WYSIWYG way of kind of way to say I want to integrate this with this, is that what’s really unique or differentiating or are there other things?

Peter: Well there are other products out there that are beginning to do this, I think probably the most unique differentiator that we have is that we work with so many systems integrators and value added resellers that so many of that and big organizations rely on because they don’t have the ability to have all those skill sets, and one of the things we built right into the product is a social capability where using social media type approaches where companies can collaborate with their systems integrators and their VARs and now whether that VAR, they could even have the VAR sort of manage all of that and do a turnkey, or they could collaborate on it, or they could just bring them in when they need them on specific issues. So that sort of building a technology platform that enables that to be an efficient process is so critical.

Laurie: Well that sounds like it would be a huge help because even if small and medium businesses have IT resources they’re often times generalists, so they’re still looking to the partner to help them.

Peter: Yeah, and there are some products out there that are very sort of simple where I can say if this happens then edit then send it here, but most companies need more than that, their systems are very unique to what they do, and their workflows are unique, so in the past they would have to go to either custom programming or very expensive platforms and tools. We sort of bring enterprise capable quality integration availability to small and medium business and that’s what makes us unique.

Laurie: So where can an SMB that hears about this, that wants to learn more, where can they go to learn more and get some way to evaluate the solution and see if it’s a good fit.

Peter: The simplest thing is to go to scribesoft.com. We have plenty of resources around videos and different information about what types of scenarios they can integrate easily, what applications they can integrate easily, but we also have free trials. Whether you want to trial our on-premise installed software product or you want to trial our cloud-based platform you can trial either one of those. We have a customer success set of resources in our company that will actually work with you through your trial if you have questions or if you’re looking for some best practices they can help provide those best practices and enable you to really prove out that you can do it effectively and get what you want.

Laurie: I’m sure you can also help them connect with a partner, right?

Peter: Oh well that goes without saying. We have hundreds and hundreds of partners across the world and we can connect them with them. If they’re partner is not our partner and they’d like to get enabled we have an on-boarding program for partners that’s very rapid, so we are all about enabling not just the small/medium business but the entire ecosystem that they rely on to be able to help them and collaborate together efficiently.

Laurie: Peter, thanks so much for joining me and it was very informative to learn about Scribe and it sounds like a great way for a lot of SMBs to integrate their business applications, so thanks again.

Peter: Well thank you, and we’re looking forward to helping companies make that happen. Thanks.

Laurie: Great, thanks.

A New Way to Work: IBM Design Thinking Creates Verse Via Storify

My Storify recap of key takeaways from #NewWaytoWork launch of IBM Verse.

  1. Fascinating and fun! In my first @IBM design camp!#NewWayToWork

    ·

    9 DAYS AGO

     Last week, I participated in an IBM Design Thinking boot camp, and the launch of IBM Verse, which was created with Design Thinking methodology.

  2. Phil Gilbert: we have to start with the user, empathy and insight—it has been a missing component from biz software #NewWayToWork< +1
  3. “Folder King” made IBM rethink how to find stuff, both structured and unstructured search #NewWayToWork

    IBM Verse is email reimagined. It’s very visual and intuitive. I love that you can see your calendar on the same dashboard as your email–no more toggling back and forth!

  4. Hi everyone! I'm #IBMVerse. Learn more about me and how I can help you find a #NewWayToWork. http://t.co/2jpsW1bRm7 http://t.co/5HCTM7cL2U

    Hi everyone! I’m #IBMVerse. Learn more about me and how I can help you find a #NewWayToWork. http://ibm.com/verse  pic.twitter.com/5HCTM7cL2U
  5. I like that @IBM Verse provides a visual dashboard view of mail, contacts and calendar all in one place #NewWayToWork
  6. Great question!

  7. .@lauriemccabe is it really a #NewWayToWork or just a new way to look at email?
  8. @lauriemccabe: My thoughts: @IBM Reimagines the Email Story With IBM Verse  http://bit.ly/1xM4Tgg  #NewWayToWork

    7 DAYS AGO

     IBM offered some clues about some of the new capabilities it plans to add to Verse.

  9. RT @lauriemccabe: @IBM Verse will add more messaging sources, e.g. Twitter, texts, etc. #NewWayToWork
  10. @IBMWatson is going to lend its brain to @IBM Verse, that might help me a lot 😉 #NewWayToWork

    Another great question!

  11. Hmmm…if @IBM wants viral adoption of Verse, it will need to hook consumers, as Google did, for bottom up adoption#NewWayToWork
  12. @IBM remember a big reason that @google made such big inroads against @Microsoft in biz email-led by viral consumer adoption#NewWayToWork
  13. Verse really looks good, but IBM marketing will need to be just as creative as IBM design to compete for volume against Google and Microsoft.
  14.  Here’s a YouTube video to give you more info on Verse.

  15.  And if you’d like to check it out, you can sign up for a free trial.

  16. I’m using #YourCircuit and saying #GoodbyeEmail How about you? Grab your free trial here  http://bit.ly/1sMAni8  #NewWayToWork