In reality, though, small businesses, especially those trying to fill jobs requiring unique skills in knowledge-economy industries, have always understood the challenges of hiring and retaining top talent. Smaller firms confront several disadvantages to larger rivals when it comes to recruiting, such as:
- A lack of resources. Because their budgets are tighter, small businesses don't have the freedom to offer recruits higher cash compensation or better benefits.
- Less job security. Even thriving small firms are more vulnerable to unexpected downturns that can force layoffs. Bigger firms are better able to weather business cycles. And recruits know that.
- Lower name recognition. Well-known companies with reputations as good employers have a major advantage over upstart rivals, especially when it comes to hiring top talent.
With all those factors working against them, small companies need to exploit every advantage they can to recruit top talent. And one emerging field-leveler is the growing universe of collaboration technology that enables any business to expand its labor footprint around the country and even the world.
Collaboration tools deliver two big advantages here. First, they dramatically broaden the pool of qualified candidates available to employers. No longer are companies tied to professionals who happen to live in their area (or are willing to relocate). Thanks to a range of collaboration hardware and software that makes communication seamless for employees regardless of location, small businesses can consider prospects everywhere.
For every business, that matters. For small businesses located outside major metro centers, it's a game changer.
Second, collaboration technology makes it possible to offer prospects the opportunity to work remotely — a major draw for recruits, especially younger ones. According to one survey, 70 percent of millennials said the option to work remotely at least one day a week would greatly increase their interest in an employer. That should come as no surprise, given that millennials are technology natives who have grown up doing most everything from anywhere with mobile devices.
But it's not just millennials who are demanding more flexibility from their employers. About a quarter of workers already telecommute at least some of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics, and as many as 90 percent say they'd like to. The firm estimates that employers save about $11,000 annually for every full-time employee who works remotely at least half the time.
Collaboration Tools Make Communication Easier
Many small companies have already adopted low-cost cloud-based collaboration tools. Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams provide easy-to-use instant messaging applications that replace a lot of the short, back-and-forth messages that otherwise clog email inboxes. Project management tools, such as Microsoft Project, likewise help employees communicate effectively and work cohesively.
Some small businesses find that deploying these tools, when coupled with standard conference lines and email, is as far as they need to go to extend their workforces around the country or the world.
Yet others — especially companies with significant numbers of employees in different locations — find it valuable to bridge the distance with a unified suite of collaboration technology, such as Cisco's Spark, that incorporates not just messaging but also voice, video, screen sharing and more, while integrating with third-party applications and playing nice with employees' own devices.
Don't Be Held Back by Misconceptions
When I talk to employers about collaboration technology, they sometimes tell me they worry that employees won't work as hard if they work remotely. But that concern is misplaced; research indicates that remote workers are more productive than those working full-time in an office — partly because they're not dealing with the distractions of modern workplaces, and partly because they're just happier, less stressed and more engaged.
Of course, collaboration solutions are available to large employers, too, and many have already adopted them. But the scalability of these technologies means that small businesses can enjoy all the needed capabilities that their larger rivals have at prices they can afford. And because enterprise firms are often beholden to rigid policies concerning remote work, small businesses have an opening to compete for top talent if they're willing to be flexible.
Add it all up, and it's clear that collaboration technology delivers a rare opportunity for SMBs to compete globally for the best workers with even their largest, wealthiest and best-known rivals. Our advice: Take that opportunity, and run with it.