Five ways digital can help boost the UK’s productivity

By Ross Pearson, Head of Small Enterprise, Virgin Media O2 Business

How do you solve a puzzle like productivity? SME leaders across the UK are often looking to find the next great solution to create a nation of ‘productivity heroes’  (the term coined for SMEs which grow their revenues faster than their headcount).

SMEs currently make up 99.9% of the UK private sector, so identifying the right steps to drive productivity across the segment could create massive growth and set the UK economy on track to boom. Over the past 15 years, however, the increase in annual average productivity in the UK has been just 0.2%, according to Goldman Sachs. With just 37% of established SMEs currently achieving productivity growth, business leaders must explore how they can unlock growth from within.

Here are five solutions to open up growth for your organisation.

  1. Empower your workforce with the necessary digital skills

Good talent is in high demand and, to create a nation of ‘productivity heroes’, businesses are looking for skilled workers who can help grow revenue. Rather than seeking expensive, and risky, external hires SMEs should be investing in their current talent to ensure they have the right skills to grow their business.

Our ‘Tech and the Battle for Talent’ report found 32% of employees identify a lack of training opportunities is holding their business back. However, the desire to learn is there; 42% of employees would be more likely to stay in their current job if their employers provided more regular, intensive training on the use of digital technology.

By having the conversations with your staff to understand the tools that they need to deliver success, SMEs can develop the skills they need in house, driving growth without the risk of the external job market.

  1. Implement flexible connectivity solutions

Whilst 92% of companies enforced some form of mandatory in-office policy in 2023, according to our Movers Index, hybrid working will continue for most businesses. Therefore, effective connectivity is necessary to ensure optimal communications within the office, home and beyond.

One in 12 workers reported that remote working decreased their productivity last year. The biggest culprit, poor connectivity, is an immediate stumbling block to efficient delivery. Team members losing time through interrupted communications and disrupted workflows is a drain on growth. Leaders must recognise that in today’s environment, optimal connectivity is a must have for optimal productivity.

  1. Drive efficiency through your existing tech

81% of UK workers agree that technology plays an important role in helping them stay engaged and happy in their job. Despite this, 18% of business decisionmakers cite employee resistance to technology as a barrier to operational efficiency. This means tools are not delivering maximum return on investment for businesses and effectiveness for teams.

Ensuring staff are maximising the value of your existing file storage and sharing system is much cheaper than purchasing a new one. Free tools such as generative AI can also drive efficiency for staff. For leaders focused on growth, increased awareness is key to maximising value from their existing portfolio of owned and free-to-use digital tools.

  1. Employ a clear strategy for digital growth

30% of UK businesses lack a digital transformation strategy, and nearly a third lack a clear understanding of new technology, according to Deloitte findings. Delivering growth requires a focus on core priorities for the business. Through building an effective strategy, SMEs can then determine the desired outcomes from their technology and invest in the right, business appropriate tools.

A clear digital strategy which ensures that SMEs invest in the tools they need, rather than wasting revenue on the latest technology trend can have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line. To maximise digital’s impact, decisionmakers should be using a long-term digital strategy to support growth by focusing on delivering against desired business outcomes.

  1. Investigate new ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Net zero is an attractive prospect for investors and customers alike. 1 in 10 consumers make purchase decisions now based on the availability of a company’s carbon footprint.

Technologies like carbon calculators can be a useful tool to inform businesses of the emissions created in conjunction with their suppliers. Using data-backed emissions information empowers SME leaders with a concrete foundation from which to communicate with stakeholders and demonstrate progress. With regulation incoming, seeing an effective sustainability strategy in action is the latest necessity for many investors and consumers.

Solving the productivity puzzle

Creating a nation of ‘productivity heroes’ is all about investment. Not just investment in shiny, new technology or lots of new employees, but investing in the existing workstreams and people you already have.

By taking time to assess your existing people’s resources and skills, technology and business strategy, SME leaders can drive growth through internal upskilling and optimisation. Aligning this with a long-term strategy for digital growth can reduce unnecessary spending and increase revenue from existing assets – bringing the UK’s SMEs closer to solving the productivity puzzle.