The top five trends small businesses need to know about the future of work


You hear it every day. Whether scrolling through social media or chatting with your friends and family - employees are demanding flexibility and right now they are empowered to do so. And we long know customers have been the same. While I'm reading about these trends, I can't help but think of the many small businesses I've worked with professionally and those I've been a customer of for years. How can they survive, and thrive, in this new age of work? We set to find out...

The U.S. Small Business Administration created Small Business Week to honor the contributions of small business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s a week to recognize the hard work of entrepreneurs and their employees. This week serves as a great reminder of the impact these businesses have on our lives every day. It’s also a time to reflect on their concerns, their futures, and how they’re reshaping the nature of work itself. That’s why GoTo recently commissioned a study with Frost & Sullivan to understand how small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are managing flexible work.

Insights from 1,000 business and IT leaders

In February and March, GoTo and Frost & Sullivan surveyed 1,000 small and midsize business leaders in management and IT in North America, Europe, and APAC. All had no more than 1,000 employees.

The big takeaway: we’re in the age of employee empowerment. We want to do our work on our own time, on our terms, and from where we work best, whether it’s on the couch, at a cafe, or even, yes, occasionally at the office. And the new research shows that the hybrid work model is here to stay.

Put simply, flexibility works.

1) Empowering workers, works

Respondents operating in a hybrid model reported lower staff turnover among knowledge workers in 2021 than in 2020 when the Covid pandemic started.

Nearly half (44%) of respondents operating on a work-from-office model reported significantly higher turnover in 2021 than in 2020. That percentage dipped only slightly to 43% for remote-work organizations. Conversely, only 22% of hybrid work organizations reported higher turnover in 2021 vs. 2020.

Among the benefits, small business and IT leaders report lower operational costs (32%), a boost in customer satisfaction (29%), and improved organizational culture (77%) stemming from hybrid and remote work.

Respondents also view hybrid and remote work as a win for employee productivity.

2) Flex work is good for productivity.

More than three-quarters of respondents (78%) say working at least some of the time out of the office boosts employee productivity. One reason is that it lets workers catch a breath without losing work time; 19% of respondents named reducing staff burnout a benefit of flex and remote work.

Doing away with or at least reducing commutes surely plays a role too; cutting commuting time made it to the top five benefits of hybrid and remote work — named by a third (33%) of respondents.

More than one in three business and IT leaders (36%) also cite employees delivering high-quality work as a benefit of remote and hybrid work arrangements.

3) Where and when to work is still in flux.

But even though we’re in the age of flexible work, it’s also an era of uncertainty. Nine out of ten businesses (90%) plan to reassess their existing work models this year. More than half (56%) plan to review within six months.

That’s because, despite the benefits of hybrid and remote work, respondents also struggle with some drawbacks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top drawback of flex work, cited by 34% of respondents, is distractions at home.

Technology concerns come in second; 27% report increased complexity in troubleshooting off-networking devices as a problem with remote and hybrid work. Right behind tech support issues is increased difficulty in managing and coordinating employees outside the office (26%).

4) Flex work strains IT

The support challenges point to a deeper issue: increased strain on the IT department.

Close to half of respondents (43%) say the job of the IT department has gotten more difficult with the rise in flexible work scenarios. And even when it isn’t more challenging, there’s more work to be done. More than three-quarters (76%) say IT’s workload has gone up since 2020.

Significantly, the challenges aren’t only related to more tasks to perform since 2020, although that is a major factor (cited by 44% of respondents). It’s also because the software people use for their work isn’t always up to the job (cited by 31% of respondents). That means existing software doesn’t offer enough capabilities for the remote workforce or provides the wrong functionality entirely.

It’s no wonder, then, that 93% of business and IT leaders say it’s critical to reduce the burden on their IT teams. IT consolidation in the form of tools that handle related functions in one package offers much-needed relief.

5) Digital tools are helping

As an IT manager at an auto dealership in Utah put it regarding our GoTo Connect communications and collaboration system: “Unifying everything into one solution has been amazing.”  The move let him ditch half a dozen other communications products and their associated IT overhead and expenses.

He’s not alone. Most business and IT leaders (62%) name communication, collaboration, and IT management tool consolidation as a top initiative. In fact 95% of respondents said that consolidation is either already underway at their organizations or they plan to start consolidation in 2022.

But it isn't just about fewer tools. It's about better tools, especially when it comes to simplifying the complexity IT help desks must now manage and support. A third of small business leaders (33%) plan to upgrade their help desk tools in 2022. See Why GoTo Resolve is designed for specifically for SMBs.

All of this, from knowing how and when to invest in a consolidated tech stack, to giving your employees the freedom to choose the flexible work style that works best for them, is aimed at relieving pressure on IT, boosting productivity, and helping small businesses and their workers do their best work from anywhere. Because it’s not about the tools, it’s about growing your business. At the end of the day the technology should just get out of your way and allow your business to thrive. While Small Business Week may only be one week a year, these organizations bring untold benefits to cities and towns globally each and every day. From the corner shops, to the tech startups, to those that have turned a side passion into a thriving business their success, we are here to listen to you, learn from you, and most importantly celebrate each and every story!