Bruce Penson, managing director of cyber security and IT support company Pro Drive IT, outlines how the latest technology can support remote working and help professional services firms attract and retain top talent.
The global skills shortage has had a monumental impact on recruitment, with job vacancies exceeding the number of unemployed people in the UK for the first time in May 2022. This fact won’t have escaped the attention of most SME owners — or any business owner, really — looking to hire staff.
The professional services sector is undoubtedly experiencing a skills shortage, but generally, too, there are simply not enough people to fill the roles available. And with a lack of suitable candidates to go around, you can bet competitors will be going after your high performers — making staff retention a constant challenge.
All this comes against a backdrop of firms being inundated with client work. Many business sectors have traditional ‘busiest times’ in the year — like year-end for accountants or even just the summer holidays — when demand rises, and the impact of staff shortages is keenly felt.
Although there’s no magic bullet to this problem, tech is your best shot if you want to increase your company’s competitive edge and ensure you both attract and retain great staff…
Support remote workers with cloud technology
Given the rise of cloud phones, applications, virtual desktops and cloud security in recent years, you really should be able to allow your staff to work from anywhere — from a tech perspective, at least.
Firms with this technology in place have access to a much larger pool of talent, meaning they can recruit candidates from across the UK and even overseas whilst keeping their clients’ data secure.
Plus, for existing staff, flexible working can help alleviate stress and fatigue by reducing commuting costs and allowing them to work around family arrangements.
Develop a positive online culture
Company culture plays a big role in your firm’s success and delivering excellent service to clients. So, a valid argument against having a more remote and flexible workforce is the impact these arrangements can have on communication and culture. But with a helping hand from online communication platforms like Microsoft Teams, businesses can prevent remote workers from feeling left out and disengaged from company values.
Of course, a piece of software alone can’t solve a problem, and business owners will need to lead from the top to encourage participation. Rather than just using forums to discuss business matters, try talking with employees about the news, weekend activities and hobbies — all things you would normally speak about in the office.
You can also experiment with GIFs and memes (these aren’t just reserved for the younger generation — get involved!), share photos of your day, host quizzes and encourage teams to offer kudos and recognition. These small activities may seem trivial, but they’ll go a long way in creating a unique online culture.
Make repetitive tasks automatic
Most professional services firms have a huge number of repetitive tasks to carry out daily. Completing these essential but low-value tasks can often be monotonous and demotivating for staff.
Using tech solutions to automate these functions is a win-win. Your staff will be happier working on more challenging, creative tasks, and you won’t need to employ as many staff to meet client requirements.
Although many SMEs believe automation is out of their reach, tasks can be easily automated with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud services. In fact, in the accounting and legal sectors, the latest cloud-based practice and case management software usually have built-in automation features.
Plus, there are plenty of easily accessible tools, such as Power Automate and Zapier, that businesses can adopt to link together applications and create workflows to replace manual tasks.
Adopt a results-based measure of success
Many professional services firms still measure the time spent working on a task as an indicator of staff performance. Although timesheets are still necessary for billing within companies, what matters is output — and the quality of it.
By measuring output, you’ll be able to identify your best performers and reward them accordingly, and your team will also appreciate that you trust them to deliver without micromanaging. A great way to do this is by evaluating success based on tickets closed and customer satisfaction.
The good news is that the latest business applications will provide you with these measurements built into their software. And there are loads of business intelligence applications, such as PowerBI, that can bring all this together so you and your staff can easily track how everyone’s performing.
Set employee development goals, and track them
Keeping staff happy and motivated is key to retention. So, businesses need an efficient performance management system that provides clear goals and development paths.
Although keeping tabs on your staff can be challenging, especially with employees working remotely, some great HR software systems — like BreatheHR, for example — can make this easier, even if you don’t know where to start.
Employee engagement systems are another helpful way of maintaining employee satisfaction. Regularly polling your staff with fun questions, seeking anonymous feedback and running surveys can give you a holistic picture of what is and isn’t working in your firm — allowing you to make appropriate changes and keep your staff happy.
Get your business in gear
Getting started with any type of digital transformation can be daunting, especially when you’re already busy. However, IT specialists can help streamline the transition to attract, manage and retain talented employees.
Don’t wait until you lose staff to firms already embracing technology — start planning your first digital staff retention initiative today!