Are SMEs Entering a Decisive Decade?

Businesses are apparently entering a ‘decisive decade’ when the workplace will be transformed and ways of sharing and developing ideas will be dramatically accelerated by new opportunities to collaborate online. That’s according to an international study developed by The Future Foundation for Google Enterprise. The study – which gathered opinions from 3,500 employees across the UK, France, Germany, Japan and the USA plus 12 experts in innovation and business transformation – explores how new technologies will dramatically alter working practices in developed economies, affect the creativity and productivity of employees and evolve the roles of HR and IT managers. But it warns that companies will need to address significant cultural and organisational changes to become leaders in the ideas economy.

Contribution culture

The study reveals an 81% correlation between collaboration and innovation, showing that the more employees are given the opportunity to collaborate, the more ideas they will contribute. UK employees who are given the opportunity to collaborate at work are almost twice as likely to have contributed new ideas to their company (62% versus 38%).

However, it also highlights that many organisations are yet to embrace the new technologies that enable collaboration. Only 12% of employees surveyed expressed satisfaction with the technology available to them at work and 44% say the technology they use in their personal lives is better than that available to them in the office.

Adrian Joseph, MD, Google Enterprise EMEA, says:

“Over a half (57%) of IT managers surveyed said their organisation is not achieving its potential with the online collaborative tools that are available, the core barriers being lack of vision from senior management (43%) and the need for funding and investment (41%). Both issues will need to be resolved if businesses want to drive innovation.”

"Online collaboration is becoming a reality in the workplace, and the study shows that it will transform traditional working practices in ways that we are only just beginning to realise. The ability to bring ideas and innovation to fruition will take months, weeks or days rather than years or even centuries, and this will have a major impact on the way products and services are brought to market, businesses are structured, job roles are created and talent is rewarded and retained – ultimately driving competitive advantage for those that embrace these changes and manage them effectively.”

Reward and recognition

As well as having the right technology in place, the study shows that one of the key challenges for organisations in the decisive decade will be motivating and incentivising staff to generate ideas. The biggest incentives for employees to come up with creative ideas are financial reward (45%) and recognition for their achievements (39%) – in fact 58% of employees surveyed say they would already be coming up with more creative ideas for their employers if they thought they would be rewarded for them.

However, there is a serious discrepancy emerging between existing systems for encouraging innovation and rewarding staff accordingly. 44% of employees say their company has systems in place to allow for the contribution of ideas but less than a fifth (19%) have bonus schemes to directly reward ideas generation. Narrowing this discrepancy is key to unlocking the innovation potential of businesses in the future.

HR and IT interaction and integration

As human interaction becomes a core part of innovation and business success, elements of the HR and IT functions will integrate. HR will be more responsible for ensuring that employees are motivated to collaborate and innovate, while IT will provide the infrastructure to enable it. Professionals are already anticipating this change. A third (31%) of the IT managers surveyed believe the CIO will take on more responsibility for innovation in the future, while a similar number (34%) of HR staff agree they will need to learn new skills to foster a sense of corporate community because of the new collaborative technologies that are emerging.

Dr Carsten Sørensen, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems and Innovation at The London School of Economics and Political Science, says:

“Throughout history, the pace of innovation has been slowed by the fact that the sharpest minds and the brightest thinkers were often working in isolation. Geography, a social tendency towards ‘ideas hoarding’ and the inability of dispersed teams to work together on shared projects have all been barriers to progress. The companies that come to dominate the next ten years of innovation will be those that are early to embrace online collaborative technologies and these new ways of thinking.”

“They will also be those that work out how to motivate and reward the teams of people who generate the ideas that create new opportunities for their organisations. There are undoubtedly challenges ahead, but what is clear is that ignoring the ideas revolution is not an option if businesses want to succeed in the next decade.”

Further management opportunities and challenges identified by the study include:

Excitement about new technologies

When businesses introduce new technologies to the workplace there is a genuine sense of excitement and empowerment. Only 8% of all respondents feel left behind by the pace of technological innovation.

Business contextual social networking

Business contextual social networking tools will become the norm, and more varied and rich business networks will be built by individuals as collaboration accelerates. This could pose challenges for businesses as they try to focus their employees around core purposes and maintain their focus.


40% of workers expect the boundaries between work and life to become more blurred in the next decade, and managing this will become a priority for organisations, governments and individual employees. In an increasingly technologically-enhanced, connected world, skilled workers will need to be protected from overwork and given the ability to perform at optimum levels.

Staying connected

There will be more emphasis on the work you do rather than where you work in the decisive decade, as online technologies enable flexible and remote working. However, 57% of employees prefer the sociability of the office and will always want to spend at least some of their time in the company of their colleagues.

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