Communication is a real problem for UK workers and their companies, Microsoft research reveals

Small and medium-sized businesses across the UK are seeing a disconnect between leaders and employees, fostered by a culture of poor communication, a new survey has revealed.

More than a third of staff at SMBs, which employ 16.6 million people and are responsible for £2.2 trillion of turnover, say their biggest cause of stress is a failure to communicate effectively. This ranked higher than work-life balance (23 per cent) and is leading to nearly half (45 per cent) of workers to make decisions without having all the information they need.

The Microsoft and YouGov report – entitled Driving Growth in Small Business – found that many SMB employees don’t feel their current culture is supporting meaningful collaboration as well as it could. Specifically, 42 per cent of staff describe communication among colleagues within their workplace as sociable and 20 per cent go as far as saying it’s unproductive. When asked what methods of communication they use on a daily basis, face to face engagement came out on top with 74 per cent of staff stating they use it, followed by email at 69 per cent and phone calls at 55 per cent.

Microsoft has recommended that SMB leaders ensure they’re providing the right mix of communication channels and opportunities to encourage meaningful collaboration.

Chart showing that poor communication is the biggest cause of stress among UK workers

Nick Hedderman, Director of Modern Workplace Business Group at Microsoft UK, said: “Given the value of SMBs to the UK economy, small businesses need to be taking advantage of every competitive edge available to them to improve staff performance and motivation as well as attracting and retaining top talent. Our mission is to help SMBs thrive in the modern workplace, and because technology has transformed the way we live, work and connect with others, ensuring SMBs can harness this technology to drive productivity is vital to that mission.”

SMBs are a crucial part of the UK economy, accounting for 99.9 per cent of the business population in the UK, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, three fifths of employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector. Nearly a fifth of all SMBs are operating in the construction sector, while wholesale and retail trade and repair accounted for 14 per cent of all SMB employment and just over a third of SMB turnover. London (1.1 million) and the South East (940,000) had the most private sector businesses, accounting for 35 per cent of the UK business population. The Microsoft report highlights that SMBs are seen to have an advantage because of their agility, with flatter hierarchies and shorter decision-making chains, but if employees do not feel empowered with the correct information to make decisions, this advantage could be lost.

In order to remain competitive, leaders understand that giving their staff information is key. However, 36 per cent of employees say their workplace does not have a culture of transparency and only 18 per cent think the business they work for has a clear vision or goal.

The report highlights that communication tools can be powerful for SMBs in overcoming these barriers, especially as many are free or low-cost. Microsoft offers Teams, for example, which is part of Office 365 and has more than 20 million daily active users.

Bar chart showing that face-to-face communication is preferred by UK workers

The study of 1,000 SMB leaders and more than 1,000 staff found that the usage of internal communications and collaboration tools trailed behind all other methods surveyed, at just 19 per cent. Given the email overload many workers experience, this feels like a missed opportunity, especially when almost a third (30 per cent) of leaders say they want a technology platform to help them share information more easily with employees.

However, it is also important that businesses invest in training employees on how to use these programs and that senior leaders lead by example when they are implemented. Optimistically, 76 per cent of employees said they receive training when new technology is implemented, helping to overcome barriers such as physical locations.

Fifty-five per cent of employees report feeling optimistic, excited or confident about upcoming technology implementation. Employees also recognise the need for training as these tools arrive, with new technology and skills training listed as their top priorities for investment.

“In a small business it’s all too easy to stop proactively communicating when things get busy – a good problem to have, but an important one to solve,” said Josh Clarke, Director of Coffee for Clifton Coffee Roasters and a Microsoft Teams customer. “We’ve gone from a small team of six of us, to a company of 29 employees spread across the country, so maintaining the ability to communicate effectively and transparently is key to helping support our unique working culture – something that we find makes the business more attractive to the team.”

Read the full report: