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Glen Foster

Director of Small Business, Xero

Donna Torres

Director of Sales and Global Partnerships, Planday

Technology is helping small businesses develop a competitive edge and weather the current harsh trading environment created by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and supply chain issues.

Despite the turbulent environment, there is a degree of optimism as new technology begins to address key issues to create a brighter future for smaller companies.

Industry expert Donna Torres explains that the last 18 months have been “an extremely challenging time” for small businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, though the situation is improving.

Beyond the pandemic, recruitment and retention remain problematic, alongside supply of materials and products, as well as rising inflation.

Technology solutions

Research from global small business platform Xero for October showed that hospitality is one of the weakest performing industries with job growth down 8.3% on the previous year.

Further research from workforce management specialists Planday indicated that one in five Brits do not enjoy their work, 40% say their workplace does not have a positive impact on their mental health and a third felt they could not voice their concerns in the workplace.

Some 44% working in hospitality could not see themselves in a long-term career, though 69% would stay if there were changes in benefits and pay and flexibility to rebalance work with home life.

Glen Foster, Director of Small Business at Xero, explains: “Hospitality businesses that were traditional at the core before the pandemic, have discovered that digital processes offer far greater scalability and resilience. By using tools like Planday and Xero together, small businesses can automate and simplify tasks like scheduling staff, tracking their shifts, and then export it to Xero for seamless payroll.”

Competitive advantage

Torres, who is Director of Sales and Global Partnerships at Planday, has extensive experience in digitalisation, helping businesses such as restaurants, cafes and bars to work smarter and unlock their competitive advantage by embracing digital tools.

She explains that many companies came to rely on digital tools during the pandemic to survive, and adoption is expected to accelerate.

Businesses can improve the way they operate by using workforce management tools to support staff scheduling, help personnel swap shifts, streamline operations and create a seamless payroll system that ensures people are paid correctly for hours worked and on time.

Some 44% working in hospitality could not see themselves in a long-term career.

Business insight

As well as alleviating human error, the technology produces reports highlighting busy periods, enabling managers to schedule staff levels accordingly – particularly during the festive period – and offers an overview to help with staffing and forward planning.

One example is Pasta Evangelists, which when acquired by a major pasta producer and having grown rapidly, used the technology to deliver an updated approach to payroll, scheduling and staff communication.

Another issue for smaller firms is keeping digital tax records for submission to HMRC, which can be supported by accounting systems. This is vital as the next phase of Making Tax Digital gets underway, with businesses who charge VAT with taxable turnover under £85,000 having to comply with the scheme from April 2022.

Clearer focus

Technology allows small businesses to focus on what they do best. “People do not set up in business to do payroll and schedule staffing,” adds Torres. “This technology does the ‘heavy lifting’ and allows them to focus on the things that matter about their business; their customers, bringing in the right people; creating a culture where people want to stay; and to deliver great service.”

A better culture attracts and retains better people, while remote working and e-commerce has seen that recruitment landscape change.

Despite the tough environment, Torres believes there is a bright future for small businesses. “The pandemic saw people support small businesses in their community,” she says. “Once these current challenges pass, there will be a boom period. We are operating in a new environment and by using the right technology, it will enable small businesses to free up time to focus on running their business and do the things they love doing best.”

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