Unlocking the key issues affecting SME productivity

Small businesses in the UK are driving growth, opening new markets and creating jobs. Their success is undeniably vital to the British economy. So much so, that by 2020 SME contributions are expected to top £217 billion.

The technology sector in particular is growing fast: the number of UK tech start-ups has doubled since the Brexit vote in 2016, and British tech companies have received more funding than any other EU country in that same period (£2.4 billion).

>See also: Fixing IT problems could save SMEs millions of hours

Nonetheless, SMEs are facing a few problems that could hinder their potential. Productivity, for example, is major issue affecting both large and small companies in the UK. In fact, national output levels are at an all-time low: 18 percentage points below the combined average of the G7’s other six member nations.

The company Storey is specifically interested in small business productivity – and helping SMEs improve their performance. That’s why it recently spoke to 500 SME decision makers in order to uncover some common factors affecting SME output in the UK.

SMEs take productivity seriously

The UK’s small business community is always looking for ways to improve productivity. For 76% of respondents, productivity is an important consideration from the get-go and drives their office’s initial set-up.

That said, many SME decision makers also believe that the design of their workspace could be better; 69% said that an improved layout would boost employee output and 20% specified the need for better meeting room facilities to achieve this.

Additionally, 37% are concerned that the poor quality of their workplaces is affecting their ability to attract top talent. This is a major challenge for technology companies: digital skills are in high demand; the competition is fierce and accessing talent is an ongoing challenge. And, almost half (40%) of the respondents believe that a team breakaway or ‘chill’ area would not only help employees work better, but create a more positive office environment.

>See also: UK small businesses are wasting time with IT problems

SMEs are clearly hungry for better workspaces and need improved facilities to help them achieve growth and success. For small tech businesses to thrive in today’s hugely competitive market, they need to operate in an environment that fosters innovation and agility – or risk falling behind the curve.


As important as breakaway areas and meeting rooms are to improving productivity, neither will achieve much if connectivity is poor. Small businesses in the UK are tormented by internet issues: 67% said that internet related problems are their biggest productivity blocker. Dropped internet connections and low internet speeds affect 47% and 46% of UK SMEs respectively. From our pool of respondents based in co-working spaces specifically, 64% are affected by internet issues.

For SMEs working and competing in an increasingly digital economy, these figures are unacceptable. An unreliable internet connection puts a small business at risk. In today’s fast-paced and responsive workplace, falling off the grid – even if just for a couple of hours – can play to the competition’s advantage. For many, an improved Wi-Fi connection could be all it takes to gain more ground and boost company performance.

>See also: Wi-Fi and productivity: redefining the workplace

Time is money

Small business owners don’t have much time. Their typical day already stretches to cover every aspect of their business from HR to sales. It’s imperative that they stay focused on these critical operations and don’t get side-tracked by plumbing issues or broken coffee machines.

Unfortunately, more than half (52%) of SME leaders and managers are spending too many precious seconds (between 11 and 42 hours to be precise) on office related admin every month.

Storey’s report uncovered some incredible stories: CEOs admitted that they often have to fix the office dishwasher or unblock a drain in the bathroom. As necessary as these jobs are to the quality of the workplace, senior staff need to focus on revenue generating work.

However, CEOs are not the only ones that have to deal with daily interruptions. PAs and office managers also find themselves spending time on tasks that don’t contribute to the overall business effectively.

>See also: All hands on tech: the impact of outdated technology 

These included having to answer the door every few minutes or take care of the office cleaning and product supply. At an ambitious, fast-growing SME, all employees should be working on activities geared to building the business and driving profitability.

A well-managed work environment will help SMEs reduce the time they spend on administrative tasks, and boost their high-growth potential. When the internet connection is strong and fast, and all non-business critical work is taken care of, SMEs can enjoy a more collaborative and focused workplace. To improve performance and profits, small businesses need facilities that allow them to put their time and money towards greater success.


Sourced by Joff Sharpe, head of operations at British Land and responsible for flexible workspace brand, Storey


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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