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Lessons from Main Street: The Team-First Approach to Upgrading Your Workplace Tech

4 Mins read

When it comes to enacting and managing change in the workplace, there is a lot we can learn from successful Main Street businesses. After all, as new data shows, people trust small businesses more than any other institution in the country. These businesses are our neighbors and friends, a part of our local cultures and communities. We know them, and they know us. They also comprise 99% of businesses in America, and generate almost half (44%) the total GDP, which means they have the potential to establish positive trends that will echo throughout the greater world of work.

Right now, technology is one of the most exciting – and daunting – arenas of change at any business. The pandemic accelerated our reliance on digital experiences. Meanwhile, the generative AI boom is revolutionizing the way we approach everyday tasks, which could lead to unprecedented gains in productivity. These trends are leading companies to completely rethink the way they run their businesses. But amid this deluge of exciting new tech, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “tech for tech’s sake,” where the allure of an innovative product overshadows the immediate needs of the workforce.

Small business owners can successfully manage change in the workplace when they act on the ethos of taking care of their people and serving their communities. With small business leaders collaborating so closely with their employees, they model a team-first approach to operations, where workers’ voices are the primary engine of change. Their deep connection with their teams informs their understanding of how change reverberates through the workplace. Then, they apply that understanding with care and compassion for the unstoppable people who help them operate. It’s this human-centric approach to management that makes small businesses the ones to watch when it comes to bringing new tech into the workplace.

What does it mean to be “team-first?”

At the heart of the “team-first” approach is the idea that any investment in the workplace is, first and foremost, an investment in its people. In the case of implementing new technology, the goal should be to give people tools they need to do their jobs more effectively, with minimal hurdles to adoption. A new program or process shouldn’t be an extra layer of stress on top of their everyday job duties. More than that, no one wants to simply be told something is good for them. That’s where the “tech-first” approach fails: leaders become enamored with potential solutions as an investment in the business as an entity, not the workforce that keeps it running. Instead, think of it this way: you’re not buying parts – you’re empowering people.

A team-first approach to upgrading your workplace tech has five key components:

  • Listen to employees’ needs via a cycle of open, ongoing communication – not an impersonal survey or one-time check-in. Leaders should strive to establish multiple channels for employees to voice their opinions, then couple employee input with regular, data-driven assessments of productivity and business performance. We live in an age where every industry is fast-moving, and the demands of both an organization and its workforce are evolving every day. Keeping a pulse on both will lead to technology decisions that address both categories of need.
  • Crowdsource ideas from the staff. Employees who have worked at other small businesses, hold multiple jobs or have experience at well-run or bigger local companies are likely to have strong opinions on what technology and processes work best. Learning which tools they love (and which ones they hate) will help to narrow down the options.
  • Delegate a super user who can explain the ins and outs of the new technology to the rest of the staff. My company Homebase, which provides team management services to small business services, actually found that a fourth of our new customers had already used the platform at a different company. This made them uniquely equipped to onboard their teams and get the most value out of the platform. Finding these tech champions can alleviate the burden of training from busy owners and managers.
  • Facilitate a smooth launch of new technologies in the workplace with proper onboarding and guidance. Use the early days of adoption to ensure the new programs and systems actually work. Then, begin collecting data through processes like A/B testing to examine how employees are adapting to the new software.
  • Adjust processes according to data insights and employee feedback. Regular check-ins with employees can help leaders course-correct if needed, preventing overinvestment in solutions that won’t actually improve the business.

Embracing the small business way

Small businesses are the busiest businesses. Compact teams must manage every facet of operations, sometimes simultaneously. The interdisciplinary nature of running and staffing a small business has led to creative and resilient teams with extraordinary skill sets. People come to small businesses from all walks of life, with a diverse breadth of professional experience. This is a part of what makes small businesses some of the best places to develop and grow professionally.

To this end, being “team-first” also means leveraging your employees’ unique skill sets to make decisions about technology adoption. Focus on amplifying what they do well, while adding extra support for the things they need help on. This will drive increased productivity as well as individual professional growth.

Small businesses take a deeply personal approach to improving the workplace and managing change – but the advantage isn’t exclusive to small teams. Employees deserve to come to work excited and energized. Technology provides opportunities to automate and reduce the tasks that sap our energy, so we can focus on what matters most. But these effects will only occur if the technology in question is compatible with how employees do their jobs, and that requires employers to create the structures and spaces for their voices to be heard.

Rushi Patel is the CRO and Co-Founder of Homebase.

Technology stock image by greenbutterfly/Shutterstock

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