How start-ups and SMEs can reinvigorate their teams


The new year naturally brings a sense of reflection. It’s a time when many will have evaluated the achievements or learnings of the past year, analyse their situations and set new goals for themselves. With January fast becoming a distant memory, this evaluative period is over, it’s a time when many will now decide whether to commit to their new resolutions, and that includes whether to change jobs.

A study by job-advertising platform found that 75% of the UK workforce would be looking for a new job this year. For SMEs the prospect of staff getting itchy feet can be worrisome for management and costly.

It can actually cost the equivalent of between six and nine months salary to replace a staff member, not to mention the downtime in between onboarding new staff and bringing them up to speed. Therefore, now is the time for founders to ensure that their staff are motivated, enthused, and happy in their jobs, rather than feeling uncertain about their future and considering new roles.

Build success on a strong foundation of culture

Even during more stable times, building a strong workplace culture is no small task. But with the threat of a long and shallow recession piling on the pressure, the stakes are even higher for business leaders.

Creating a positive culture at work should be used as a tool to unite your team behind shared targets for the rest of the year, whatever it holds. Even for companies with a strong sense of their culture, setting new goals to bolster your team’s engagement will really help going forward.

Remote, in person, and hybrid teams can all benefit from creating a social calendar filled with get-togethers. They create a great way to give your staff something to look forward to and help to recreate the “water-cooler” moments for teams split between working at home and in the office.

At Vestd, we were early and passionate adopters of remote working before the pandemic. At our annual retreats, we find that outsourcing the ideas and organisation of these events to include everyone is a great way to help them feel involved as a core part of the business. Giving your staff a say in what goes on also means that no one feels pressured into “forced fun” and there are a variety of options for socialising and getting to know your colleagues.

More than that, however, establishing a strong culture only means something if you’re committed to living and breathing it. Clear and consistent communication is a key part in maintaining an honest and successful business culture in the long run. When teams are geographically spread out, making this a focus becomes even more important.

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Consider how staff want to work

At the end of 2022, some of the most competitive skilled industries for job seekers were those most open to remote work. According to our research at Vestd, media, marketing and IT topped the list of the most remote-friendly industries, with the flexibility they offer workers and so making them the most desirable to work in. This shows that flexible working arrangements are still important for workers, and also reflects the undeniable overall working practice trend of the last year – seeking a better work life balance.

Each and every member of a business plays a significant part in driving success, and this is even more so in smaller businesses reliant on more compact teams. Employees joining at the startup or scaleup stage of a business’s growth are more likely to be invested in the company’s values and ethos, and these employee motives naturally change throughout your growth, so it’s important for your policies to develop accordingly.

Early in the year is a great time to trial small changes in your working practices. Take the time to sit down with your staff and gather their thoughts on how your ways of working can develop to suit their processes and needs. Flexi-hours, remote and hybrid work, or even a smaller day-to-day change could be what helps to unlock their potential.

In the early stages of these trials, SMEs can again capitalise on the smaller size of their teams through regular check-ins. Find out how everyone is finding the new initiatives and be open to experimenting with their suggestions slightly. This empowers employees to be open and honest with bosses, while having more autonomy over their work life, and in turn helps to keep them motivated.

Adapting to a flexible working model represents a significant shift in a workplace, but in the long term it can reap rewards for staff retention. There can be financial benefits for employers from reduced commuting or utility costs and the move will ultimately empower staff as well.

Some experts predict that 2023 will be a year of “the great return”, and the death of remote working as a norm, but the reluctance of staff to forfeit flexibility working suggests that remote and hybrid working are here to stay.

Unify efforts using equity

A united team is always more likely to achieve better results. That goes without saying, but keeping staff focused on the long-term vision and goals of a business isn’t always straightforward.

With the UK entering a recession that is expected to continue for the whole of 2023, it will no doubt put your employees’ personal finances under strain and we are seeing increased demands across the public and private sector for pay rises to reflect the rising cost of living.

For SMEs who do not always have a big cash pot to dole out hefty pay raises or bonuses to soften the effects of inflation for employees, they must think of other ways to keep their teams engaged and from leaving for other jobs offering an increase in salary. Instead they should consider sharing a slice of the action with employees and giving them access to their long-term successes through equity.

Sharing equity is a much under-utilised weapon by firms, as a low-cost way to provide tax-efficient and long-term incentives to employees in combination with planned salary increases.

While the traditional approach to setting up employee share schemes is complex and costly,
new online platforms mean the process is now safe and easy. A single and centralised dashboard means that all members of the team can clearly see the value of their shares increase with their hard work, acting as a strong incentive to keep their performance up.

Those companies who share equity with their employees can capitalise on the ‘ownership effect’, which demonstrates that employees work harder or are more likely to remain loyal to a company when they have even a small share of equity in their company. Sharing equity is a great route to inspiring collaboration, engagement and motivation while giving your staff skin in the game and an opportunity to invest in their future.

The best and most innovative businesses set out to create a solution to a problem or fill a gap in their industry but these results do not always come overnight. Having a team that’s enriched by a strong culture, works as one, and is committed to the long-term success of the SME is vital in keeping strong teams together.

Using the first few months of the year as a time to reinvigorate staff sets a good standard for the year ahead, and also generates a great head of steam for growth in the years to come.

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Source: SME

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