How the new decade will play out for SMEs

As the new decade begins, the business environment will be subject to the same economic ups and downs seen in the previous decade. However, with new technologies and approaches, most businesses will be able to leverage automation and even artificial intelligence to smooth out those peaks and troughs.

Here are my top five 2020 predictions for SMEs, covering economics, technology, business, travel, the environment, diversity, and corporate social responsibility:

Small businesses will tighten budgets to safeguard against economic and government downturns

Small businesses tend to be the most significantly affected by economic fluctuations because of their typically lean operating models. With the local economy likely to be affected by ongoing uncertainty from factors such as the US-China trade war, and a possible hard landing for China, small businesses need to make sure spending is tightly controlled during 2020.

Machine learning moves from a novelty to a routine function

Businesses have been fascinated by the novelty and promise of machine learning (ML) and this will become the norm in 2020, as ML proliferates throughout business operations. Using ML, automated systems will increasingly anticipate business needs, whether they be related to expense reports, scheduling, or other processes. It will do all or a portion of certain tasks, with more accuracy and speed than a human being.

We are working on advances in these areas such as pre-filling travel itineraries and predicting the location of expenses based on previous trips. ML, therefore, eliminates mundane operational duties, allowing employees to put more energy towards creative and productive work.

A move toward office spaces that offer co-location with a purpose

Static workplaces and limited recruiting policies are issues of the past given the increasing use of smart collaboration and engagement tools. Mobile-first nomadism is enhancing the way SMEs function, with virtual meetings becoming as common as in-person ones. Employees feel less tethered to a traditional office and want the ability to work from anywhere.

In 2020, these developments will lead to noticeable changes in office spaces, creating a new approach known as co-location with a purpose. There will be a shift towards flexible office spaces: open-space hubs to host teams; touch-down spaces for those usually working from alternate bases; plentiful conference rooms for more collaborative work; and easily available focus rooms for those who need an occasional alternative to open spaces.

Environmental concerns will accelerate eco-conscious travel

A recent study by Wakefield research found that one-third of business travellers have adjusted their form of travel due to environmental concerns, and SAP Concur predicts that number will rise. With airlines adjusting seating options to maximise travellers per flight, and hotels rethinking the sustainability of their designs, it’s only the beginning of a shift to eco-friendly travel. As discussions around climate change intensify, companies and employees will continue to strive for more sustainable travelling options.

The year of the purpose-driven workplace

Millennials are projected to make up half of all workers in 2020, giving rise to purpose-driven workplaces. Organisations will adjust their missions to more clearly demonstrate the business’s societal, environmental, and nonprofit impact as they look to connect to a purpose beyond profit. Purpose-driven workplaces tend to deliver better financial performance by attracting and retaining top talent and increasing engagement and productivity among current employees.

In conclusion

2020 will continue to drive significant developments as organisations of all sizes look to optimise efficiency and productivity through employee operations and satisfaction. Australian businesses need to be aware of these trends and adopt cutting edge technology to facilitate their workers’ need to travel and collaborate more effectively and with less effort.

Fabian Calle, General Manager – SMB, SAP Concur ANZ

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