Technology gave us the Terminator…

By: Mark Hook

Date: 11 November 2009

New technology can prove a blessing for small business owners, saving them much-needed time and money. But the arrival of shiny new machines may not be all good news. Fiddly instructions, baffling electronic signals and disruption to working patterns can often be met with resistance by even the most loyal of staff.

Tesco recently announced the opening of their first entirely self-service shop in Northampton, with self-scan tills manned by a single member of staff. The company has faced criticism. As the UK's biggest food retailer, with 4,300 stores worldwide, the understandable concern from employees is that, along with their traditional tills, they will become obsolete themselves.

This might strike you as a problem for corporations, not small firms. Sure, the first British small firm with no humans in it may be a long way off. But every SME that uses machinery or computers faces similar decisions to a megacorp - how best to weigh up the pros of tech advances, such as time and cost savings, against the cons.

Typically, for small firms this means not mass sackings, but extra training and reorganising disgruntled employees, keeping up complex, probably expensive systems and, finally, loss of personal customer service, a precious advantage small firms have traditionally held.

If you are considering introducing new tech into your business, one way to proceed is to let your staff know about the plans for change. The right approach before you implement a new action plan can calm employee fears, motivate people and improve their performance. By law, businesses with 50 or more employees who are facing major change must set up an information and consultation agreement if a significant percentage of employees asks for one. The firm's owners should then inform and consult their employees before implementing changes. And in a smaller firm you may be able to get useful feedback from every employee. Implementing an information and consultation policy allows you to communicate effectively with employees and meet legal requirements - proving the point that human interaction can be irreplaceable, at least in some business situations.

Read the Law Donut's advice on information and consultation with employees.

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