Small and medium-sized businesses are at a critical juncture ahead of the hyped ‘great resignation’ of 2022, according to Corporate Traveller general manager, Tom Walley.

In a recent report, Microsoft found that four in 10 (41%) of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46% planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

“Let’s face it, Zoom and Teams have been excellent tools over the past 18 months, and they will play a part going forward, but no business is going to sign deal worth millions over a virtual platform – there’s simply too much risk involved in taking that leap,” Walley said.

“The vast majority of the feedback that I’ve received internally and from customers is those who have made the effort to travel and see employees and prospects face-to-face have made more of an impact in a day or two than they would have in six months of virtual meeting calendar matching.

“Virtual platforms are excellent for information sharing but they don’t cut it when it comes to key decision making. SMEs need to get back out there to engage with their own employees as well as linking up with potential prospects as soon as they possibly can.

“There is now the realisation that only face-to-face interactions can save the leakage of talent and we’re expecting to see a significant uplift in international travel from February onwards. SMEs can’t afford not to travel and those that can, will.

“I advise SMEs to have a marketing and sales strategy ready, innovate through your existing technology to differentiate your brand, create a cashflow positive strategy, strengthen customer service functions, improve business reporting, involve your human resources professional, update your business’s travel and expense policy, and, of course, take to the skies and get out to see your people and prospects.”

Walley forecasts seven areas SMEs will focus on in 2022 in a continuing pandemic environment:

  1. Nurturing repeat customers: Beyond customer acquisition, SMEs are likely to focus on driving customer loyalty. Businesses will use every avenue to nurture customer relationships – from personalised communications with exclusive reward and discount offers in direct marketing, to social media and targeted online advertising.
  2. Simplified supply chains: The pandemic has uncovered the business sector’s reliance on complex global supply chains and the significant impact of any disruptions along the chain. At the same time, Australians are beginning to understand the importance of locally made products. Mr Walley expects businesses to simplify their supply chains and try to localise some aspects to avoid disruptions and a dependency on other regions. Any shift to ‘Australian made’ will also help attract customers.
  3. Growing adoption of AI: There will be an increase in AI-powered software, andmore businesses will invest in software with AI technology in 2022 in their products, services, and customer interaction. AI will automate some processes, analyse data, improve the customer experience with predictive tools, and increase visibility across various phases of the supply chain.
  4. Renewed focus on sustainability: Many businesses likely postponed sustainable initiatives during the pandemic while they focussed on protecting their employees and maintaining revenue. However, SMEs will slowly take up their environmental programs in 2022, and some may even adopt more ambitious targets. Many are likely to pivot procurement to sustainable suppliers and establish goals to reduce waste and emissions across their operations, goods production, and their travel.
  5. Embracing new payment methods: Cryptocurrency is gaining momentum in Australia and internationally – driven by looming concerns over growing inflation and the opportunities brought by major technological developments in decentralised finance. As a result, more businesses are likely to diversify their payment mix to include crypto. However, adequate government regulation of the crypto industry will need to be implemented first, to decrease hesitancy and encourage broader adoption.
  6. Flexibility beyond WFH: With job ads increasing in October by 10% on the previous month and 63% on the previous year, applications have declined by 5%, according to SEEK data. To attract talent, businesses must offer flexible work arrangements, including remote, casual, part-time, job share and contract job options, along with better entitlements and, for some, higher pay.
  7. Better and more flexible travel: In the absence of serious Covid variants that result in lockdowns and border closures, travel will again be an important business activity, particularly for building relationships and making sales. While international borders are likely to close again, businesses will still set their sights on domestic travel. At the same time, businesses are developing new travel policies and procedures to mitigate health and safety risks among travellers. These may include engaging suppliers with good hygiene and safety protocols across air, hotel and transport that align with their own policies. Pre-trip Covid tests and confirmation of vaccination status will become the norm, while a higher proportion of businesses will engage with technology-driven travel management companies to equip them with information on restrictions and quarantine requirements in real-time.