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Despite comment conceptions that larger budgets allow large companies to adopt the latest technologies first, new research suggests that smaller businesses are actually the earlier adopters.

Communications firm Unify found that 60% of 'knowledge workers' - employees whose main capital is knowledge - at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, US and Germany now use internet or cloud based tools in their roles.

That figure compares to 53% of knowledge workers at large organisations who used such on-demand tools.

Knowledge workers at SMEs expect to see large changes in their jobs over the next five years. More than a third (38%) believe their roles will not exist after this timeframe, with almost two-thirds (64%) thinking they will not look the same. In this fast-paced environment, trust is vital. Just over three-quarters (76%) of SME knowledge workers feel they are listened to in their organisation, compared to 71% in larger companies, suggesting they will be well positioned to adapt in the future.

Technology is having a huge impact on SMEs. Email is still seen as an essential tool, with almost three quarters (70%) of small and medium businesses viewing it as such. Companies of this size rely on it less than larger organisations though; with 80% of the latter stating it is essential. There is also strong evidence of further consumerisation of enterprise technology. Close to two thirds (61%) of SMes use their own devices at work, compared to just under half (47%) at large organisations. This suggests people want to work with the devices they are comfortable with outside of the office, so SMes need to choose tools and applications that work alongside this.

Thomas Veit, general manager of channels EMPAC at Unify, said: “There is no technological gulf between SMEs and large organisations, and in many cases, SMBs are more progressive, as they are forced to do more with less, be innovative, and nimble.

“Our study not only shows the huge impact technology has had on the industry, but the fact SMEs are adopting and integrating it into every aspect of their work. The Way We Work Study has confirmed what we have known for some time: growing businesses are more open to trying new technology. It has also established that knowledge workers are defining how, when and where they do their jobs and SMEs are taking notice. To remain competitive, they must put staff at the forefront of their organisation and technology is the key in achieving this.”

Close to half of SME knowledge workers (47%) believe a single office as a physical workplace is less important than in the past. Although this trend is gaining momentum, smaller businesses are still not on par larger ones in regards to virtual working.

Almost half (48%) of both SMEs and larger companies believe their organisations operate through technology rather than offices. SMEs with under 100 employees are a different story though, as only two-fifths (40%) believe this.

SME knowledge workers value working outside of traditional office environments, with 37% of those with fewer than 500 employees stating that creative thinking is one of its largest benefits. Alongside this, almost a third (30%) value virtual teams for their ability to bring together different skills effectively. Although larger companies are more likely to have more locations, so will naturally explore virtual teams more, this suggests SMEs see the value in this type of work and are primed to examine it further in the future.