With every business going online en mass, perhaps we need to repackage “offline” ties to differentiate the business inside-out.

Many of today’s businesses interact with their customers primarily over digital channels—whether it be through social media or emails, or through transactions that are increasingly made digitally or through e-commerce platforms.

It is no wonder, then, that Asian businesses are increasingly digital-first, especially since doing so provides a bevy of business benefits including speed of innovation and optimised business costs.

As I work in a global online platform for small businesses, I am very familiar with this journey. Yet my leaders and I have also made a conscious effort to prioritize the “offline connection” to both external and internal stakeholders. In this case, offline means the non-online; the physical, interpersonalised touchpoints and communication value-adds.

It is this spirit of collaboration and communication that we feel are important for success, and something that I believe should be embraced by more companies across sectors and industries. 

Never lose the human touch in a digital world

Many business leaders that create online businesses are very focused on scale, and they are not wrong to do so. A completely natural part of scaling and growing a business is that your stakeholders will change—and this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there is absolutely a risk of losing touch, whether it be with your customers, partners, or employees. If a business’s customer base changes, and it is not making an effort to reach out to them to maintain channels of communication, then it runs the risk of becoming completely irrelevant.

This is one of the driving forces behind the multiple community events I organise every year to bring small businesses and their advisors together. By maintaining these physical touchpoints with our external stakeholders, we better understand who they are and what they need for their business. 

We also collaborate closely with our partners and customers; by workshopping with them, we ask, “Is this going to be of value to you? How do we shape the idea to make sure we maximize its value to you?” 

Through these efforts, my teams and I have continued to develop mutual trust and understanding with all our stakeholders. 

Employ an inside-out approach

One of my organization’s core values is #Human, coupled with something we call the “inside-out” approach: where we focus on attracting and retaining the best people while also empowering them to do the best work of their lives. When your people are happy and they know that the company is looking after them, they will in turn look after your customers and partners.

The team is also unified by a common purpose and energy— to “have a positive impact on the world by growing small business”. We believe that by helping small businesses succeed, more jobs will be created, economies will be strengthened, and communities will flourish.

In our efforts to cultivate such a culture, we have strived to create a safe environment for employees, where they feel empowered to present their own ideas and opinions without fear of them being “career-ending comments”. Since we are united by a common purpose, and we trust that everyone on the team has the same end goals in mind, we are able to accept and take action on completely fresh ideas or as constructive criticism that can benefit our partners and customers.

Foster an inclusive organization culture

We have also prioritized our diversity initiatives. One common refrain brought up against such efforts is that businesses should simply “hire the best person for the job”. Yet in 2020, we need to challenge what “best” means; if our presuppositions about the qualities that constitute what “best” entails are actually the most beneficial for our organization. In doing so, we can hire the people that best fit their roles. Additionally, by creating inclusive environments where your employees no longer need to waste their time and energy being who they think they should be, people can feel truly free to be their authentic selves.

Last but not least, we make sure to listen closely to our employees to better understand their strengths and areas of professional interest. By aligning these with the work that they do, productivity improves, they are motivated to grow, and they have a clearer sense of purpose.

Our core philosophy of listening to and collaborating with our stakeholders permeates our entire organisation, and is a large part of why we have created such a strong sense of community within our organization and with our partners and customers. Human relationships are a significant factor in our success as an online platform—in other words, the offline connection.