Running a small business was never easy – but in today’s fast-moving Covid-19 crisis, it’s probably never been harder.
Amid the social distancing, self-isolation and school closures, attracting and servicing customers has become an existential challenge. Add every employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their staff, and an effective remote working solution becomes the only possibility.
A week ago, ‘digital transformation’ may have sounded like a far-off aspiration. Now it’s a matter of survival.
Harbour IT Account Manager Glen Mason says implementing an effective remote working platform can be done fairly quickly, without cutting corners. Here are the insights and tips Glen can provide.
Taken for granted
“A very small, basic business could almost get away with just phones and emails,” he explains, “but for most other businesses continuity requires access to all your back-end systems like ordering and inventory, accounts, marketing materials, CRM, even company letterhead and stationery.”
“You don’t realise how much of the office environment you take for granted, until you’re not in the office.”
He warns that there are other aspects of office life that need to be factored into working from home too.
“Businesses need to address more than the technology challenge,” he advises. “Most employees put high value on their work friendships and daily interactions.”
Glen says that makes additional services like Live Chat and Video Conferencing an essential part of the working from home mix too.
“Again, it’s not something you even think about when everyone is in the office…. But working from home, the ability to have quick ad hoc discussions and face-to-face communication becomes vital.”
The quest to maintain productivity needs to recognise how easily problems are solved and ideas are generated when people can get together – either together in a meeting room or one-to-one via a traditional floor walk.
“Face-to-face communication adds a visual dynamic that helps communication immensely,” he says. So it’s worth researching and deploying solutions that will keep that dynamic alive – from virtual whiteboards and screen sharing to video calls and conferences, and even a live chat platform.
As an extra tip, Glen suggests those flexible, accessible online meeting services are a great way to bring everyone together at the start of each day and set the team up to stay productive.
Protecting your business
The other big challenge for any business is maintaining IT security when staff are working on numerous devices from numerous locations. It almost goes without saying that bad actors will try to exploit the current crisis to damage reputations or steal data.
Fortunately, Glen has a straightforward solution:
“Security needs to be managed at the centre,” he says.
“As long as the data going into and out of the central system is validated the business is largely protected,” he continues. “Bring Your Own Device working is now so common it shouldn’t be a threat.”
He adds that a lot of cyber and network security companies are responding to the Covid-19 crisis with temporary licenses for free, to help businesses move to remote working safely.
However, he makes the point that staff working from home still need to apply common sense and, ideally, the company’s IT policies. If your business doesn’t have a written security policy, creating one should be part of the move to remote working.
Developing a practical IT security policy may even be something a remote working service partner can help with.
Choosing the right partner
If your business needs it, Glen Mason says that level of support should be one of the things you should look for in a provider.
The rise of cloud-based software, services and storage have made remote working a lot simpler than it was even a decade ago, according to Glen. He says it means small businesses can develop a remote working solution fairly quickly and cost-effectively.
Using subscription models can help get staff working from home quite quickly and at a reasonable cost. However, Glen cautions that the longer-term solution will take more investment, especially when it involves migrating company’s data and those back-end resources onto the cloud too, for a full remote working set up.
On the up-side, it may be worth investigating whether the Government’s support measures for business could help you invest in a permanent solution for office and home working. It can only help sandbag your business continuity for the future, not just the current crisis.
Glen says making sure your provider is big enough to provide robust, long term service is the other critical factor to consider.
“Because people are staying home and not spending money, things are going to tighten up,” he says. “You want to be sure your service partner will be there when you need them.”
He points out that Harbour IT enjoys the backing of Canon, and that they operate in all of Australia’s east coast cities, meaning they can provide local service in one or multiple locations.
“With tightening restrictions on interstate travel, it’s no good having a partner in Brisbane if you need to enable staff in your Melbourne and Sydney offices too. We can provide local service in each of those centres.”
Size also helps ensure adequate staffing levels – a factor that is especially important if your business needs to get its remote working solutions up and running soon. Glen recommends businesses plan as much as they can and organise all their internal approvals in advance.
“Everyone has decided to press the button at the same time and all the leading providers are under pressure right now,” Glen explains.
“Everything you can do to stop your migration hitting a roadblock will ensure it keeps the resources your provider has assigned to the project.”
Service is (still) king
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for any independent business, Glen recommends making sure your partner specialises in the private enterprise space.
“They have to understand the special needs of businesses that don’t have a lot of resources to draw on,” he says, “from service implementation to ongoing support for the staff… Especially when they’re all working from home.”
Glen notes that Harbour IT is firmly focused on looking after businesses needing to supplement their existing teams with additional resources or gain access to a broad range of specialised IT skills at a fraction of the cost of having them in house.
And, as every business owner knows – little things like that make all the difference.
Contact us to see how Harbour IT can help improve your remote working and IT security operations.