Three key post-COVID-19 trends in small business office technology

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It’s unlikely anyone would argue with the idea that reliable connectivity is a critical part of modern businesses.

Yet, no situation in recent memory has indicated the importance of internet access like the current climate has, as Grand Rapids’ business community — as well as the rest of the state — makes valiant efforts to keep their organizations humming during a global public health crisis, leading many organizations to shift to remote work where and when possible.

Three trends related to the rise in remote work could impact a small business’s technology environment in a post-COVID-19 world.

Rapid adoption of cloud-based collaboration tools shows companies that remote work policies can be a viable part of the future.

Cloud-based platforms like Office 365 (Teams and OneDrive), Slack, Zoom and Google Suite allow employees to collaborate, share screens, video conference and work on documents no matter where they are in the world. Companies that had already adopted these types of tools were far better prepared to pivot — overnight, in many cases — to a fully remote work environment.

After years of hypothesizing whether people could be productive while being fully remote, we have been forced into a massive social experiment that is showing most organizations that working from home doesn’t mean people are doing less. (In fact, in some cases, the opposite is true.)

Even if some people choose to go back to the office once it’s safe to do so, many others will want to switch to a partial or fully remote work scenario — and the cloud is key to supporting these new needs. It’s entirely likely any technology that is not cloud-based may disappear permanently; this was already happening prior to the pandemic, but the death knell tolls even more loudly now for any technology that is not flexible, scalable and cloud-based.

Home broadband accessibility and reliability has become more important than ever.

With entire families self-isolating in one spot, kids might be attending virtual classes, streaming TV shows and movies, or playing internet-based video games while parents are working remotely and video conferencing — all at the same time. Without a high-speed, high-bandwidth network, internet can slow to a crawl and impede work productivity.

Some remote employees might choose to have two separate accounts — a residential service provider for nonwork activities like television streaming and business-class internet for their work activities. While most people working from home have access to ultra-fast internet service plans that can reliably handle dozens of connected devices and heavy usage activity, a business-class home office solution offers more. It comes with a higher level of back-end support and the ability to add business-class services like a static IP address and LTE back-up in case of a power outage or damaged wireline connection.

If remote work becomes more prevalent even after the crisis is over, businesses may take a new approach to at-home productivity with tactics like reimbursing employees wholly or partially for high-speed and/or business-class internet. This will require careful vetting on the part of the employer to ensure they are guiding employees toward optimal networks.

Small businesses refocus on the need for enhanced cybersecurity — inside the office and out.

The costs of being hacked far outweigh the costs of preventive measures, which means even businesses without a large budget should dedicate resources to stringent cybersecurity technologies — including for remote employees who have left the security of the corporate office’s network. Coveware found corporate ransomware payment amounts rose abruptly in the first quarter of this year, in several cases because of complexities in the shift to remote work.

There are two main ways businesses can help protect their data, even with a remote workforce: education and software.

Education involves turning employees into another line of defense by informing them of existing cybersecurity threats and how to avoid them. If an employee in an office accidentally clicks on a phishing link, there are some protections but that’s not necessarily the case at home because most people don’t have a corporate firewall on their home network.

IT teams will have to train employees on how to detect threats, like phishing, and what to do if they think something is suspicious, as well as implement policies like strong password requirements, two-factor authentication and forced password changes several times a year.

The software component involves using the latest technology to secure the services and network that employees use. For example, companies may turn to software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) to manage their network over the internet. With SD-WAN, a company’s IT staff can sit anywhere in the world while monitoring traffic and adjusting network settings as needed from a secure portal.

There’s no doubt the pandemic will reshape the way people work, play and connect with each other, and no organization will come out of this completely unchanged. The good news is that technology can help ensure employees — in the office and remote — can stay productive and focused while upholding the security of business data.

Do your research, talk to trusted technology providers and rely on experts’ advice — and your small business will be ready to meet current and future challenges.

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