computer and notebook

By Andy Jane, CTO at Olive Communications

The UK is on partial lockdown with many SMEs embracing for the first time a new flexible world of remote working following Government restrictions on only essential travel to work. This could continue for up to six months.

First companies were faced with what’s being commonly referred to in the IT sector as phase one; SMEs suddenly forced to move key parts of their workforce to a new way of remote working after the call from the Government for people to work from home where possible.

Now, as we enter phase two, most employees are under partial lockdown, with businesses still grappling with setting up the remainder of their workforce to work away from the office. This is a particular challenge for those still with on-premises systems, which may now need to be migrated swiftly into the cloud.

But it’s not just inaccessible data systems or out of date equipment hampering businesses as they try to conform to the Government’s directive. A shortage of laptops, no unified communication system in place to keep communications flowing between isolated teams, and the UK’s national bandwidth now at peak capacity, are all potential threats on business productivity.

Cloud storage

While the national bandwidth issue is out of everyone’s control, there are steps SMEs can take with the help of cloud based tools and technology, to mitigate the risks of remote working.

As you transition the rest of your workforce over to home working, check your use of cloud storage across the business. This is central to any successful remote working strategy. Holding files on a central location such as a laptop or on-site server, presents data loss and security risks. All it takes is a spilt mug of coffee and a remote IT team being unable to fix the affected device.

Cloud storage allows every file in an employee’s systems to be backed up to a secure drive, safe from damage or loss and remotely wiped if necessary. Additionally, most cloud services offer version history in case any accidental edits are made to important documents.

Can your customers still reach you?

One of the most significant effects of closing an office without a remote set up is the potential loss of revenue from sales enquiries going unanswered or issues not logged, leading to customer dissatisfaction.

The most cost effective way to overcome this issue is through unified communications tools - mobile or laptop softphone applications that allow employees, receptionists or call centre staff to successfully answer calls remotely that are coming into their desk-phones. So, whether your employees are working in their study or kitchen table, communication channels remain open both ways, connecting the customer to the company and vice versa.

Keep communications flowing and productivity up

A consideration of suddenly moving employees that are used to the hustle and bustle of an office environment, into disparate or isolated locations is the impact it could have on morale and performance, if mismanaged. But providing access to good collaborative working tools to create the ‘virtual staff room’ such as instant messaging, voice and video chat, can help.

This is where video conferencing really comes into its own. Collaboration tools such as Mitel MiTeam Meetings breaks down barriers, enabling employees to collaborate in a more personal way when working remotely. While video was increasing in adoption before COVID-19, over the next few weeks we’re likely to continue to see a huge surge in its use as staff look for ways to maintain human contact and interaction whilst in self-isolation.

Business continuity planning

The majority of SMEs and businesses in general are unprepared for a health emergency or pandemic such as COVID-19 with few having thought about or properly planned for an emergency.

In the case of Corona, the virus came from nowhere and this has certainly been a wakeup call for many companies to ensure they have robust business continuity plans (BCP) in place to manage the now and to be prepared for potential future risks.

Throughout the lockdown period regularly check that your technology enables every member of your team to perform their duties from home so it’s business as usual no matter the circumstance. Ensure this plan is regularly updated and communicated to all staff and use this time to change your continuity plans in accordance with current experiences.

Once your workforce is back in the office, be sure to test your BCP at least every six months rather than wait until it’s absolutely necessary by which time it could be too late. Continuity plans require a lot of attention and investment from senior leaders to ensure they’re done properly with tangible measures such as operational efficiency put to the test.

These are without a doubt one of the most testing times for SMEs but with the right technology and a robust continuity plan in place, the majority of businesses will be able to continue operating effectively. And, who knows, this new dissipated, remote way of working may just become the new normal.