During this transition from an office to a remote working environment, how can an in-house or outsourced IT team support a small business in a coronavirus-triggered lockdown?
ContactEngine‘s founder and CEO, professor Mark K. Smith, says there are five common areas where an IT team could support a small business, based on requests from his clients.
>See also: What is the best cloud storage for UK small business?
#1 – Enabling call centre colleagues to work from home
Automatically re-route customer enquiries to an agent’s mobile.
#2 – In-home appointments
When employees are making home visits for installs, deliveries or repairs, make automatic Covid-19 pre-checks with the customer to make sure it is safe for employees to visit.
#3 – Emergency communications
Escalation comms for a situation when a workforce is suddenly dispersed during an emergency.
“Here a colleague calls into an emergency number and says what the issue is … the recording is sent to various colleagues who decide to escalate and schedule a conference call to decide the next action. It feels niche but it’s been used very extensively in the last few days for Covid-19 comms,” said Smith.
>See also: 5 Google tools to help you grow your small business
#4 – Bandwidth upgrades
The Financial Times reports that the EU has warned of significant broadband strain as millions work from home. To combat this, small businesses need to ask their IT teams to upgrade potentially “capped” broadband packages.
However, as reported in the Financial Times, John Graham-Cumming, chief technology officer at Cloudflare, the US web infrastructure company, said that while patterns of internet access were changing, there has not yet been a significant global slowdown. “[It] looks like there’s enough capacity. Nothing to indicate that this will cause a problem,” he said.
#5 – CEO broadcast to colleagues
IT teams can facilitate CEO broadcasts to colleagues via video or phone through a number of conferencing solutions, such as Zoom, Webex or Microsoft Teams.
Commenting on the uptake of remote IT solutions, Chintan Patel, chief technologist at Cisco UK and Ireland, said: “Cisco has seen a seven-fold increase in adoption of its Webex collaboration platform in countries affected by the outbreak of Covid-19.
“While there is no replacement for meeting face-to-face and being in the same room as a colleague or customer, video meetings are proven to be more effective than voice calls. In fact, 93 per cent of employees say video calls improve interactions and client relationships. It’s a simple thing, but seeing someone’s face as well as hearing their voice can be invaluable to remote workers.”
Network and security
On top of the front-end collaboration tools, small businesses and their IT teams need to focus on providing access to the office network and ensuring security in a lockdown or remote working environment.
According to Patel, a common complaint from home-workers is that they cannot access files and applications they use in the office.
“This can be made possible through a virtual private network [VPN] and ensuring that all employees can connect to the company network gives them the feeling of being virtually in the office, even while working from home,” he said.
There are a number of security implications when moving to a sudden remote workforce — “using connections through home-based setups to the network increases the number of potential cyber threats,” added Patel.
To combat this, small businesses and their IT teams need to remind employees of their cyber security policies, offer practical advice, and ensure all devices have up-to-date security software installed on endpoint devices, like laptops and mobile phones.
What if my small business doesn’t have the right technology?
Some small businesses won’t have the technology to support a remote working environment, which is an issue as serious as being able to “keep the lights on”.
There are companies can help with this immediate technology deployment.
The IT support services firm Ascertus, for instance, is helping some smaller firms deploy Microsoft Office 365, which will make business operations much easier and smoother in a lockdown scenario.
Further reading on small business IT
20 free apps to improve your business productivity