remote working

While the big-names in business have been grabbing headlines when it comes to remote working following coronavirus, here Eacs explains that SMEs could be more vulnerable to an influx of staff working from home

Since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) across China was first reported in early January, the global spread of the virus has taken centre stage and dominated headlines. In light of the recent contagion across Europe, attention has now turned to how it is starting to impact the UK and particularly how businesses and the wider economy are going to cope.

One way organisations are starting to respond is to implement remote working strategies. As this tool for protecting workforces becomes more widespread, the question is: how well will businesses manage if the majority of their staff are forced to self-isolate or avoid travelling to their workplace?

Businesses in the mid-market are less likely to have invested in the risk mitigation policies and processes, underpinned by the agile and responsive technology support , which means that they are the ones that risk significant compromise in both productivity and security.

Remote working as a tool to combat coronavirus

Public health experts are recommending that companies encourage employees to work from home to prevent the potentially deadly coronavirus from spreading around offices, public transport and elsewhere. As such, remote working strategies are now being widely invoked by businesses across the UK, with large enterprises in particular following the guidance of experts. For example, Twitter has asked its entire workforce of 5,000 employees to work remotely for the ‘foreseeable future’.

As coronavirus continues to spread at a rapid rate, it is increasingly likely that over the next few weeks we will see more companies of all sizes and across all sectors send their workforce home. The reality is that we could be forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment, where businesses of all sizes are forced to be participants.

The advantages of remote working and cloud infrastructure have been widely covered, but the rapid spread of COVID-19 clearly means that these are now being seen as key tools to ensure employee well being and business-as-usual operations.

Why are SMEs at risk?

For larger enterprises that have invested heavily in the infrastructure and technology needed to support an influx of remote working, the impact should be minimal. For SMEs, however, it is likely to be a different story.

Most SME’s have Disaster Recovery plans that typically focus on the infrastructure and data protection, but have not necessarily considered Business Continuity Plans (BCP). As such, for the majority of SMEs, remote working strategies will be very difficult to implement, as they are less likely to have invested in the infrastructure, security provisioning and business continuity processes to support access from outside the office.

This is likely to result in most smaller businesses asking their workforce to take a laptop or tablet home and treating it as business as usual, which will lead to a host of different challenges and risks.

First, productivity will almost undoubtedly fall. At the top of business leader’s minds will be the productivity impact of staff who are ‘out of sight’ or the availability of equipment. However, what should be of most concern to SMEs is the heightened risk of a costly cyber-attack. A period of global disruption is always a particularly enticing time for cybercriminals, who often try to take advantage of crises to disrupt operations and hack businesses. Most of the time, their best way into a network is through a company’s users, and for a business that might not have invested in the security tools needed to support remote access, they will be at the top of a cybercriminal’s list.

What should SMEs be doing?

The question is, then, what should SMEs being doing and who can they turn to if they need additional support?

The short version is that the SME’s that do not usually offer remote working, who are clearly the most at risk, must rethink their approach to BCP to keep disruption to a minimum. Knowing where to start can be a daunting thought, but there are a number of clear simple assessments that can get someone “risk ready” in less than a week.

These assessments cover the end to end supply chain and businesses own internal processes – such as Finance, HR, Compliance, Sales and Service Delivery. It is vitally important for them to now get their plans in place to make sure that they are ready and prepared for a sudden increase in staff self-isolating or avoiding travelling to the workplace. For example, some companies have plans but have not actually tested them in earnest that they actually work. Indeed some plans are so old they may have the wrong information on them, or rely on technology that is out of date  It is crucial that IT teams conduct a thorough audit of their hardware and software and close any gaps in validity, remote access and adoption. Then it has to be tested to make sure that it works – testing before it needs to be invoked is a sensible thing to do rather than leave it until the last minute and have a fingers crossed approach.

However, some in-house IT and technical teams are not able to initiate these plans quickly and effectively. For these businesses, they need to look for outside support which specialise in the mid-market. Getting an answer that is appropriate to the size of the problem is key to ensuring that productivity amongst employees or the security of the business isn’t compromised.

The global spread of coronavirus may mark a watershed moment that reveals just how well-prepared, or underprepared, mid-tier businesses are for unexpected workplace changes. Fortunately, there are actions that they can take, but they must act now.

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