Modern technology has helped to make home working a viable reality.Although this method of working is not a new concept, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to adopt work from home policies for the first time. While this allows organisations to continue to operate, it also presents new challenges.
For instance, you need to ensure that all employees have the ability to remotely access important files and applications, using laptops, tablets and/or smartphones, without sacrificing security. In this article, we explore how managed IT services and cloud solutions make working from home a realistic and safe prospect.
The outbreak of COVID-19 led to serious responses from governments, including lockdown measures and instructions to work from home, whenever and wherever possible. For many businesses, this meant significant upheaval. After all, according to the Office for National Statistics, prior to the outbreak, just five percent of the UK workforce previously did most of their work from home, and only a quarter of the UK workforce had any significant experience in doing so.
With that being said, the pandemic did help to highlight the importance of having the capacity for remote work and even after the Coronavirus crisis is over, many small businesses will want to retain this option.
One of the single biggest challenges associated with SMEs allowing employees to work from home is ensuring people have access to all of the core applications and files they need. Cloud technology can be absolutely crucial for this, especially with solutions like Microsoft 365(Previously Office 365) and Google Apps.
The precise option you opt for here will depend on the nature of work that needs to be carried out and the types of applications your staff are used to using. However, managed service providers can help with both the planning and implementation of small business cloud solutions, while also providing remote training in some instances too.
Additionally, cloud hosting services can assist with file sharing and file back ups. Furthermore, access to shared files can be controlled and the ability for multiple people to edit data simultaneously can allow for seamless remote collaboration, as well as the option to easily track employee attendance, even when they work from home.
A major concern that many small and medium enterprises have when it comes to allowing staff to work from home relates to security. After all, remote work brings with it some natural security risks, especially if employees have the freedom to use their own personal devices. Yet, small business cloud solutions can actually help to boost security.
For instance, with cloud services you share access to files with named colleagues instead of sending them complete copies. Meaning your data cant be forwarded, accidentally re-shared without your knowledge and you can revoke the access at any time. Meanwhile, cloud hosting can be crucial for backing up files and even allowing for complete system recovery in the event of human error, cyber attacks or other IT disasters occurring.
One threat that does need to be taken seriously concerns the rise of phishing attacks targeting remote workers. Worryingly, research from Barracuda has found that phishing attacks during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak became more sophisticated, as attackers targeted home workers, attempting to gain login credentials and financial details through techniques such as spear phishing, ransomware and even so-called ‘sextortion’.
Part of the battle with preventing phishing attempts is teaching employees to recognise the obvious signs and to adopt best practices, such as logging in to platforms properly, rather than following links in emails, and only opening emails from trusted sources. Managed IT services can help facilitate this training while also ensuring good quality anti-malware and anti-virus support.
Although COVID-19 took the decision out of many SME’s hands and forced them to adopt home working policies, it is worth noting that there are a number of key advantages associated with remote work. Some of these advantages are significant enough to warrant real consideration for allowing the option of home working to continue.
For example, as the Homeworking Guide published by Unison points out, employees working from home may benefit from the lack of workplace distractions, such as colleagues coming over for a conversation. For employers, the ability for some staff to work from home could also reduce overheads, as less office space may be needed.
Many employers are worried about a lack of productivity associated with working from home. After all, employees cannot be as easily supervised, plus there is the potential for people to become distracted by other things in their home, such as the television, video games consoles, household chores or other members of their household.
However, a randomised study of Chinese company Ctrip actually found that working from home was associated with higher levels of productivity. It concluded that this was due to a combination of remote workers spending more time doing work, due to taking fewer breaks or absence days, as well as achieving a higher performance per minute.
Clearly, this may not be true for all individual employees and you will need to take some basic steps to ensure productivity remains high. Nevertheless, it does serve as evidence that some of the fears may be unwarranted.
Despite some of these benefits it is equally important to consider some of the pitfalls associated with home working. In truth, many of these pitfalls can actually be avoided or at least mitigated by taking the right steps, but awareness of the potential problems is an important base to build from.
For instance, as the aforementioned document from Unison points out, there is a real risk of social isolation, especially for people who live alone and work long hours. Similarly, it can become difficult for some workers to create a clear distinction between work life and home life, which can potentially have knock-on effects related to mental health.
Moreover, workplace communication is a potential concern too, as people are not physically present in the same space.
Nevertheless, employers can take steps to improve these problems. For example, allocating home workers with appropriate break times and insisting that they take them can be advantageous, allowing people to gain some degree of social interaction if they go to the shops, or speak to other members of their household.
Meanwhile, technology solutions, such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime can all potentially allow employees to stay in touch and managed IT services can provide options for cloud-based collaboration.
The Last Word
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many small and medium enterprises to adopt home working policies for the first time, or expand home working possibilities to staff who may not have had any prior experience. While there are some potential pitfalls to steer clear of, a range of small business cloud solutions can help to make this a viable option not only during times of crisis, but even when things are running smoothly.