No longer is it cliche to say that the world can change in the blink of an eye. This year has taught us that the world really can upend in an instant, that normalcy is not something to be taken for granted.
Not anymore, anyway.
Business owners and executives know this better than most. In a matter of weeks, they’ve experienced dislocation on a scale unprecedented in modern times. They’re faced with a stark choice: figure out how to adapt to the new normal, fast, or slip out with the tide.
Some adaptations are optional, the products of best guesses that rely on intuition and experience. Others have been forced upon us. Take remote work, for example. Most North American and European workplaces are covered by “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders that require non-essential workers to remain at home whenever possible. Even if they wanted to flout social distancing and continue operating as normal, many service businesses can’t do so without violating the law.
Yet business must go on, even when it’s “non-essential” — because what’s not technically essential to sustaining life is certainly still essential for the owners and employees who’ve spent years building something to be proud of. It just goes on in a decentralized way, powered by millions of home offices.
The digital revolution makes this year’s sudden shift to remote work feasible. But “feasible” is not quite the same as “a walk in the park.” Far from it. Businesses making an honest, wholehearted effort to transition to remote work, and perhaps to sustain it after sheltering in place is no longer required, must provide their teams with all the tools needed to be successful and secure in their work.
Take this opportunity, if you can call it that, to ensure your business is fully capable of operating remotely. Because you can be sure that this won’t be the last disruption it faces.
1. A Comprehensive Cyber Protection Package
Procuring a comprehensive cyber protection package should be at the top of any newly remote SMEs to-do list.
Let’s be clear: “comprehensive cyber protection” is a generic term that means different things to different users. The term itself is used in different ways by different vendors. It’s of the utmost importance that you, the end user, understand what you’re going to get out of each comprehensive cyber protection package you consider procuring for your organization. And, of course, you then need to choose the package that’s best suited to your unique business needs (which have surely changed with your shift to remote work).
At minimum, your SME would be well-served by a comprehensive cyber protection package that offers:
- Robust data backup
- Disaster recovery services
- Ransomware and malware protection
- File syncing and sharing
- E-signing and notarization solutions
- Security and management tools
Third-party integrations are important as well. Choose a comprehensive cyber protection package that integrates seamlessly with other solutions you’re likely to use — such as ConnectWise integrations.
2. Ransomware Protection
Whether you opt for a comprehensive cyber protection tool or choose a piecemeal approach, one solution on which there’s no room for compromise is ransomware protection. Ransomware is a common and often devastating form of malware that can erase (or functionally erase) months or years of vital data in an instant. Your company simply can’t afford to endure a direct hit from a ransomware attack — certainly not in the current economic environment.
3. Continuous Cloud Backup
A robust and continuous cloud backup solution is an important hedge against the threat of ransomware, but it’s of course good for far more than that. In the atomized “new normal,” where teams work across area codes, time zones, and international borders, the utility of secure inter-organizational data access can’t be overstated. Cloud backup ties the entire enterprise together and ensures that every collaborator has access to the files they need to get their jobs done.
4. Malware Protection
Ransomware is one of many forms of malware, some of which have been around since the Internet’s infancy. Despite the persistence of malware writ large, the malware threat landscape is constantly evolving, presenting new, urgent threats on what seems like a daily basis.
The combined complexity and severity of these threats is much too much for off-the-shelf malware protection suites to handle. Sure, it’s nice that your employees’ devices come with built-in malware protection that costs nothing to install and use, but let’s face it: That’s not up to the task of protecting an entire enterprise from attackers desperate to access their crown jewels (or merely eager to watch the world burn). Choose your malware protection suite like your SME’s continued existence depends on it — because it does.
5. Disaster Recovery Assistance
We’re all living through a worldwide disaster unfolding in slow motion. Knock on wood, this isn’t the sort of disaster that will disrupt global information flows or threaten physical data storage. Still, it’s a reminder of the fragility of the economic and social ties that bind us.
And it won’t quash the risk of acute, localized disasters of the sort that do present serious or existential threats to business continuity. Think fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes — these threats and many others destroy countless businesses and livelihoods each and every year. In a remote-working world, a disaster that might miss a home office could nevertheless knock out part of your workforce. Are you prepared for that risk?
6. Cloud-Based Bookkeeping
Let’s turn to a happier subject: balancing the books. Most SMEs don’t need to retain a full-time bookkeeper, let alone a team whose only job is to make sure the numbers run right. A cloud-based bookkeeping solution is usually an adequate alternative — perhaps even a superior alternative, in terms of cost and convenience. That’s not the news human bookkeepers want to hear, but such is life.
7. Cloud-Based Accounting and Tax Preparation
This is another “just the numbers” solution that’s essential for every SME. Like bookkeeping, accounting and tax preparation no longer require the same degree of manpower as back in the day. Both processes are easy to automate with competent human supervision. In other words, you might still want a CPA on call, but you don’t need an entire back office filled with junior accountants.
8. Digital Notarization Services
Running down to the UPS Store every time you need a document notarized is no one’s idea of efficiency. And while it would be great if notaries grew on trees, they don’t. Odds are better than even that you don’t even have one on staff.
Fortunately, digital notaries are a thing, and availing oneself of their services is easier than it’s ever been. If you’re still notarizing documents the old-fashioned way, you’re doing it wrong, and you’ll kick yourself for waiting so long to make the switch once you finally do.
9. Secure Document Signing Services
Unlike tax prep and notarization, signing documents isn’t something you need an expert (or credential-wielding pro) to handle. But the actual mechanics of signing important documents is complex, especially when an unbroken chain of custody is required. Which is why your SME needs an enterprise-grade document signing solution to give clients and vendors the peace of mind that everything is on the up and up. It doesn’t cost as much as you think, and it could prevent a lot of problems in the not too distant future.
10. Virtual Private Network Protection
The Internet is a scary place. You know this, or else you wouldn’t have invested so heavily in anti-malware protection and data backup. Unfortunately, enterprise-grade anti-malware solutions and comprehensive data backup aren’t wholly adequate to create an impenetrable fortress of digital security. Your enterprise needs an additional layer of protection: a virtual private network, or VPN.
An enterprise-grade VPN masks your users’ locations — a vital step for any dispersed workforce — and encrypts all the data sent from their devices. This makes it all but impossible for the bad guys to snoop on their communications (or even figure out where they’re working from).
11. Workplace Chat Software
Texting is invasive and informal; picking up the phone is overkill; email is a cluttered annoyance. Workplace chat software, by contrast, is just what the productivity doctor ordered. The ideal solutions integrate seamlessly with third-party apps and offer secure file sharing, among other capabilities.
12. Workplace Collaboration Software
Chat alone can’t keep your teams’ ducks in their rows and certainly can’t manage complex, ever-evolving projects to your leads’ satisfaction. That’s what a robust workplace collaboration suite like Jira is for. No mistake — workplace collaboration software procurement is one of the most important steps you’ll take on the journey to all-remote or location-independent work. Don’t rush it; make sure your solution delivers everything your SME needs and then some.
13. Cloud-Based Document Production and Editing Software
These are cornerstones of any remote team, and their appeal is nearly universal: no matter what your SME is in the business of, it’s all but certain to have use for a document production and editing suite like Google Docs or Microsoft 365. Just don’t call it a word processor — we’re way past those days.
14. Secure PDF Reader & Generator
Most new laptop and desktop devices and many new mobile devices come with PDF software pre-installed. Whether this “freeware” is capable of everything you’ll ask of it is another question, one your IT team is best suited to answer. If you do need to upgrade, don’t skimp; this is a solution your team will use every day, many times over.
15. Digital Videoconferencing Solution
Workplace chat software is fine for quick questions and check-ins, but it’s not enough to stand in for actual meetings. (Remember those?) That’s the job of a digital videoconferencing solution. Which solution you choose is almost less important than how well you educate your team to use it. Devote plenty of resources early on to laying out formal processes and boundaries for remote meetings; this increases your chances of getting the most out of your solution and reduces the risk of suboptimal outcomes.
16. Video Recording and Editing Software
Clearly, video plays a massive role in the success or failure of any remote business. But not all video is created equal. In addition to live videoconferencing, which is of course a key pillar of any collaborative workplace, your SME needs the capacity to record and edit professional-grade video for internal and external use. No need to outfit every employee’s home with a video recording studio, of course — but a bundle powerful enough to support DIY YouTube videos will certainly pull its weight.
17. Photo Editing Software
Photo and video: distinct but complementary. You know this, but it bears repeating, because many SMEs assume they don’t need the capacity to edit professional-grade photos and memes. You do, and not just for marketing purposes; in internal communications, a picture really can be worth a thousand words.
Is Your Business Really Remote-Ready?
If your business qualifies as “non-essential,” you’ve had no choice but to transition to all- or mostly-remote work. You’ve approached this imperative like any other challenge: reluctant, perhaps, but willing to do whatever’s necessary to succeed in the face of immense odds.
That you’ve managed to navigate the initial transition and resolve any issues that have arisen in the early going shouldn’t be taken to mean that you’ve aced the move to remote work. You know that’s not the case — you experience the downsides of managing a fully remote team every day.
Hopefully, things get easier with each passing day. But you’d be fooling yourself if you pronounced your business fully “remote-ready” at this early juncture. You’ve got a long way to go to reproduce the comfortable office-based processes in a dispersed environment. After all, those processes took years to implement and perfect.
There’s no telling how long the current “new normal” will last, so you can bank on having more time (maybe a lot more) to iterate your approach to remote work. If and when things start to go back to normal, hold onto the resilience you’ve built into your operation in the meantime. No one knows for sure how this will all end, but one thing is already crystal clear: Business will never be the same. And any SME hoping to have a fighting chance at surviving and thriving in the long run had better be prepared for whatever comes next.