Remote Work: New Opportunities for SMBs
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic and permanent shifts in the way we work, and circumstances are still evolving. Changes in market size and industry landscape combined with the new horizon of remote work and what it means to consumers and workers means that business owners have a lot of new factors to consider when running their business.
“This idea of ‘the new normal’ is kind of odd to me because there is no normal any more,” remarks Elizabeth Parks, president of Parks Associates, “We live in a different world. Everything is different.”
The differences have been particularly challenging for Small- and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs), who have struggled with supply chain issues, inflation, and new consumer perceptions. In addition, staying on top of pandemic protocols such as health checks, new office measures and configurations, and use of outdoor space, will continue to use resources for the foreseeable future.
They will have to overcome these obstacles to stay afloat in this “different world,” as well as adjusting to a distributed workforce, developing new ways to reach and serve customers, and rethinking what their on-site business looks like.
Strengthening the Remote Workforce
Remote work, which seemed like a stopgap measure in the early days of the pandemic, has become a lifestyle that many workers have embraced and even come to demand. According to a Parks Associates survey in 2020, half of American SMBs — more than ten million companies — reported that they had employees who worked remotely. As such, one in four SMB owners report concerns over effectively onboarding new hires. Many companies have been spending more on IT to future-proof their businesses and support their remote workers.
“The first few weeks of the pandemic, it was chaos,” remembers De Ann Harn, CEO of RFI Enterprises, Inc. “Right off the bat, though, it drove us to think differently. We had already allowed people to work from home at different times, but not everyone.” Her company moved quickly. They set employees up for success at home by giving them stipends to make sure they had the tools they needed to work from home indefinitely.
Employee retention has proved to be more difficult as well. “In the past two years, I’ve had employees depart without giving any notice,” Parks comments. “That’s never happened before. I have to change my expectations so I’m not surprised when that happens.”
Not all surprises are bad, however. Harn observes that moving the company into a virtual environment has brought surprising resolution to previous problems, such as the silos created by employees working in different offices. Over Zoom, she says, “It allowed us to all get together regularly and unified us as a company more than we ever have. Now we’re having a back-and-forth, we’re communicating.”
Uncovering New Revenue Streams
A Parks Association survey uncovered that 47% of at-risk SMBs (those worried about going out of business) are concerned about internet reliability for their employees, and 35% are looking for ways to prioritize business traffic over personal traffic. As cable providers pivot to internet-only subscription packages that include features like parental controls and bandwidth prioritization, SMBs in security can look to this for examples on how to create new revenue streams.
Scott Hightower, president of Verified Security, says they have noticed an uptick in customer service inquiries related to broadband troubleshooting. “As we see mobility of people working, this includes our customer base. I’m getting questions on ‘how can I improve my broadband experience’ from customers who have left their offices to work remotely.”
Another area of technology investment is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, and associated technologies that will enable predictive and proactive types of events. “Knowing that events are going to happen before they happen plays a huge role in the overall security offering and what capabilities and applications are coming to both commercial and residential,” Parks says.
The possibilities are endless here, from biometric access control to providing new in-home services for health care, with workers and consumers looking for innovative solutions using the latest technologies. Hightower notes, “Every system we work on now has a network component to it. I think that we are moving into a world where we are always on, always connected.”
If there is a silver lining to this “new normal,” it’s how businesses and consumers have learned to embrace new technology and glean new benefits from it. Though the transition is often challenging, SMBs who have weathered the storm thus far have witnessed the strength of their own ability to adapt and persevere.