The ongoing pandemic has turned our lives and many businesses upside down. Whilst the global economy is taking a battering not seen in decades, small and medium sized businesses are particularly impacted. There were around 5.8 million small businesses in the UK in 2019, and around 29 million businesses with fewer than 500 employees in the US in 2017 – representing 99.7% of all US businesses, and almost half of total private sector employment.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of any economy, however many operate on thin margins and without the resources that larger organisations benefit from. In the UK, one in five small businesses fell into their overdrafts to manage cash flow in 2019, rising from 14% in March 2019 to 18% in January 2020. According to a recent study, 36% of small businesses flagged financial challenges as their top stumbling block in 2020, highlighting pricing and cash flow as their two primary concerns. And this was before a global pandemic hit.
Currently, small businesses are not only grappling with their physical presences being shut down, but they also have to reassess how to enable secure and productive remote working for their employees. Governments across the world are unveiling measures to help business owners, with the UK’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledging to support businesses via a financial aid package worth £330 billion in the UK.
Digital solutions can provide welcome relief for small businesses struggling to adapt to the new remote-work environment. In fact, there are increasing numbers of software packages and digital solutions available free of charge – and businesses can start using them today. Small businesses have the distinct advantage of not being encumbered by legacy technology systems prevalent in larger firms, allowing them to adopt digital solutions quickly, and enjoy their benefits immediately.
However, taking advantage of new tools can be overwhelming, especially in times of a crisis. Business owners not only have to research and assess the best suited solutions for their companies, they also need to educate employees, while these are still adjusting to teleworking.
The ‘Open for Business Hub’ is an initiative launched by a number of technology companies, offering resources for small businesses working to ensure business continuity over the months to come. The project is assisting small businesses by offering free and discounted services to enable remote work throughout this period. They include video conferencing, password management, cybersecurity, as well as team collaboration, creativity and productivity, and even parenting help. They are designed to enable companies to maintain business continuity — securely and productively. Most importantly, the tools represent enterprise-grade offerings, services that will withstand in times of need.
For instance, many businesses underestimate the importance of secure file-sharing, which is mission critical not even just in times of crisis. Other offers include Single Sign-on (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) solutions, helping teams securely access critical resources, such as cloud applications or VPNs, from any device or location.
Further, if a business is hosting self-managed applications, like running Atlassian’s Jira or Confluence behind a firewall, the company’s virtual private network (VPN) could be overwhelmed by the number of requests made by employees working from home. Fortunately there are tools enabling secure and efficient remote work accommodating the increase in such requests.
This is just a selection of what’s available at a greatly reduced price or for free, and the list is growing every day to help meet demand. At a time when small businesses are struggling, the internet is going to be critical in enabling them to continue their operations. Amongst other initiatives, technology companies represent a phenomenal resource for them to access best-of-breed software and services for remote work – at a greatly reduced cost.
James Allworth is Head of Innovation at Cloudflare