Mike Morello, chief digital officer for the U.S. Chamber, discusses unlocking the power of technology with CDW's Gregg Terris and Wasatch I.T.'s Spencer Ferguson.

When states started to issue stay-at-home orders in March, many businesses made quick adjustments to their technology in order to enable remote work. And while many of those solutions worked in the short term, remote work has become a long-term paradigm. Small business owners are now taking the time to think deeply about how better incorporate technology into their business operations.

During CO—’s Big Week for Small Business, we spoke to two experts who are helping small businesses invest in technology to collaborate securely and efficiently. Here are some key takeaways from our panel with Gregg Terris, small business director of strategic initiatives at CDW, and Spencer Ferguson, CEO of Wasatch I.T.

Look to the future

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that many small businesses are facing when it comes to technology is understanding where to invest. “Lots of people got sent home in April and now have to decide if that’s a permanent thing. Have you been able to do your job and run your company just fine from home, or do you have to get back into an office?” Terris said.

For those businesses that decide that working from home is feasible or even preferable, the next step is to identify what IT tools are needed to support that shift. So often, companies responded to the rapidly changing dynamic with a band-aid; now, Terris says, more thoughtful investment in collaboration tools and security solutions is needed.

When considering what technology you have in place for collaboration, start with these three questions:

  1. Did you set a standard? Is there one tool or platform that your team uses for video calls? Or do your teams jump between Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams? It’s important to pick one tool for each part of your operations and use it consistently.
  2. Did you buy a standard? Often, you get what you pay for; a free version of software will be limited in the features your team can use. Terris recommends that remote or hybrid-remote companies start to invest in a platform’s advanced features to make the most of it.
  3. Have you optimized the standard? Have you trained your team on the ins and outs of your technology? Do your employees know how to use all the functions of your platforms and tools? Spend time on training to get the most out of your technology.

Cybersecurity is another big area in which small business owners need to invest. Since March, says Ferguson, lots of companies just “made it work” in the security department without considering things like:

  • What are your cybersecurity policies?
  • Are you offering training on cybersecurity best practices?
  • Do you have a mobile device management solution in place to help manage security on your remote devices?
  • Do you have the right defenses installed: antivirus software, firewalls, threat monitoring, VPNs and WiFi security?

These things were all afterthoughts when everyone was rushing to work from home but are critical to consider in protecting your business moving forward.

Don’t forget about equipment

Software is just one side of the equation. Businesses also need to invest in hardware in order to get the most benefit from technology.

When evaluating what hardware you need, think about your customers and employees. “Whether you choose to work from home continuously or not, your customers shouldn’t know or care,” said Terris. A prime example? Your phone system. Do you have a dedicated business number at which your operation can be reached, or are your employees using their personal cell phones?

Your employees also may need new equipment. Find out what their home office setup is: Do they have a monitor, or are they sitting hunched over an 11-inch laptop? Little investments in an employee’s workspace can go a long way. Ultimately, you want your team to feel like they’re enjoying the new normal and not just “getting by” until something changes.

Consider investing in:

  • VoIP phone service
  • Video cameras
  • Cloud-based software
  • Headsets for video calls

If you go back to the office, find a videoconferencing unit that allows for social distancing within the room (e.g., one that offers a wide view). In-office technology needs to evolve just as much as remote tools to enable safe distancing. Room scheduling software is another example of how to manage many people using the same space.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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