Remote Work IT Challenges and Solutions for SMEs

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2024

As of 2023/2024, remote work remains highly popular. Approximately 14% of full-time employees are fully remote, 57% work full-time in the office, and 29% work in hybrid modes. A huge 98% of employees prefer remote work at least part of the time​​.

Amid his remote work revolution, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) find themselves grappling with a unique set of IT challenges. From tackling cyber threats to ensuring productivity thrives while employees work remotely, there’s a lot to consider. 

Unlike their larger corporate counterparts, SMEs sometimes lack the extensive resources and dedicated staff to transition seamlessly into this new world of work.

In this article, we’ll look at remote working for SMEs through the lenses of cybersecurity, productivity and IT support. 

Let’s dive in!

Mitigating Cybersecurity Risks

The most pressing challenge associated with remote work is an increased risk of cyber threats. 

For SMEs, the stakes are high. Cybersecurity incidents can lead to catastrophic financial losses and reputational damage, with around 60% of SMBs going out of business within six months of large-scale data breaches. 

Some 20% of organisations have experienced data breaches relating to the action of remote workers, with phishing attacks topping the list of threats. 

Moreover, about 44% of organisations don’t provide their staff with cybersecurity training on the threats of working from home, indicating a serious gap in how effectively businesses combat the risks of remote work. 

To mitigate cybersecurity risks, SMEs should:

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all remote logins: MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide a second form of verification, such as a code sent to their mobile device and their password. This makes it much harder for unauthorised users to access company systems, even if they can obtain an employee’s login credentials.
  • Use virtual private networks (VPNs) to encrypt data transmitted between employee devices and company servers: A VPN creates a secure “tunnel” that prevents hackers from intercepting sensitive information, such as financial data, customer records, or confidential business plans. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recommends using VPNs for all remote workers accessing company resources.
  • Ensure all employee devices are equipped with up-to-date security software, including firewalls, antivirus programs, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools. Regular security updates and patches should be applied to all devices and software to address any known vulnerabilities.
  • Provide regular cybersecurity training and awareness sessions for employees: SMEs should educate their staff on best practices for remote work security, such as identifying and reporting phishing emails, using strong passwords, and handling sensitive data safely.
  • Establish clear policies and guidelines for remote work security best practices: These policies should cover topics such as acceptable use of company devices, data privacy and protection, and incident reporting procedures. Regularly reviewing and updating these policies is essential to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

While the above provides a starting point, cybersecurity should never stand still. 

Always monitor, update, and improve your strategy while delivering training to foster a strong culture of cybersecurity among remote and hybrid workers. 

Your employees are your frontline defence against threats – don’t miss the opportunity to train them to spot and avoid phishing emails, suspicious links, and social engineering scams. 

Enabling Collaboration and Productivity

While many businesses enjoy productive remote and hybrid working environments, this shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

Indeed, many business leaders are concerned about productivity in remote settings. In 2022, 54% of leaders feared that remote or hybrid arrangements negatively impacted productivity. 

Without the ability to walk over to a colleague’s desk or gather in a conference room, employees need digital tools to communicate effectively and work together on projects. 

To enable effective collaboration and productivity, SMEs should consider:

  • Investing in cloud-based collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace: These solutions combine video conferencing, instant messaging, and document co-authoring capabilities into a single, integrated platform. These tools allow remote teams to stay connected, share ideas, and work together on projects in real time, regardless of their physical location.
  • Implementing project management tools to help remote teams stay organised and on track: Solutions like Trello, Asana, and allow teams to create tasks, set deadlines, assign responsibilities and track progress.
  • Providing employees with the necessary equipment and resources to work effectively from home: This may include laptops, monitors, headsets, and ergonomic furniture. Providing a stipend or reimbursement for home office setup costs can help ensure employees have a comfortable and productive workspace.
  • Scheduling regular check-ins and virtual team-building activities to maintain engagement and connection: Managers should schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their team members to discuss progress, provide feedback, and address any concerns or challenges. Virtual team-building activities, such as online coffee breaks or quiz nights, can help foster a sense of camaraderie and connection among remote workers.
  • Ensuring the right permissions and access controls are in place when using cloud platforms: Misconfigured settings can lead to data breaches or unauthorised access to sensitive information. The NCSC guides on securely configuring cloud services, including tips like using strong authentication methods and regularly reviewing user access.

By implementing the above strategies, you’ll be well on your way to channelling the benefits of remote work while swerving any pitfalls. 

Providing Effective Remote IT Support

With IT teams no longer having physical access to employee devices, providing remote support is more challenging and critical than ever. 

SMEs need the ability to troubleshoot issues quickly, deploy software updates, and maintain employee productivity without disruption.

To provide effective remote IT support, SMEs can:

  • Invest in remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools that allow IT staff to access and control employee devices from anywhere: Key features to look for in an RMM solution include remote desktop access, patch management, asset tracking, and automated monitoring and alerts.
  • Partner with a managed IT services provider (MSP) specialising in supporting remote workforces: MSPs can provide access to enterprise-grade tools and expertise that may be out of reach for smaller in-house IT teams. They can help SMEs assess their remote work setup, identify potential vulnerabilities, and implement the right solutions to ensure a secure and productive environment.
  • Establish clear protocols and channels for employees to report IT issues and request support: This may include a dedicated helpdesk email address, ticketing system, or chat platform. Ensuring employees know how to access support and what information to provide can help streamline the resolution process.

Remote and hybrid work doesn’t sever your responsibility for maintaining equipment employees need to do their work. 

Working with managed IT support providers specialising in remote work, like us at Mustard IT, equips your business with the expertise, tools, and strategies needed to overcome these challenges and unlock the full potential of your remote workforce.

Empowering Your Remote Workforce

Mustard IT offers tailored support packages for remote SMEs. We can design and implement secure cloud storage, Office 365 licences, and remote support tools. 

Our experienced IT technicians can also help SMEs assess their remote work setup, identify potential vulnerabilities, and implement the right solutions to ensure a secure and productive working environment. 

We also offer dedicated IT support and monitoring to address issues and keep systems running smoothly and proactively.

So, don’t let IT challenges hold your business back in the era of remote work. 

Contact Mustard IT today to learn more about their remote work solutions and discover how we can support your business’s success.