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How has remote working impacted SMEs? 

How has remote working impacted SMEs? 

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Frontier and RingCentral, a leading provider of global cloud communications, video meetings, collaboration and contact centre solutions, has announced a partnership to launch an all-in-one productivity package to enable small businesses to run seamlessly from anywhere. The new bundle will combine business cloud communications including RingCentral Message Video Phone (MVP) coupled with Frontier’s high-speed internet and network solutions to provide small businesses access to a reliable, secure and simple communications platform, enabling them to run from anywhere. 

“The pace of work for small businesses has never been faster — so we’re offering the connectivity to match,” said Mike Shippey, Executive Vice President, Business and Wholesale for Frontier. “​​As we continue to Build Gigabit America and accelerate our network fibre expansion, we’re thrilled to partner with RingCentral to provide small businesses with the latest and most flexible communications solutions.” 

Businesses are moving faster than ever before and so are their network capability needs. To power the modern workplace, Frontier and RingCentral are delivering unified cloud communications to meet customers’ rapidly growing bandwidth needs.  

As people continue to work and run their businesses remotely, the combination of RingCentral’s leading Unified-communications-as-a-Service (UcaaS) platform and Frontier’s lightning-fast symmetrical fibre service creates a reliable solution to deliver a seamless HD video conferencing and cloud calling experience. Frontierrecently rolled out multi-gig capabilities for small businesses – better servicing greater numbers of devices and resulting communications solutions. 

“Over the last two years, many businesses – big and small – were forced to shift to a hybrid work model quickly and chose makeshift IT solutions,” said Homayoun Razavi, Chief Business Development Officer, RingCentral. “In partnership with Frontier, we’ve created a strategic all-in-one business package that unlocks the maximum value of hybrid work, manages costs effectively and powers all small business leaders’ growing network needs. With the enterprise-grade capabilities offered through our joint solution, these small businesses can manage their workforce more efficiently and better serve their customers. Additionally, small businesses can now secure access to blazing-fast fibre combined with next-generation communication tools that connect customers and employees wherever they are.” 

Intelligent SME.tech asked three experts for their insights into how remote working has affected small businesses…   

Don Boxley, CEO and Co-Founder of DH2i 

While some of us may eventually go back to the office, likely in a hybrid fashion, it has become clear that remote work is here to stay for all shapes and sizes of organisations – SMEs included. 

Even before the pandemic, the move towards remote work was trending up. A 2017 Gallup poll showed 43% of employed Americans were already working from home at least some of the time. In 2018, the Census Bureau reported that 5.2% of employed Americans worked from home in 2017; an increase up from 5% in 2016 and 3.3% in 2000. 

However, once the pandemic hit much of the world’s workforce found themselves trying to learn how to work and be successful from home. Although for many it was a bumpy transition, it didn’t take long for employees and employers to get used to the idea and eventually for many, greatly prefer the new work mode. In 2021, Gallup  reported there were nearly as many working remotely in 2021 as was true in 2020. Likewise, a survey from BDC – a Canadian bank dedicated to SMBs – revealed 74% plan to keep offering the ability to work remotely, even once it is safe to return to the office. BDC went on to detail the top benefits for employers, which included improved employee retention and reduced operating costs; and for employees, reduced commuting time, flexible working hours and improved life balance topped the list. 

For SMEs, remote working has presented them the aforementioned benefits as well as challenges, much like their enterprise counterparts. However, one critical differentiator was and continues to be the level of manpower and budget available to support and ensure the safety and success of ongoing operations.  

Prior to the pandemic, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) served as the primary underpinning for most organisations’ data access and security. To better understand VPNs, their benefits and their pain points, DH2i engaged Virtual Intelligence Briefing (ViB) to conduct a study. The results showed that using a VPN created a number of problems for organisations. Topping the list, 62% of respondents cited inadequate security as their number one VPN pain point. The most surprising finding was that almost 40% of those responsible for keeping ransomware and other malware from penetrating their network, believed that it already had! 

So, what is an SME to do to overcome the fact that traditional VPNs for remote users rely upon complex, expensive and less-than-secure network-to-network approaches? The answer is a new and reliable approach to networking connectivity – the Software Defined Perimeter (SDP). 

This approach enables SMEs to build a secure software-defined perimeter and use Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) tunnels to seamlessly connect all applications, servers, IoT devices and users behind any symmetric Network Address Translation (NAT) to any full cone NAT, without having to reconfigure networks or set up complicated VPNs. 

Matt Schneider, Director of Product Management, M&E, LucidLink  

Long before a global pandemic forced a sudden reckoning of tools and methods, film and television workflows had already taken some early steps to bridge the divide that existed between the creatives in the field and the rest of their team in the facility. For example, well before cloud-based SaaS platforms came into maturity, large media organisations established private point-to-point networks to create costly but highly performant hub-and-spoke webs that productions could leverage to transfer large video files from one work hub to another.  

The largest facilities already had mature shared storage and workstation infrastructure in place. They were well-positioned to tack on the desktop sharing systems like Teradici, HP RGS, Jump, etc. that were becoming increasingly sophisticated and better tuned to the needs of remote content creation. By the time the word ‘COVID-19’ had become a household name, the largest enterprise organisations had a fighting chance since both the tech stack and the in-house expertise to respond to the productivity shock wave of March 2020. 

SMEs, however, were not quite as well prepared. And even larger enterprise-sized organisations were discovering that the existing tech stack and the prior decade of tinkering could not fully accommodate the massive scale that would ultimately embody the pandemic era and the ‘new normal’.  

As the tides of the pandemic slowly ebb, a new technology problem is revealed: the need to support the hybrid workflow. Some teammates will return to the office, some will remain home and inevitably the tech stack will need to allow for both to co-exist, in a seamless way. Will SMEs be able to respond to yet another topology and still enable creatives to work in a way that is comfortable and familiar? 

Cloud-based SaaS platforms may be able to help in some cases. But for media and entertainment workflows, for which extremely heavy video files are the norm, the new cloud on its own will not be enough. Only a cloud solution that emulates the known and familiar on-prem shared storage workflows of mature facilities while offering the cloud’s near-infinite scale and wide-area connectivity will truly provide a path forward for the future.  

LucidLink offers a cloud-native file system that provides a unique solution that enables organisations to access data from the cloud that supports both remote and hybrid work. LucidLink functions like a local drive and allows users to access large files on-demand, directly in the cloud, using any application. Teams collaborate in real-time with others across the globe without downloading or syncing data. Since LucidLink looks and acts like a local drive, it naturally fits into users’ workflows. Now teams can get to work on projects immediately, no matter where they are located and work with others across the globe. 

Kurt Glazemakers, CTO at Appgate

The remote working era has put all organisations, including SMEs, under severe pressure when it comes to securing their networks. Employees work from multiple locations at different times, resulting in a greater attack surface for threat actors to breach. Furthermore, the addition of new devices to an organisation’s network exacerbates the problem. 

With each employee’s home network having varying degrees of security, every connection could be a possible route for cybercriminals to compromise the network. Threat actors are extremely opportunistic and will target any business, irrespective of its size – who are vulnerable and likely to yield the greatest profit.  

This situation is exacerbated for SMEs because they often do not have dedicated security teams. On the other hand, larger organisations that do have dedicated security teams, are already struggling to remain cyber-resilient. Therefore, a SMEs’ task to stop cyberattacks from breaching its network and inflicting significant damage is made that bit harder. 

On top of this, where most SMEs often have smaller security teams, it results in some not having the proper security policies in place, giving malware the potential for unrestricted access. Threat actors deploy malware on an employee’s device which can then move laterally across the network to its intended destination such as financial records or personal information. This unrestricted movement also results in small security teams having the challenge of trying to hunt for the malware which can be like finding a needle in a haystack. SMEs should be looking to invest in frameworks, such as Zero Trust – which reduces the attack surface. 

SMEs must start implementing Zero Trust which works on the principle of ‘least privilege’ with users only gaining access to the network if they have the correct credentials. By having a clearly defined Zero Trust policy, SMEs have a clear picture of the resources running on their network and what those resources are allowed to access. With  Multi-Factor Authentication, devices are not exposed to the Internet, ultimately reducing their attack surface.  

Additionally, Zero Trust segments the network and certain data to mitigate the damage of any potential breach. By segmenting the network, threat actors no longer have the freedom to move laterally across an organisation’s network as users are only allowed to access what they need to fulfil their job. Security teams are then able to quickly locate and mitigate any suspicious activity within the network. By implementing these policies, SMEs will be able to guarantee maximum protection to their remote workers and will not be seen as easy targets by cybercriminals. 

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