Medium-sized businesses are questioning what the future will hold, now more than ever, and grappling with how to be prepared to meet challenges head on. But it is more than just about overcoming challenges, it is about overcoming them in a way that will provide sustainable and profitable business solutions for the business itself, a healthy and productive work environment for staff and, of course, a marketable product or service for end customers.
Technology is the facilitator to this success and can be applied to three main areas:
- Empowering a work-from-anywhere staff contingent to be truly productive;
- Cybersecurity to protect business critical data; and
- The ever-present tech skills gap and the gender imbalance in the tech industry.
Many knowledge workers pivoted to a work-from-home environment quickly last year. The next phase of this transition is now starting to take shape, with organisations asking themselves how they can enable their staff, to be as productive as they were in an office environment, at home.
Unfortunately, many knowledge workers have had a downgrade in their workstations with the advent of working from home. If medium-sized businesses want to see sustained levels of productivity, similar to what they saw when staff were office bound, they need to take into account the distractions of working from home, coupled with cognisance of the work setup their employees need in order to be productive.
With the PC being the starting point, relatively low-cost peripherals can assist in work-from-home comfort and productivity. Some laptops, for example, have AI and machine learning built into the device using productivity software like Dell Optimiser to help focus on tasks that matter the most, by adapting to the way that the user works, making work more seamless, intelligent, and, let’s face it, less stressful. Over and above the laptop, there are a number of technology solutions that can increase productivity. Take the addition of a second monitor for example. A second monitor can increase productivity by as much as 35%. There is a direct correlation between monitor real estate and productivity. Increase one and the other goes up! Then the docking station, keyboard, mouse and even a noise-cancelling headset follow suit, and all of these support multitasking, collaboration and user comfort.
Rolling out a robust work-from-home environment must also include comprehensive and end-to-end security solutions. Unfortunately, with “work-from-anywhere”, more endpoints are exposed, and the often-avoided topic of security arises.
Even before the majority of knowledge workers started to work from home, the biggest threat for any medium-sized business has been the endpoint. This has now increased exponentially with less office-bound employees behind the firewall. Medium-sized businesses need to retain their firewall and in addition to this have a VPN with a two-factor authentication for remote working. An example of the extra layers of security that need to happen on the endpoint device is VMware Carbon Black Cloud which is real-time security intelligence to protect and maintain all endpoints and could be rolled out on all laptops.
Another way of looking at things would be for medium-sized business owners to ask themselves what their business would look like if they experienced a ransomware attack or a disgruntled worker or ex-employee accessed their database or backend system. Here, air-gapped devices can be a simple solution for medium businesses. In this case automated workflows securely move business-critical data to an isolated environment via an operational air gap. Should a business experience a cyberattack, they would be in a position to wipe all their machines and to reinstall them from scratch, with a clean image and with clean data and work can continue as normal.
As South Africa and businesses look to build a diverse talent pipeline that will last until 2030 and beyond, it is medium-sized businesses that hold the balance of power in upskilling in the tech industry in a way that big enterprises just can’t; and that is with a personalised approach and mentorship at its core.
The tech sector is facing a talent shortage and there aren’t enough professionals in the technology pipeline to fill the positions that are expected to open in the next decade. As technology is at the core of most professions, medium businesses could look to attract students in fields that are broader than just IT, like mechanics and other stem subjects.
Gender is possibly the most important facet when it comes to diversity, with the gender gap being increasingly more apparent in the tech industry. When it comes to growing and retaining women in tech, mentorship is key. Women are 60% more likely to finish their studies when assigned a mentor. A mentor does not need to be assigned on a seniority basis, but rather based on someone who the person in question can relate to and learn the most from.
So, medium-sized businesses need to empower their staff to be productive, by providing employees with the right work ecosystem in order to get their job done as efficiently as possible. They also need to consider the resultant vulnerabilities at the endpoint to secure their data. Finally, they need to acknowledge the role they can play in upskilling a diverse future workforce in technology through mentorship and a personalised approach to upskilling junior employees and retaining women in the workforce as they move up through the ranks.