By Bahar Ferguson 

There is no question that this year has been a very hard year for small businesses everywhere. Even large businesses are taking a hit under the current circumstances. Business from every industry have been closing down due to health department restrictions, but that doesn’t mean you have to completely stop your operation.

Today you have the technology to function on your home network exactly as you would on your work network. Through the use of VPN and firewalls, you can continue your work from home with minimal impact on your company’s overall productivity. 

It’s important to keep your network secure even while working remotely. Having a firewall in place like a WatchGuard or SonicWall is important to block unwanted traffic on your network. Having your teleworkers use a VPN to connect to your work network allows them to get access to everything on the network and still be protected by the firewall. With this technology available, the biggest hurdle of working remotely might just be distractions from your employee’s remote coworkers.

Microsoft Azure is another great tool for working remotely. Azure is a cloud computing service that is very versatile and has capabilities of providing many different services. Azure can host your entire network infrastructure online. It has the ability to allow your domain users to log in to their accounts remotely. With your infrastructure on Azure, you won’t have to use a separate VPN to connect to your network because it will already be built in with the cloud.

Using Azure’s cloud services isn’t the only option you have for hosting data. Part of Microsoft’s system of apps are SharePoint and OneDrive which allow you to store all documents online as well. Everyone can share and edit documents stored on SharePoint. This allows coworkers to view data entered by everyone and can work from the shared document together.

It's important now more than ever to have an online presence as well. You may not have the budget as a small business to hire a professional to design your website. However, the options available nowadays make it so easy to create your own website. Wix is one of the most well-known tools, but there are so many options out there to help you create a website, such as Yola and Jimdo. These services might limit how creative you can make your website, but it can help you build a great foundation even when you don’t have the basic knowledge for website building.

When you’re set up online it makes it so much easier to communicate with your customer base. You can provide any important information your customers might need to know in order to keep doing business with you while your locations are closed down. Or if you have certain restrictions on hours or services, it makes it easy for customers to look that information up on your website.

Something else to consider is connecting to your customers through social media. A good majority of people are spending their lockdown time on the Internet, which usually includes social media. Creating a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account is very easy and a great way to advertise that you are still able to take orders or service customers during this time. Staying connected through social media can help keep your business on your customers’ minds so you know they will still think of you when they need something.

Technology is great for keeping in touch, not just with your customers, but also your employees. Its important to have a good application in place to communicate with your teammates, such as Microsoft Teams. On Teams, you can host meetings or group chats — even have one-on-one phone calls so you can get those important updates. You can screen-share, so the visuals are all there while hosting a meeting. It’s a great way to present PowerPoint display or even just do a video chat so you still get that face time with your employees.

Chatting through Teams is great for keeping employees in touch with each other, but another thing to consider is how your phone lines are set up. Many businesses are opting to use VoIP services such as Jive. VoIP stands for “voice over Internet protocol” which in layman’s terms just means phone service through your Internet connection. Most services can be connected to a soft phone which is just an application you can use on your computer or smart phone. That way there’s no interruption when customers call. They can still go through your phone’s system like normal.

At this point it’s hard to say how long the stay-at-home orders will last. During this time it's important to stay working to the best of your company’s ability. Many businesses have been taking advantage of this technology before and now is a great time to start if you haven’t been. Reach out to an IT specialist and find out how this can help your business stay alive during this crisis. It's important to remember we are all in this together and it's important to support local small businesses during this time of need. 

Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.

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