There’s no question that COVID-19 has forever changed the way small and medium businesses (SMBs) think about the “workplace”, shifting the concept from the physical world to a virtual one.

Recently, Mona Abou-Sayed, Mitel’s VP of Collaboration and Applications, and I discussed this in a LinkedIn Live session, Building Culture and Collaboration for the Next Normal, hosted by Brent Leary. We talked about the implications for businesses as they move from early, reactive responses to remote working, and consider the longer-lasting impacts on the workplace.

In this post, I recap some of the key take-aways and add additional perspectives.

Work from Home Is Here to Stay

Providing employees with the option to work from home isn’t new. The trend had already been rising prior to COVID-19: According to Flexjobs, WFM jobs had risen 44% over the last 5 years before COVID-19 struck.

In addition, SMB Group’s 2019 SMB 360: Connecting the Dots Between Business and Technology survey indicated that about three-quarters of SMBs had options for employees to work from home prior to COVID-19. However, in the majority of these companies, only a small percentage of workers—typically 10% or less—were working from home on a regular basis.

COVID-19 has turned these numbers upside down. Confronted with stay at home mandates, SMBs with existing WFM programs dramatically expanded them, and over half of SMBs that that lacked work from home options prior to the pandemic started putting them in place.

Seemingly overnight, millions of people that had never worked from home began doing so—providing people with an “aha moment”:  Many jobs could be done just as productively and effectively at home as in the office.

As the threat of the virus subsides, and mandates are lifted, some employees will go back to the office full-time. But others will continue to work at home full-time, and another group will divide their time between the office and home, resulting in a hybrid workplace. The workplace is also likely to be more fluid, accommodating changing business and employee considerations.

Video Conferencing Becomes the Poster Child for Work from Home

Video conferencing took off just as quickly as WFM. Companies that lacked or never used the video element of web conferencing started to do so. People who used to turn their cameras off for online meetings started turning them on.

Of course, there were also issues—ranging from Zoom bombing security breaches to time wasted due to slow connections to technical difficulties.

But people got accustomed to the glitches and to juggling video meetings with dogs, kids, spouses, messy offices, and bad hair days. Video quickly humanized business meetings that had in the past been stodgy affairs. Instead of reading emails behind a darkened screen, more people were actually paying attention during video conferencing sessions.

Collaboration Requires More Than Video Conferencing

But video conferencing is not the only online tool that has helped SMBs to sustain their businesses.

SMB Group’s Impact of COVID-19 Study on SMBs reveals that across the board, a majority of SMBs rate cloud-based applications as being extremely valuable in helping them to weather the COVID-19 crisis.  Cloud-based business solutions topped the list, followed by video conferencing. But for most SMBs, all of these solutions—remote IT and access, real-time collaboration, file sharing, backup, security, and identity management — have proved their worth in supporting WFM and keeping businesses up and operational.

This isn’t surprising. Whether in the physical world or the virtual one, meetings are just one component of how work actually gets done. From phone systems to business solutions, most companies use multiple solutions to collaborate and get their work done. And businesses need to secure these solutions to protect customer, financial, and other sensitive data that we share within our companies.

Supporting a Hybrid, Flexible Workplace For the Long Term

Many SMBs were forced to play defense when the pandemic hit. They turned to whatever they could quickly fill in the gaps for a new or greatly expanded remote workforce—often ending up with a hodge-podge different, point solutions.

But as we transition from this initial, reactive phase, more SMBs are realizing that jumping from one application or system to another adds friction, frustration, and security risks into the collaboration process.  As a result, many are starting to think about how they can develop a cohesive collaboration and communications strategy that can adapt to change today and tomorrow.

Integrating a mix of old phone systems, web and video conferencing, SMS, file-sharing and other tools after the fact often costs more—in terms of both time and money—than it does to move to a unified solution in which the applications are designed to work together in the first place.

Unified, cloud-based collaborations solutions pull all of the things you need to do every day, such as phone calls, web and video meetings, messaging, notifications, and file sharing into one place. They’re are built from the ground up to work together. For instance, say you’re on a chat and realize that it would be easier to have the conversation via a video meeting. Ideally, you’d just want to be able to click a button and move the conversation to a video call.

Many offer integrations with key business applications, such as email, CRM, human resources, and other solutions to help streamline business workflows. For example, Mitel’s public cloud communications solution, MiCloud Connect, has native integrations with G Suite, Salesforce, and Microsoft Office. Their private cloud offering, MiCloud Flex, has additional integrations with Salesforce, SugarCRM, and Microsoft Dynamics. They’ve put together a slew of resources for SMBs to support the hybrid and remote worker thrive.

Because they’re designed to support millions of users, unified collaboration solutions also offer the enterprise-grade security and reliability safeguards that businesses need.

Perspective

While no one has a crystal ball, it’s highly likely that many of the changes we’ve seen unfold during the pandemic will continue to reshape our views of work and the workplace even after the pandemic subsides.

As your business transitions from reacting to COVID-19 to longer-term planning, now is the time to evaluate your current collaboration strategy. Taking a more holistic approach can help you bring people, processes together, improve how work gets done, and put your business on track for sustainability and growth as the way we work evolves.

This post was sponsored by Mitel.

© SMB Group, 2020