With the impact of pandemic COVID-19 affecting companies around the globe we asked some of the Sheffield City Region business community for their views on how to manage cyber-safe remote working practices, maintain business operations and also look after mental health in these troubling times
Ian Snow, Managing Director, Central Technology
In the wake of Covid-19 forcing people to work from home, CT is urging customers to ensure remote access is secure and to be aware of our timescales to support your business continuity plans
A challenge that employers now face is maintaining security whilst their teams are working remotely. People accessing work files from home or on a mobile device can present risks which threaten your business. At a time when potentially all staff will be working from home for a period of time, it is more important than ever that your network is not inadvertently opened up to any security risks.
If you have a cloud or remote desktop solution in place, we are encouraging all customers to ensure they retain the basic IT principles, in particular ‘access control’ and ‘data back-up’.
We are seeing a lot of social media activity stating that for remote access you can simply enable VPN. If you do this without the correct planning, there is a critical risk of leaving your network open to external attack and failing to provide the necessary functionality your end which users need to work effectively.
It is important to consider:
- Two-Factor Authentication
- VPN Encryption
- Is your connectivity capable of handling all or a large proportion of your staff connecting remotely?
- Are your staff going to be using a personal device to access your network via the VPN? If that device isn’t correctly protected and it is given access into your network, you could be creating further security issues
- VPN access mean that end users can potentially drag and drop files onto the device, which could be a personal device, thus comprising data control
- We are also seeing the use of shelf solution to access PCs remotely. If you have chosen this route, be aware that your network may also be opened to security risks. If it is simple for your end users to gain access it may be simple for unwanted third parties to also access your network and we are expecting an increase in cyber-crime.
Cloud solutions such as Microsoft 365 are built to reduce the chance of sensitive data leaks occurring, but we highly recommend the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA), Microsoft’s single-sign on (SSO). We recommend that you have automatic encryption of data to ensure access is controlled.
You must also ensure that your cloud solution, such as Office 365, is backed-up. Most cloud providers work on a shared responsibility model, meaning they take responsibility for the infrastructure. However, the responsibility for the data remains with YOU. Most will have a data retention policy but will not backup your data. We can provide you with a fully managed service immediately, with comprehensive back-up for your entire Office 365 suite.
In conclusion, there are a number of different options available for remote working, but they need to be right for your business and it is vital that your fundamental IT principles are retained. Key considerations are:
- The devices being used
- Connectivity capabilities
- The functionality your end users require
- Data Backup
If you need help or guidance on the most suitable option for you, please contact CT on 01246 266130 and we will have a team available to assist.
Jay Bhayani, Bhayani Law
On Saturday March 21, the Government made announcements relating to supporting businesses seeing a downturn in work due to COVID-19.
While we are working in uncertain and ever-changing times, Bhayani Law have done our best to give you our interpretation below.
Keep a watchful eye on the Gov.Uk website where much of the information is www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses
The aim is to reimburse employers up to 80 per cent of the wages paid to employees if they are not able to work due to there be being no work available. There is a cap of £2,500 per employee and we don’t at this point know whether the £2,500 will be net of tax or gross, or whether it will include all costs associated with employment i.e. pension contributions.
HMRC has not yet set up the portal and mechanism for reimbursement so the business must make the payment and seek reimbursement when it’s up and running.
The concern for many is whether the business has enough cash flow to allow for salary payments to be made. You can make use of the grants and loans, VAT and business rate holidays to provide immediate relief on cashflow.
Steps to take:
- Identify who in your workforce will be “furloughed”. This is the term used by the Chancellor, but it has no defined meaning in terms of UK employment law. Essentially, you need to agree with those employees who do not have work to do, and who you wish to keep on your payroll, that they will for a period of time not be expected to work and will receive 80 per cent of their wages with a cap of £2,500 per month.
- Be aware that if you are not topping up the 20 per cent (there is no obligation on the employer to do so) this is technically a deduction of wages. To protect the business, its best to get written consent from the employee.
- There are unlikely to be many employees who do not agree. The alternatives are less attractive.
- Submit information about these employees to HMRC when their system becomes live. We assume that there will then be a payment to the employer, but we don’t know how this will work, what checks HMRC will carry out to protect against abuse and what the tax implications will be.
These might be more appropriate in your circumstances so don’t dismiss these in favour of the furlough. See our previous FAQS www.bhayanilaw.co.uk/coronavirus-latest-update-for-employers
The above information was correct at time of going to print – please visit our website for updates www.bhayanilaw.co.uk.
Peter Kelly, Callwise
Working from home is commonplace amongst many businesses these days, and many businesses will use industry standard tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams for communication between each other as part of their standard practice.
But keeping in contact with your customers is often a different matter. Offices and Call Centres around the country will be used to inbound calls coming directly to their deskphones or “softphones” installed directly on their workplace PCs.
If you’re new to home working and worried about how you are going to keep in touch with your customers then here are a few tips:
- Take your phone home! You might not realise it, but your office phone extension might be portable. If it’s connected to a deskphone, then the chances are that this phone can be taken home with you where it will just work as though you are still at the office.
- Divert calls to your mobile: If your office phone isn’t as portable as you would like, you can simply divert any inbound calls to your mobile phone.
- Set up an app on your iPhone or Android Phone: Many office phone systems will use a common protocol known as VoIP, downloading an app such as Bria or Zoiper will let you connect to your office extension from wherever your mobile phone is located. Not ideal in normal times, but when working from home it can be very useful. You need to check with your Office IT Manager before trying this though, as you may need some configuration details.
- It might take a bit of working out to get to best solution for your own situation but once you have something in place it will make working from home a much smoother experience.
If you’re new to home working, here are a few useful tips for keeping in touch with your customers and colleagues:
- If your company uses Slack or Microsoft Teams internally, these often come with built in abilities to make calls and run meetings.
- Office desk phones can often be configured to work from different locations, or even mirrored with an app on your phone – check with your IT Manager to see if this is the case for you.
- If you are at home “in isolation” it’s a good idea to have regular video contact with your colleagues (even if you’re not used to doing this!). Products such as Google Hangouts and Skype let you video conference for free and give a much needed social aspect to home working.
Louisa Harrison-Walker, Benchmark
The unprecedented events of recent weeks have shown us that, for some industries and some job roles, you can definitely work from home (for how long remains to be seen!)
As we go to print we are in unfamiliar territory – workers have been told wherever possible to work from home, who knows when we will be back in our offices working 9-5, or for how long we will be working from home, and some of us are also juggling home-schooling children!
Now we have tasted freedom from the office will we ever return to the same hours by default again? Many companies already champion flexible working and remote working, knowing that benefits include better work/life balance, increased productivity and staff retention rates.
The companies embracing remote working know that to make it work you need to have the technology in place to ensure an employee can be fully operational out of the office.
Considerations include a strong Wi-Fi connection, laptop, desktop and smart phone. You will need to ensure there are shared tools to allow for home working – great platforms include Google Docs for shared files, Slack for a virtual shared workspace and Dropbox for storage, as well as video and teleconferencing for meetings.
Without these being in place remote working is destined to fail and will limit future opportunities, so if you’re going to have to embrace it – do it properly.
Set the ground rules so there is a clear understanding of expectations. Routinely hold check-ins with individuals in person or remotely via Facetime, Skype or Zoom as a team to make sure employees are staying positive and engaged – human interaction keeps spirits high amongst your team, and your employees will thank you for the trust you place in them.
As a big advocate for flexible working, remote working, and home working, I hope one legacy of this health scare and self-distancing is that we all get chance to see if it works for us and our organisations – and if it does, we get to keep doing it.
Dave Kneeshaw, MD, Betterminds Training Consultancy
Coronavirus is the double whammy of anxiety for business owners. It has come out of nowhere and it now can give us anxiety both in terms of our own health and that of wider family but also it can impact directly on the health of our businesses.
Knowing how to manage these effects is going to make your summer much more manageable and you better placed to move on as a business owner.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is just your body signalling that you need to do something. Anxiety is just an old bit of prehistoric biological infrastructure that is telling us to act as a matter of urgency in order to survive
Keeping your anxiety in check
Recognise that it is anxiety. Be thankful that you have it – it gives you energy and focus to act effectively to keep you and your priorities safe.
Remember to breathe
Uncertainty breeds uncertainty. Taking the time to breathe in deeply, feeling yourself connected to the world and your place in it, reminds you that you are grounded.
Break a sweat before you break a sweat
Exercise – it will help you get in the best space to make tough choices. It will help you feel calm and this will help you to reconnect with your rational part of your brain.
Look at your options
Health options include following all advice. Your business may need to change how it conducts itself, reduce costs and staffing or even mothball itself until the world has moved forwards. If necessary you may need to cease trading.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best
You may need to put extreme contingencies in place to deal with this anxiety. Coronavirus will be a moment in history, it does not have to define you or your business. Just like the fire storms in Australia, new shoots will emerge, new opportunities will present, and we need to plan for this.
Claire Reading, Development Manager, South Yorkshire, East Yorkshire & the Humber Federation of Small Business
Responding to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge on Sunday March 22 that the government will be “standing behind” the UK’s five million self-employed as the coronavirus crisis intensifies, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is urging the government to set out and implement new support measures as rapidly as possible.
Over the weekend we have heard from thousands of self-employed people – including hairdressers, bakers, childcare providers, taxi drivers and café owners – many frightened and in despair at seeing their business fall away, and staring at the prospect of little or no financial support.
While it is welcome that the government has pledged to cover 80 per cent of the wages of impacted employees, five million self-employed strivers have until now only been offered access to £94 a week. In desperation, many have attempted to apply for Universal Credit after Friday and have been turned down.
These are people who have worked hard to build up their businesses, paid their taxes and helped the economy to grow.
They now face a crunch point, with many unable to operate – leaving them without money, but with bills still stacking up.
We have been strongly urging the government not to allow the self-employed to be left high and dry, and it is welcome to hear the that the Prime Minister is listening and offering new hope. This must now be turned urgently into practical and easily accessible support. Time is now running out.
While the government has a big role to play, it is also vital that the banks play their part as well. Billions of pounds of loan guarantees were due to come into effect on Monday March 23, and the banks must pass on without delay this access to finance for the struggling self-employed.