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Fifth of UK small businesses concerned about prolonged remote working

Small firms find the potential prospect of indefinite working from home a major challenge to future business

The UK government has confirmed that the lockdown will continue into May 2020 at the very earliest, but the country’s small businesses say the prospect of working remotely for months on end is a major concern, according to research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance.

The research revealed that small businesses were twice as likely as larger firms to have concerns about their business’ survival during coronavirus period, with 21% of the small firms considering the prospect of working from home indefinitely a major challenge, compared with just 15% of larger businesses. Nearly a third of small business respondents (31%) said they had some degree concern, compared with 19% of larger businesses.

The survey found technology, in particular the right technology infrastructure, was central to this problem. Asked to what extent the level of technology in their business was affecting their day-to-day operations during the period of the coronavirus outbreak, almost a third (30%) of small businesses indicated that their tech setup was holding them back. Worryingly, half of those concerned said they may have to close their business temporarily until the virus is under control.

Uncertainty was the biggest threat to business, and for small business owners, the key was in focusing on the aftermath of events to ensure operations can resume as quickly as possible and capitalise on the opportunities at hand, said Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance (now Novuna Business Cash Flow) , commenting on the research.

“Without warning, businesses have been thrust into a situation that few would ever have imagined,” he said. “Businesses are now being forced to tread water as events unfold, and should be aware of the government incentives to help ease the burden in the form of grants or the CBILS.

“Extreme situations will stretch businesses to their limits and expose areas that require attention,” said Wraith-Carter. “Smaller businesses, without the same resources and facilities as their larger counterparts, will have felt this bump the hardest.

“However, many of these issues can be fixed, and these improvements will offer significant competitive advantage over the years. Where small businesses have an advantage over their larger counterparts is the speed at which these changes can be implemented and incorporated into the core business practice.”

Read more about Covid-19 and collaboration

The research for Hitachi mirrored that from other sources, which found that free and freemium tools were being used more extensively, presumably by smaller organisations not able to afford corporate solutions such as the premium tiers of Microsoft Teams and BlueJeans Networks.

Early April research from mobile app monitoring service AppAnnie found that as more employees work from home, and for longer hours, there was strong demand for tools that enable people to feel connected and foster collaboration – especially those with free tiers which were in use by businesses that hadn’t ordinarily paid for such services.

As an example, it quoted research showing that Zoom Cloud Meetings topped download charts globally throughout February and March, and that the product continued to see elevated downloads through the US, UK and Europe.

It found that during the week of 15-21 March, Zoom Cloud Meetings was downloaded 14 times more than the weekly average during fourth quarter of 2019 in the US, 20 times more in the UK, 22 times more in France, 17 times more in Germany, 27 times more in Spain and an impressive 55 times more in Italy.

During the same timeframe, Google Hangouts Meet saw particularly strong growth in downloads in the UK, US, Spain and Italy, at 24, 30, 64 and 140 times the average weekly downloads in the fourth quarter of 2019 respectively.

Microsoft Teams also saw notable growth in Spain, France and Italy, at 15, 16 and 30 times the weekly level of downloads seen on average in the last quarter of 2019 respectively.

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