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How the right technology can help empower SMEs in a hybrid environment

Article written by Thibault Dousson (General Manager – Lenovo South Africa)

In March 2020, the world as we knew it was plunged into a scary unknown that impacted all aspects of our lives. And unfortunately, as what often happens when there is a crisis, small businesses were one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. Across different sectors, many were unable to operate for a long period, others had to scale down their operations, and a large percentage were forced to shut their doors for good.

It shouldn’t be surprising then, that the Q3 2021 SME Index conducted by Business Partners reports that SME owners’ confidence in their business’ growth over the next year has decreased to just 33% – a stark contrast from the 61% in Q2 2021 and 72% in the same period in 2020.

Most small businesses, of course, do not have the financial muscle of larger organisations that can carry them through a storm like COVID-19. They also often don’t have the processes in place to guide them on what steps to take when hit by a crisis, or the advanced technology that can assist in carrying out these measures.

But many South African SMEs also survived the pandemic. Some even thrived. Not overburdened by red tape, excessive size or large executive teams, these small businesses were better placed to be agile and take advantage of the different marketplace demands that COVID-19 presented them with. Restaurants started their own food delivery services. Small stores went online. And, thanks to a range of technology tools, many businesses pivoted from in-person to digital.

Collaboration tools have kept these small businesses operational over the past two years. If this pandemic had happened ten years ago, the impact would been significantly more crippling for businesses – large or small – than it is today. Technology has saved businesses during this time as it has allowed the workforce to remain operational.

The right technology provides not just productivity, but personal connectivity. Video conferencing tools and collaboration platforms have played a critical role in maintaining visibility among colleagues and keeping employees efficient. According to Lenovo’s latest research, 66% of employees say that collaboration tools improve their productivity, with the top tools being:

  • Zoom (47%) 
  • Microsoft Teams (45%)
  • Office 365 (44%)
  • Google Meet (38%)
  • Google Docs (34%)

As a small business owner, it’s vital that you find ways to incorporate collaboration tools so that they’re most efficient for your teams, and most importantly, invest time in employee training so that they’re maximizing the full potential of these tools.

In response to these changing requirements of our customers, Lenovo has built a few enhancements into our products to cater for this new normal in business. For example, we have put a lot of focus into building laptops with better cameras and microphones to facilitate successful online collaboration. Our innovations such as bigger screens and on-the-go accessories, like our compact Lenovo USB-C dock station, where employees can charge their laptop wherever they may be working from, also focus on meeting evolving business demands.

One far less positive consequence of the hybrid workplace, though, is the rise in cybersecurity breaches. With employees now being able to work from anywhere, they are far more vulnerable to security threats, which endangers businesses, no matter their size. Lenovo has always invested considerable research and development into keeping our users safe. Our laptops have security features such as face recognition and fingerprint readers, as well as encryption built into our hard drives. There are also additional functions such as your laptop screen automatically shutting down when you are not in front of it, and the contents of your screen not being visible to those around you.

Lenovo’s ThinkShield, which is built into all Lenovo devices, also aids in keeping your business’ valuable data safe. According to MediaPro’s ‘State of Privacy and Security Awareness Report,’ 70% of employees lack basic cybersecurity knowledge. Lenovo’s ThinkShield goes beyond simple endpoint security, with solutions that create huge efficiencies, streamline IT administration, improve the end-user experience, and provide a platform for businesses to compete safely.

With affordable yet effective technology tools like these, SMEs are ideally placed to benefit from the hybrid workplace. In addition, as employees in larger organisations start going back to the traditional office they left two years ago, SMEs are able to offer more flexible work arrangements. Lenovo’s latest research shows that 60% of employees prefer to work from home at least half of the time, which gives SMEs an advantage in talent recruitment. And, thanks to the new way of doing business, companies are no longer restricted by geography, which gives SME owners a much larger talent pool.

What’s important about creating a hybrid work environment, though, is bearing in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As a business owner, you should focus on communicating with employees to understand what they need to reach peak performance. For example, our research shows that 90% of employees want the option of a meeting space to connect with colleagues when needed. This could be in the form of a business centre, or even meeting at a restaurant. The advantage of SMEs is that they have the agility to consider multiple options, and at the same time save on monthly rental costs.

In conclusion, Lenovo sees a bright future ahead, filled with more solutions for hybrid work models and a focus on technology as a force for good. As hybrid work models continue to accelerate, we anticipate a broad range of new device form-factors, IT services and security offerings to improve interactions with technology. We’ll be closely monitoring how these predictions unfold in the coming months to inform all areas of our business, and to ensure that we can give all businesses, small and large, the most innovative technology to suit their precise needs.

Lenovo is a proud Partner of the NSBC