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Working from home? Have you considered your ‘tech blind spots’?

Working from home in a small business can be thrilling - it's you proving yourself to the world, working your way.

Working from home? Have you considered your 'tech blind spots'?
Overlooking a few essential tech considerations can lead to a lot of trouble later on. Photo: Getty Images

It can be easy to let yourself get caught up in the excitement of making your own decisions.

However, when it comes to technology, we can often be sidelined by the essential considerations that hadn’t crossed our minds when going into business. 

Together with online telecommunications provider Zadarma, we identify some of the most common ‘tech blind spots’ that internationals encounter while working from home. 

Do you know how safe your online data is? Find out more

Securing your data

Staying safe online and securing your data is essential for anyone wanting to go into business. Fortunately, compared to even 10 years ago, keeping prying eyes away from confidential business data is much easier, even if you are in a place with a reputation for lax cybersecurity and hacking attacks. 

This is partly the fruit of bitter experience. Over the last two decades a number of data leaks, enabled by hackers, have resulted in the details of millions of customers being distributed online. This has included some of their most sensitive information, such as credit card details and medical records – exposing businesses to serious litigation. 

Consequently, the cybersecurity industry increasingly focuses on encryption, meaning that intercepted data is unreadable without the right credentials –hackers and other bad actors will just find a scrambled mess of letters and numbers. 

Therefore, encryption is built into most of the online products you use today, especially those used for business purposes. Email providers such as Gmail provide end-to-end encryption, as well as popular chat products such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. Even services that offer telephony over the internet, such as Zadarma, encrypt phone calls, so nobody can listen in. 

Ensure the online products that you use apply encryption and other security measures – such as two-factor authentication, where you must manually approve logins to services – and you can rest assured that your security needs are met, wherever you are in the world. 

Open access: VoIP technology makes business communication easier than ever. Photo: Getty Images

Keeping track of customers

As a small business operator, keeping track of your customers’ needs used to be quite tricky. Depending on your budget or size, this could depend on paper files, or a small database containing customer information. This wasn’t the most flexible or agile way of tracking customers and led to frustration on both sides. It was especially difficult for internationals, who didn’t have the space or resources to establish complex customer tracking systems. 

In the past decade, the business world has responded to this frustration and business need with the creation of Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) that allow constantly updated records of customer sales and queries to be used when communicating with clients. These database systems also allow outgoing communication to be targeted toward the right consumers, vastly reducing the amount of ‘spam’ customers receive from businesses – something that they are increasingly fed up with.

It’s safe to say that a CRM is now an essential tool for any small business, and one of the few that allow growth beyond a certain scale. There are now CRMs designed for businesses of any size, and there are also CRMs targeted at certain industries. Whatever your needs, there will be something that suits you. You may even like to consider an internet telephony package that comes with a custom CRM built-in, such as that provided by Zadarma

Discover Zadarma’s own custom-built CRM that includes functionality across multiple systems – making assisting and retaining your customers easier than ever

Weathering instability

Up until a few years ago, the measure of how successful a business was included its physical footprint – did it have a shopfront, and how complex were its communications or IT infrastructure?  Small businesses often found it hard to accurately visualize their own success in comparison. 

Recent events have rendered that idea moot. The coronavirus pandemic, overseas conflicts, and economic instability have meant that businesses have had to be flexible to survive. A recent Axios article mentioned earlier found that in some US cities, four out of five physical businesses had closed during the pandemic.

Where businesses have boomed is in the online space instead, as services have arrived to replace physical systems and products with digital equivalents. 

One revolutionary product taking businesses online is internet telephony, known widely as Voice over Internet Protocol, or ‘VoIP’. VoIP technology has meant that the types of phone exchange or ‘PBX’ found at the centre of physical businesses can now be replicated in an online manner – calls can be redirected across town, or across continents to team members. 

This is especially important for internationals, who may be part of remote teams. Also important for internationals is that VoIP  allows for the use of ‘virtual phone numbers’, making setting up phone numbers in different countries incredibly cheap. Internationals going into business can now ensure a global presence, without a massive cost, vastly increasing their customer base.

In 2022, there are a wide variety of VoIP and PBX providers, each offering a wide range of services that mean that those wanting to start a small business no longer need to outlay a significant cost to get started. 

One such provider is Zadarma, whose VoIP and online PBX solutions have worked seamlessly for millions of customers since 2006. They have ensured that businesses have secure, robust fully-featured telephony networks that bring customer data to their fingertips, effortlessly – removing one of the major obstacles for internationals wanting to go into business in 2022. 

Zadarma frees your business from physical networks and international borders, while keeping your data safe – explore solutions that fit your needs today

TECHNOLOGY

Brexit and the growing digital divide

Modern tech hubs like Stockholm are thriving while smaller regions struggle. We need to close this gap and we need to do it quickly, argues Leif Rehnström, CEO of the Skellefteå-based Hello Future!

Brexit and the growing digital divide
A business meeting at Artipelag in Stockholm. Photo: Henrik Trygg/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
”This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world.” @pennyred wrote on June 24th. I couldn’t agree more.
 
But what is this modern world of which people are opting out?
 
It’s a world where our cars are self-driving, where work is increasingly automated, where experiences are valued more than price, where transactions happen peer to peer, where borders and geography become increasingly redundant, where our society is built by code instead of concrete, where small startups take on whole industries, where every citizen can voice an opinion and where our homes adapt to our moods and modes.
 
So why isn’t this a thrilling future for all?
 
Firstly, because it threatens our jobs and livelihood. Jobs that used to be considered safe career choices are now topping lists of jobs that will be automated shortly. These include many of the current jobs in banking and insurance, most production jobs, cashiers, drivers and so on. Recent research has suggested that about half of the jobs we know today will be automated in a decade or two. This has of course happened before, but never at this pace.
 
Secondly – the future is not evenly distributed as the author William Gibson has said repeatedly. Many of the modern-world jobs that will replace what we know today are based in urban areas such as London, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, Tel Aviv, Melbourne, San Francisco, Austin and Moscow. 
 
These tech ecosystems are rich with tech talent from local universities, funding from local venture capital funds, successful serial entrepreneurs and usually ambitious government initiatives. These hubs are attracting global talent to the digital economy. 
 
But smaller regions have a hard time catching up since they have to make up for 15 years of lost time and are missing key ingredients of the ecosystems such as funding, tech universities, government initiatives and talent density. 
 
This creates a society with winners and losers of the digital economy where the already strong urbanization trend adds additional strength to the ecosystems of the tech hubs.
 
So it’s no wonder that if you’re not part of the winning team of the modern digital world, you will feel threatened, afraid, angry, frustrated or resigned. This is also true for both winners and losers of the industrial world and it explains why we see workers joining up with the far-right to “take their countries back”. Both groupings are threatened by the new rules and behaviors of the modern digital world. This is a perfect environment for xenophobia, populism and extremism.
 
So are we really surprised that frustrated people will use their power to punish the establishment and the winners of the new digital economy?
 
The only way to battle this fear and make sure we embrace our future instead of resisting it is to give all people and organizations everywhere access to knowledge and opportunities of the digital economy. Bring as many people as possible to the winning team and create a new digital savvy modern middle class. 
 
Help as many existing industrial companies as possible survive the transformation to digital business models. This will mean that we have to redesign national education, re-distribute funding, create new support systems, inspire and train local workers, entrepreneurs and policy makers. It’s no quick fix, but it can’t wait. We have to do it and we have to do it now.
 
At my company, Hello Future, we have made it our primary mission to help bridge this divide by coaching small and medium sized companies outside of big cities, by running training programs for executives and workers, by setting up distributed teams of digital experts in unlikely places, by supporting startup ecosystems in small cities, by helping the public sector launch local funding initiatives and by providing research and knowledge about how to get going with digital transformation. It’s a massive mission, but we will try very hard to make a meaningful contribution. 
 
Many other initiatives are already underway in some European countries, such as teaching kids to code in school but we will not see the effects of that for another 10 – 15 years. 
 
So, digital training for people and organizations who are still playing by the old rules is essential. 
 
I wasn’t surprised by Brexit and I will not be surprised if Donald Trump wins the US election later this year, but we can’t let that get in the way of the most important mission – giving ordinary people access to the benefits of a digital world!
 
Leif Rehnström is the chief executive of the digital transformation consultancy Hello Future! The company is based in Skellefteå and also has offices in Stockholm.