More than one million small businesses are forecast to continue operating remotely after COVID-19 restrictions lift, according to new research commission by software giant Zoho. 

The research was conducted in March 2020 by Telsyte using an online survey of 1,017 business decision makers across Australian organisations with 100 or fewer employees. Nearly half of the organisations surveyed had five employees or fewer. 

According to the research, with connectivity, cost and accessibility of cloud technology improving across Australia, remote working was already the preferred way of working for one third (32 per cent) of small businesses before COVID-19. 

The research predicts these figures will increase sharply post-pandemic. Zoho’s Remote Working Revolution report found 47 per cent of SMB owners would work remotely more often if they could. 

While business in the arts, tech and education industries are the most savvy when it comes to remote work, it is forecast to boom in industries such as construction and transport, too.

The trend is mandated by new COVID-19 restrictions but supported by lower costs and barriers to entry offered by cloud-enabled software. 

For example at the beginning of the pandemic Zoho launched Remotely — a set of 11 free apps to help businesses operate remotely. In the first few weeks following the launch 15,000 new companies across the world signed up to use the software suite. 

“Digital transformation of work has traditionally been the domain of big business, but in recent months technology has helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses pivot their operations and workforce,” said Vijay Sundaram, Zoho Chief Strategy Officer. 

“The pandemic has become an unwitting global laboratory for models of work that could have otherwise taken decades to unfold. This will upturn norms that have been accepted for generations.”

The upsides identified by the report include cost and time savings, 45 per cent of SMB owners believe remote working allows them to ‘unlock’ more free time and 22 per cent say current arrangements limit their time with friends and family.

The challenges identified in the report include employee management, connectivity and security. 

Source: Telsyte & Zoho Remote Working Revolution report

Myprosperity, an Australian wealth management platform, was already using Zoho’s app prior to the pandemic, which has enabled operations to continue over the last two months with staff all working from home. 

Founder of Myproperity, Peter McCarthy, said the reduced travel time has increased productivity. 

“By simply cutting commute time alone, we’re freeing up valuable time to drive innovation and growth projects. Given how successful recent months have been, we’ll be moving to a hybrid model for the foreseeable future, with our teams working remotely for at least a couple of days a week even when restrictions are lifted,” McCarthy said. 

“We’re also reviewing our approach to working hours, and staggering not only where people work, but when they work too. While there may be a drawback for some, in terms of missing the office culture and the camaraderie of being together as a team, we can function just as effectively at home. Our team has embraced the change, and there has been no direct downside to operating remotely so the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

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