COVID-19 has reshaped the way we work and businesses of all sizes around the world have had to adapt to the challenges of increased remote working among their employees almost overnight. People might commonly think that large enterprises would be most technologically equipped for a transition like this and that smaller businesses would be slower to follow the increasing trend of remote or hybrid working after the initial restrictions have been eased, but is that really the case?


A hybrid future of work is here to stay – Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) included

We commissioned a survey titled, Future of Secure Remote Work, to better understand how organizations have responded and adapted to the sudden transition to a remote work environment from a cybersecurity standpoint. The report revealed that 55% of small businesses and 54% of medium businesses in APAC have more than half of their workforce working remotely at the height of the pandemic. Thirty-two percent of small businesses and 36% of medium businesses expect this to continue post-COVID-19, almost twice the number (18% for small businesses and 20% for medium enterprises) before the pandemic. These figures are similar to those of large enterprises, showing that all businesses regardless of their size are catching on to the idea of a hybrid future of work. These findings come from a global survey of IT decision-makers which included over 1,900 respondents across 13 markets in Asia Pacific, Japan and China, of which over 800 are from either small (1-249 employees) or medium enterprises (250-999 employees).


SMBs faced a series of cybersecurity challenges with the overnight transition

With users connecting to corporate systems remotely, secure access (64% small businesses, 64% medium enterprises) is the top cybersecurity challenge faced by SMBs. Other concerns raised by SMBs include data privacy (57% small businesses, 59% medium enterprises) and protection against malware (51% small businesses, 54% medium enterprises). As employees connect from their home Wi-Fi or use their personal devices to connect to corporate applications, endpoints including offices laptops/desktops (58% small businesses, 58% medium enterprises) and personal devices (60% small businesses, 55% medium enterprises) posed a challenge protect in a remote environment. These concerns are consistent with those of large enterprises.

At the outset of the pandemic, more than half of SMBs said they were somewhat prepared to support remote working (57% small businesses, 54% medium enterprises) while 8% of small businesses and 6% of medium enterprises were not prepared. SMBs saw an increase in cyber threats or alerts since the start of COVID-19, including 62% of small businesses and 75% of medium enterprises experiencing a jump of 25% or more in cyber threats or alerts. This figure is slightly higher in APAC across all organization sizes (69%) when compared to the global average (61%).


Greater awareness and better security that is integrated and simple are needed

The good news is that the pandemic has propelled cybersecurity up corporate agendas across businesses of all sizes. However, for SMBs in APAC, there is a need for greater cybersecurity awareness both at the company and individual level as well as better, not just more security that is simple to use and work together.

While most SMBs in APAC plan to increase their future investment in cybersecurity as a result of COVID-19 (64% small businesses, 72% medium enterprises), small businesses are more likely to think that there will be no change in their future cybersecurity investment (23%) compared to medium (13%) and large businesses (15%). And even though almost all SMBs (96% small businesses, 98% medium enterprises) have made changes to their cybersecurity policies to support the remote work environment, they are less likely to keep the policy changes permanent. Thirty-five percent of small businesses and 39% of medium enterprises said more than 30% of the changes are permanent, compared to 51% of large enterprises.

What are the challenges faced by SMBs in reinforcing cybersecurity protocols? Lack of employee awareness or education (62% small businesses, 61% medium enterprises) and too many tools /solutions to manage (52% small businesses, 54% medium enterprises) were the top challenges cited by our SMB respondents.


Re-evaluating the technology road map

The report tells us that while SMBs are not far behind large enterprises in adapting their cybersecurity solutions for remote working during the pandemic, there is clearly room for enhancement in SMBs’ cybersecurity approach in the long run.

The disruptions brought upon by COVID-19 have spurred the digitalization of some SMBs who have yet to fully embrace the trend before. The current juncture presents a great opportunity for SMBs to develop or re-evaluate their technology road map. Companies should assess the right technologies to invest in to support their staff and customer needs and critical business processes. During this process, they must ensure that any IT solutions they adopt are secure by default and are able to scale according to their hybrid future of work plans.

To learn more about the report, watch the video below or visit cisco.com/go/futureofsecureremotework.