Some work just cannot be performed well at home, while businesses requiring high quality touchpoints will need to diversify.

Singapore’s small-medium enterprises and micro-enterprises undergoing forced isolation measures and restrictions during the country’s Circuit Breaker period have turned to the use of new technologies, but many challenges remain.

Since having to implement WFH arrangements, 79% of the 235 companies surveyed by tech-trade association SGTech said they have become more knowledgeable about technology tools for remote working, meetings and collaboration.

While technology has helped sustain business processes, 11% of respondents said the biggest challenge remains that some of their work has to be performed on-site or require face-to face meetings.

At a company level, 17% said they could only perform 20% of their work or less via the telecommuting even if all tools and resources are available. In comparison, only 22% said that they were able to perform more than 80% of the work remotely.

Other challenges cited include the requirement for physical documents and wet ink signatures; getting access to files/services from the in-house network, and issues working with people: slower responses, inability to have on-the-spot discussions, reduced social interaction and managing/coaching employees.

Thinking outside the box

Said Ivan Chang, co-opted Councillor for SGTech: “Companies that are suffering the most in moving to a remote work environment are usually service-oriented and the nature of their business involves high physical touch points with their clients. Businesses dealing with the sales of goods that require hands-on experience, such as premium or luxury goods—where basic online platforms cannot replace the buying experience—have also suffered.”

Chang said that, aside from service-oriented businesses, manufacturing has obviously taken a hit as production lines cannot be replicated at home. “The challenges these companies face are real and there is an aspect of connection in our interactions with our customers and employees. However we believe there are opportunities in every sector. SMEs would need to think outside the box and see how they can do more with less. The move to work from home as a result of the pandemic can have a lasting impact on how businesses operate in the future. Those that figure out how to replicate this connection, using technology, will reap benefits.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, 88% have reported that they experienced slowdowns and saw revenues drop, compared to 4% who saw revenue increasing. A similar high proportion of 80% said their business models have been adversely impacted.

The majority, ranging from 71% to 90%, have placed priorities on tightening operational costs and keeping the business afloat. A total of 42% of companies polled said they were considering diversifying or pivoting their business as their highest priority, while 35% reported that they planned to seek help or business advice as their top concern.

“Embracing new software in existing business is a frightening experience for many SME business owners and employees as they are used to a certain way of doing things. The use of video conferencing technology is a positive sign for SMEs. This experience has forced them to the edge and hopefully they will now be more receptive to adopting other digital solutions,” said Chang.

“With the government requiring that companies continue to allow their staff to telecommute past June 2, using the right technology solutions can help SMEs remain efficient, minimize business disruption and improve their business agility.”