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Over the last year, COVID-19 has transformed the way people work and socialize on short notice. While businesses have reopened amid mass vaccination efforts, surging cases spurred by the delta variant add uncertainty to long-term pandemic recovery. On Wednesday, Verizon released the results from a new survey, detailing sentiment among business leaders about the economic impacts of COVID-19, labor shortages, network security in the age of remote work and more.

“There is still a long road ahead for recovery but there is an overwhelming sense of optimism; that technology will enable the competitive edge our customers need to scale their business for the future,” said Sampath Sowmyanarayan, chief revenue officer for Verizon Business, in a blog post about the findings. “As our customers enter their next phase of growth, technology that addresses security, reliable connectivity and enables mobility will be integral to their success.”

COVID concerns and business optimism

After a year of layoffs, historic unemployment and economic uncertainty, companies have increased hiring in recent months. Compared to last August, 53% of respondents said the “state of their business” is somewhat or much better off and 68% believe their company “will be better off” in a year than it is at the moment, according to the report. Despite this optimism, companies are still concerned about the economic impact of COVID-19 on small businesses.

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In August 2021, 90% of business owners and decision-makers said they were very or somewhat concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on small U.S. businesses, a 2% decrease from August 2020, per Verizon. Year over year, respondent sentiment about the coronavirus and related effects on the U.S. economy remains virtually unchanged, decreasing 1% over this time period.

Virtual collaboration and cybersecurity

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, companies around the globe shifted to remote work virtually overnight and these new operations presented new logistical and security challenges for business leaders and IT teams. In the last year, many decisionmakers have implemented new security (38%) and virtual collaboration tech (38%) and about one-third said they’d “temporarily closed to allow for transitions to new systems or ways of working.”

In recent months, a string of high-profile cyberattacks has reverberated across critical aspects of U.S. infrastructure, bringing conversations around network security front and center for business leaders. When asked to consider how their business plans to “move forward” in the months ahead, 44% of decisions-makers said they were concerned about “ensuring the security of company networks and computer systems” in August 2020, and this number jumpered to 52% in August 2021, per Verizon. Concerns about ensuring online and digital transactions security similarly increased from 43% in August 2020 to 52% in August 2021.

As part of the remote workday, many employees are now logging on via their home networks using a mixed bag of personal and company devices, potentially increasing cybersecurity risks for employers. Nearly 7 in 10 business decision-makers (72%) somewhat or strongly agreed that working from home has “increased the potential for cybersecurity threats” at their company and 68% strongly or somewhat agreed that remote operations led their company to “implement new cybersecurity practices and policies,” according to the report.

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Many decision-makers had already taken steps to buttress network security or were currently in the process of implementing these strategies or planning to do so. This includes purchasing or upgrading antivirus programs (54%), requiring login MFA (50%), evaluating or enhancing network security practices (49%) and employees training about the best cybersecurity practices, per Verizon.

Great Resignation and labor market

In recent months, there has been much discussion about a Great Resignation of sorts as workers jump ship amid a tight labor market and myriad deal-sweeteners to seek employment elsewhere. When asked to think about the impacts of the coronavirus since last August, 49% of decision-makers said their company had “challenges hiring new employees to fill open positions” and 46% said they “lost employees or had challenges retaining top talent,” according to the report. About one-third (30%) said they’d “implemented new systems or technology to compensate” due to worker shortages.