Remote working arrangements have increased in popularity over the past decade, becoming more the norm than the exception.
It’s no replacement for face-to-face interactions, but when faced with unforeseen circumstances—like the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic we’re experiencing now—it’s clear that having a business continuity plan that includes remote-work policies, procedures and technologies is more important than ever.
A swath of upcoming events and conferences have been cancelled, postponed or moved online in light of recent events (a comprehensive list is available from IT World here). Some companies have required workers to stay home and cancel non-essential travel; some workers are choosing to self-quarantine.
“With the current coronavirus situation, we are witnessing a fundamental change in the role of remote employee communication, collaboration and safety,” says Scott Bussey, vice-president and general manager of cloud communications with Allstream.
“This urgency requires companies to temporarily have employees work from home, without taking the time to fully evaluate a comprehensive, long-term teleworking and full business continuity solution,” says Bussey. “Allstream can provide both the short-term and longer-term solutions to enable businesses to be productive and employees to be engaged and safe.”
This is where cloud-based meetings, team collaboration tools, unified communications platforms and cloud contact centre solutions have a role to play during the coronavirus pandemic, as do policies and procedures around remote work.
How to enable your remote workers
“Cloud meetings and team collaboration services allow organizations to abide by these homebound safety measures imposed by the government (or their job), which allows employees to keep working,” says Alaa Saayed, ICT industry principal with Frost & Sullivan, in an article for No Jitter.
Even if companies already have a solution in place, they should consider whether they can securely manage and support all of these new remote workers, regardless of location, using mobile devices—perhaps even their own personal devices.
“In my long experience with digital productivity and collaboration trends, when it comes to remote work I find that most organizations are still either in the fairly early stages or have not committed enough yet to invest in full-blown strategies and enablement,” says Dion Hinchcliffe, vice-president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, in an article for ZDNet.
As a result, Hinchcliffe says there’s typically “considerable room” to improve the user experience for remote working. Here are a few of his suggestions:
- Bandwidth: Determine any gaps in Internet access and bandwidth, especially for remote workers who deal with rich media and need access to web conferencing. And “be prepared to invest in mobile hot spots and associated data plans.”
- Remote devices: Determine if remote workers will use work-sanctioned devices or their own personal devices (which is often easier but can open up security risks). That should include webcams and headsets—possibly with a mic—for conferencing. Hinchcliffe advises companies to assess workers’ existing hardware “to see if they are capable, as they are [the] least expensive and quickest option to enable for a crash remote work program.”
- Remote access: Best practice suggests workers securely access business assets via a virtual private network over an encrypted connection. But this is where policies come into play; you likely already have a VPN or IP-VPN, but not all workers will be familiar with how it works (or why they should use it), defaulting to the Internet instead. You may need to acquire more licences for your VPN, as well as provide training and support for new users.
Ramping up your remote work strategy
Once you’ve ramped up your network infrastructure, unified communications and collaboration tools can help employees share documents, hold virtual meetings and conduct web chats or video conferences with colleagues.
You might already have this functionality in place, but you likely haven’t rolled it out to all employees, so training and support may be required. Cloud-based UC solutions are an asset, since they work with most common browsers. That means remote workers—especially those quarantined and scrambling to set up a mini-office in their home—can quickly gain access to business assets and applications.
Remote work can be isolating; some people love it, others not so much. UC tools that provide chat, voice and video can provide a virtual office environment that allows employees to brainstorm and share ideas—and feel less isolated.
Some UC providers are making this easier by ramping up their remote capabilities during these uncertain times. Allstream and Cisco, for example, are offering free trial offers to businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
While many companies already support remote workers (at least to some extent), a crisis such as this is a reminder to expect the unexpected. When business eventually returns back to ‘normal,’ it’s a good time to assess which policies and technologies worked, what could be improved and how to be better prepared for future uncertainties.
To find out more about business communication solutions that enable effective remote working capabilities, please contact Allstream to customize a plan that’s tailored to your unique needs.