man working with a pup in his lap
PHOTO: Allie Smith

Working from a location other than the core office has been a perk for people who needed a flexible work schedule, or to work in between travel, or while taking care of an urgent personal issue. Other organizations didn't even offer the option. Yet with the current situation, the ability to work remotely has become key to business continuity for many organizations.

We are fortunate to have technology that allows businesses to continue operating in these difficult times. Health concerns, weather events, strikes, service shutdowns and many other scenarios may enter the picture without warning to disrupt business activity. So it is important to prepare for unpredictable times like this when being able to work remotely yet collaboratively becomes key to success of businesses and individuals.

Businesses have many enabling technologies today to choose from to support their work force. But before they choose, they should first have an understanding of the different situations and needs that can arise, especially when implementing something quickly and then working on strengthening it.

Understand Your Workforce

The best tool to pick is the one you think your people would adopt the fastest. Regardless of the number of features a collaboration tool has, it's only as good as the ones that people will use. The best way to consider what people might use looking at what they're already used to. Look to the base of skills they might have from workplace tools and what they might use at home. Consider the types of tools they use today. If you have a younger employee base, they might be more familiar with the Google set of applications such as Google Docs as it is often used in schools these days.

In contrast, most people who have been in the workforce for a few years are familiar with the Microsoft Office set of applications such as Word or Excel. Office 365 therefore becomes an excellent way to build on those existing skills into a collaboration space.

A key component of working remotely is the ability to have virtual meetings, so you'll have to choose a video conferencing solution. For straight video conferencing if you have an install base of Cisco equipment, Cisco WebEx is an excellent choice for your IT team to deploy to the organization.

But if you want video conferencing, document sharing and shared work environment, then Microsoft Teams integrates all of these. This works very well on mobile phones too — making it a true “work anywhere” experience.

Related Article: Putting Our Collaboration Tools to the Test

IT Readiness

It is also important to consider what skills your IT team has that can be leveraged to support new tools. This is especially important if you are quickly implementing something. Is your IT team equipped to handle multiple technologies? Is there a single technology that can take care of the main requirements so it's easier for your IT team to manage? How much can your IT Team handle and how much of the tech management needs to be managed by a third party?

Scaling technology is a key consideration. Companies may have designed their infrastructure for a portion of their workforce to work remotely, but when it becomes the entire workforce, scaling problems arise. This is also where understanding your IT infrastructure is key. We've all heard the stories of organizations having their workforce work in shifts because their infrastructure can only handle a portion of their employees working remotely. Cloud technologies are often the solution here. For example, Microsoft Teams, as a cloud-based collaboration technology, scales to any number of users in an organization in remote work situations.

Security is also a concern when reacting to situations like COVID-19 as it may go overlooked in the rush to move the workforce remote. The fear is if IT can’t quickly respond to user needs for remote collaboration, workers will find solutions themselves. This could include using personal accounts for sharing documents and using alternative communication methods that could expose the organization to hackers.

More than just hardware, the broader technology strategy needs to include a host of software and infrastructure areas which establish security across the four pillars of identity and access management, devices and applications, data and threat detection. Executive teams and IT teams must work together to put in place processes and policies that enable remote work securely and successfully.

Once you understand your user base and IT skills, you face several choices.

Related Article: Virtual Workspaces: How to Do More Than Just Meetings Online

Applying Lessons Learned

Capturing the lessons learnt can provide an opportunity to improve overall approach and execution in the future. Applying our learnings force us to quickly adapt to working in an agile fashion which can translate to being more agile with customers. At my firm, Softchoice, it helped us understand how we can provide even more flexibility to employees as we continue to build a great employee experience.

Every company has had to change the way it works in response to COVID-19. It will be important to capture what’s working and what’s not to inform future approaches to business operations. Ignoring the innovative ways employees find to work in the current situation would be a lost opportunity. This is also key to strengthen an existing collaboration ecosystem and bridge any gaps you may have just discovered.

The types of things you might look for in your organization are:

  • New and different ways your employees communicate with customers.
  • How do your customers respond to less in person interaction?
  • Who shows up as a leader and champion of using technology to collaborate?
  • Areas where your technology does not work in remote situations.
  • What methods of communication worked best?

Although technology allows business to continue, in the end it is the people who keep businesses afloat. What can be lost in a remote work situation is personal connection. Technology is an enabler of productivity, but people also need to feel connection with others to be productive, particularly if they have concerns in this uncertain time. I’d encourage us all to still take the time to informally connect with our colleagues outside of formally scheduled meetings. It is the people working together, supported by technology, that will get us through this crisis.