By Joe Berger
For years, large enterprises have been seeing the rise of the remote worker. However, the impact of COVID-19 shows that it’s now a critical business-continuity factor that any knowledge worker — regardless of age, work-life preference or company position — can do his or her job from home successfully.
So, how do large enterprises rapidly enable groups of knowledge workers who must suddenly transition from office life to remote work?
By exploring four essential pillars of remote work — meetings, collaboration tools, application access and calling — we can begin to answer this question.
Let’s start with meetings, because they can’t come to a halt during a global crisis. In fact, they will spike.
I learned this at the start of my career, one month after 9/11, when I was working for a large conferencing provider. September 12, 2001, marked the largest call volume in history at that time as organizations tried to untangle the impact of the crisis to their business. Since then, I’ve seen conferencing soar following outbreaks of SARS and MERS as well as the Great Recession.
The coronavirus is no different. Amid the outbreak, Cisco reported that WebEx meeting minutes shot up to 14 billion in March. More than 26 million people hosted WebEx meetings last month, and the platform had 10 million new users.. Similarly, video conferencing competitor Zoom has added more active users so far this year than it did in all of 2019.
Not only do remote employees suddenly need to be in a lot of meetings, but I believe that enabling video for these meetings is one of the best ways we can connect on a personal level when personal contact is restricted.
- Encourage use of existing enterprise video conferencing investments.
- Discourage departments from purchasing video conferencing solutions on corporate credit cards.
- Take advantage of enterprise-scale vendors like WebEx and Zoom that are lifting restrictions on free versions of their products, and in the case of WebEx, offering free 90-day licenses.
- Invest in end-user adoption and training. You can buy meeting licenses, but if remote workers don’t know how to access features, they can easily become frustrated and disengaged from your video conferencing platform.
Team collaboration tools
Knowledge workers, as their name implies, rely on sharing knowledge to get their jobs done. As employees have shifted to working from home full time, the inability to turn to a colleague for advice or to bounce ideas back and forth can be isolating.
It’s essential to give employees a team collaboration platform in which they can share their knowledge and collaborate as seamlessly as possible. In addition, the shift from the individual worker to the “team of teams” model has increased the need for connected groups to constantly communicate and share content in real time.
Front runners in this space for large enterprises are Microsoft Teams, Slack and Cisco WebEx Teams. Like Cisco, Microsoft is trying to make it easier for those impacted by the coronavirus to use Teams. The company is offering a free six-month trial of a premium tier of the platform and expanding the capabilities of its free version.
Managers, not just individual contributors, are being asked to stay home. The persistent nature of these platforms not only helps teammates share ideas, but they also make it easy for managers to keep tabs on what their teams are working on and jump in to help when needed.
- Leverage enterprise buying agreements for the most cost-effective models.
- Understand your organization’s security posture to avoid risk or data loss.
- Discourage small teams from using free versions of software through personal accounts.
- Educate employees on how to use new tools and tap into existing expertise. Chances are groups of employees have already embraced these tools. Allow them to coach peers who are just getting started.
- Reduce the number of tools to limit confusion.
- Understand how these tools act both in and outside of your organization. Some tools may not be as good as others when interacting with those outside of your business.
Access to corporate applications
IT organizations spend considerable time and money ensuring that corporate application performance doesn’t suffer when planning for disaster recovery. But how much does that matter when, in our current situation, remote workers are unable to access these apps?
Application and desktop virtualization solutions like VMware Workspace One can take the strain out of remote device management and compliance. These solutions can be hosted on-premises, in a public cloud or a combination of both, providing high-performance user experiences without the need for full-device VPN connections.
Giving staff the ability to manage devices over untrusted or trusted networks of varying bandwidth can save IT tremendous time and cost.
- If your IT organization currently has application and desktop virtualization, evaluate your licensing to determine if you’re prepared.
- Consider expanding existing remote access use cases. Can you virtualize any additional applications or access to desktops?
- Be prepared for increased circuit network bandwidth use.
- Investigate solutions that can be spun up and expanded quickly, particularly cloud-based or hybrid solutions.
- Educate your employees on how to access applications.
When we talk about enabling the remote worker outside of the context of a crisis situation, calling isn’t usually top of mind. But in the case of maintaining business continuity, calling becomes essential.
The coronavirus is forcing all types of remote workers to stay at home, including positions in finance, HR and call centers that rely heavily on office phone systems. If large enterprises can’t provide remote employees access to their phone systems, they risk losing market share, hitting numbers and distancing customers. Luckily, vendors like Cisco and Microsoft offer various solutions for cloud calling that give remote users the same benefits of an on-premise PBX phone system. Not only that, but phone systems hosted in the cloud can be easier to get up and running than you may think.
- Prioritize call forwarding.
- Prioritize single number reach.
- Enable users for mobile remote access.
- Provide tools such as headsets and web cams for improved voice and video.
Ensuring remote business continuity
By delivering remote workers powerful calling, a rich meeting experience, team collaboration, and the ability to easily work from any device, employers can not only keep workers safe during the coronavirus, but also reassured from a business continuity standpoint.
Technology gives us the ability to bring nearly all the benefits of office life outside of the office. However, developing sudden solutions for a remote work experience is challenging. The good news is that with the right tools and resources, the right approach can further a large enterprise’s overall vision for collaboration and improve the lives of knowledge workers beyond when a crisis ends.
(The author is senior director, digital workspace practice, for World Wide Technology (WWT), and the views expressed in the article are his own)