For years, large enterprises have been seeing the rise of the remote worker. We tend to think of this trend in terms of culture. For instance, millennials and Generation Z prioritize the ability to work from home far greater than their baby boomer peers. Rarely, however, is remote work discussed in the context of business continuity.
The coronavirus shows us that any knowledge worker — regardless of age, work-life preference or company position — must be able to do his or her job from home successfully.
This became especially evident when organizations in non-high-risk coronavirus areas ordered large groups of employees to work from home. In late February, London employees of Chevron and media group OMG were sent home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, representing 300 and 1,000 workers respectively.
So, how do large enterprises rapidly enable groups of knowledge workers who must suddenly transition from office life to remote work?
By examining four pillars of remote work and their associated tools and strategies, we can begin to answer this question.
Meetings 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 SARS, MERS and the financial crisis.
The coronavirus is no different. Since its outbreak, Cisco has reported a 22 times increase of traffic on their Webex backbone connecting China-based users to their global workplaces. Similarly, video conferencing competitor Zoom has added more active users so far this year than they did in all of 2019. Use of Microsoft Teams in China for meetings, calling and conferences has increased 500 percent.
Not only will suddenly remote employees 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 even though personal contact is restricted.
- Encourage use of existing enterprise video conferencing investments.
- Discourage use of departments 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.
- Invest in end-user adoption. 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.
To listen to a live discussion on this topic, click on the link below to hear the TEC17 Podcast with Joe Berger and Brandon Echele. They discuss how companies can quickly implement policies to keep their employees engaged and productive as they work remotely.
Team collaboration tools
Knowledge workers, as their name implies, rely on sharing knowledge to get their jobs done. When these employees shift 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.
- 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
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 you currently have 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 utilization.
- Investigate solutions that can be spun up and expanded quickly, particularly cloud-based or hybrid solutions.
- Educate end users 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.
By delivering remote workers a rich meeting experience, team collaboration, the ability to easily work from any device and powerful calling, employers can not only keep workers safe during the coronavirus, but also reassured.
Technology gives us the ability to bring nearly all the benefits of office life outside of the office. However solutioning a minimum viable product for a sudden remote work experience is challenging. The good news is that 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.
To accelerate the adoption of some of the technology I discussed, I’d encourage you to explore our hands-on labs related to digital workspace.
Also, we can deliver our Remote Workforce Consultation focused on business continuity during a sudden remote work scenario and developing a long-term strategy.
I hope you will stay safe, stay connected and let me know how we can help your organization run as smoothly as possible.