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Ensuring Hybrid Work Actually Works

Hybrid Workplace

For most of us and our businesses, hybrid work is here to stay.  In reality, it has almost always been with us.  Salespersons, field technicians, and other out-of-office customer-facing roles have been a part of many businesses for decades.  The mix, however, of who works outside the office has changed.  And while many businesses are still working to figure out how many in-office work days are necessary each week, the underlying assumption is that hybrid work models will remain.

The challenge now is to ensure your model for hybrid work actually works for your business. When remote work was the exception, the solutions could be one-offs, or more complicated, because the impact on users was limited.  The extra effort to connect to the office was acceptable.  Remote work is now part of the norm, whether in a hybrid model or full-time. Connecting is now critical — technically and in terms of communication, collaboration, and culture.

Here are 5 Ways to Help Ensure Hybrid Work Actually Works

 

1 Simplify Access and Accessibility

Ensure your team can connect and work easily.  Each added layer, such as VPNs, adds a layer of complexity and creates another opportunity for something to go wrong. Complexity also impedes performance.

Moving services — applications, files, data — into a central cloud service reduces the need for complex connections from remote users to in-house networks and servers.  Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace, for example, can easily replace traditional file servers.  Using a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service with remote desktops simplifies access and accessibility to servers and line-of-business applications that do not yet run in the cloud.

2 Create a Single User Experience

If the user experience is different in-office and remotely, team members on a hybrid schedule must effectively navigate two different systems to connect and work. The result is often confusion. File locations and access to printers and scanners become confusing. Configuring oneDrive or Google Drive desktop applications is challenging if you want them to work on and off your office network.

Creating a single user experience reduces the confusion and eliminates potential roadblocks to productivity.

One of the easiest ways to create a single user experience is to use (VDI) and remote desktops.  Rather than having users work “locally” in the office and “remotely” elsewhere, the VDI environment provides remote desktops usable to everybody regardless of location.  All users connect to the service and work within a secure network.

As an added benefit, VDI narrows the scope of your security envelope. VDI reduces the need to manage end user devices, particularly if you allow Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD).

3 Enable Collaboration

The flow of information is different when we work remotely versus together. And while many are more productive working remotely, effective collaboration takes effort.

On average small businesses use only 10% to 15% of the features and capabilities of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. There is a high cost to low adoption.

To foster collaboration, your team must be comfortable using the tools that enable the sharing, communications, and relationships. On-going education of capabilities helps team members learn and use collaboration features. Reviewing and updating workflows and processes can improve collaboration within day-to-day activities.

4 Manage Your Managers

Managing people and leading teams is a skill. Many “doers” struggle when they become managers, given the complexities of coaching, mentoring, managing expectations, and dispute resolution across diverse groups of individuals. Managing teams with remote members is even more challenging. Team dynamics will differ, perception biases related to visibility will exist, and managing will need to be against results and expectations rather than visible activity.

Team leaders and managers need education, training, guidance, and mentoring to succeed.  And this need is greater with hybrid and remote teams. Peruse the Ask a Manager blog archives if you want real life examples of unskilled, and outright bad, managers who can damage your business.

Spend some time, and yes, money, to develop management and leadership skills for those responsible for supervising others.  Include guidance and support for issues unique to remote staff and hybrid and remote teams.

5 Include People Intentionally

Remote work does allow team members to focus on their tasks and manage their time. Meetings still happen and team members can use their commute time for other things.

In-person work still has benefits. Unstructured interactions build relationships and connections that enable ideas and innovations to take hold. Granted, “water cooler” chats can be gossipy or give naysayers a channel.  These conversations also enable many to float and test ideas outside of formal meetings. There is a perceived formality when you ask somebody to meet via video, even if it is to just bounce and discuss ideas. The acts of requesting, scheduling, and joining create a structure that differs from catching somebody at their desk, in the hall, or walking back from lunch.

The solution is to create opportunities for casual communications and to set the expectation that they should occur. To do so, your team members need opportunities to interact not only on work, but work-tangential topics, as a means to build relationships and trust.

For your remote/hybrid workers, inclusion is key.

  • As you prepare for meetings, let remote participants know in advance that you will be seeking their input on various topics. Set the expectation for participation without an element of surprise.
  • Create the habit of asking, “Who else should we ask?” when having unstructured discussions. Include them in real-time via chat or video, or message them for ideas or a time to chat.
  • Actively include remote workers in company events.  Team pizza lunch on Thursday?  Move it to a conference room, invite remote team members, and send remote participants lunch (or a credit to order their favorite).
  • Plan company events so remote team members can participate. Activities, like providing the ingredients and preparing a fancy meal guided by a chef, allow people to share a common experience in a group setting, even though participants are not physically together.

Next Step: Cumulus Global Can Help

Making sure that hybrid work actually works for your business requires intent, planning and action. Even small initiatives and steps to support remote staff and teams, and to foster communication, trust, and collaboration, can have a big impact on your business.

Cumulus Global can help you with plan and deploy technologies and servers that enable and support effective remote workers and teams.  With best-in-class remote desktop/VDI services, expert support for both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, and affordable Managed Cloud Services, we will help your business thrive and grow.

Click here to schedule a call with a Cloud Advisor or send us an email. There is no cost and no obligation.

About the Author

Bill Seybolt bio pictureBill is a Senior Cloud Advisor responsible for helping small and midsize organizations with cloud forward solutions that meet their business needs, priorities, and budgets. Bill works with executives, leaders, and team members to understand workflows, identify strategic goals and tactical requirements, and design solutions and implementation phases. Having helped over 200 organizations successfully adopt cloud solutions, his expertise and working style ensure a comfortable experience effective change management. 

 

The State and Future of Remote Work

As noted in a recent article published by American City Business Journals, the state and future of remote work are still up for debate.  Remote work and hybrid work arrangements continue to face resistance. Our reduced need for office space still impacts city centers and commercial real estate markets.  And yet, employees still want remote and hybrid work arrangements. The desire to have work-from-home options is strong enough that many employees will take pay cuts in exchange for the flexibility.

Some of the Data

Work from Home Research noted that paid full days worked out of office was about 27%, year to date, in 2023.  This represents a very slight decrease from recent months.

In February 2023:

  • 60% of employees worked full-time in the office
  • 28% of employees worked in a hybrid arrangement
  • 12% of employees worked remotely full time

40% of employees continue to work some or all of their time outside the office.

A recent study by Robert Half found:

  • 28% of job postings were advertised as remote
  • 32% of employees who work in the office at least one (1) day per week would take an average 18%  pay cut to work remotely full time

Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that:

  • From 2020 to 2021, during the surge in remote work, productivity jumped from 108.57 per hour to 115.3 per hour
  • In 2022, productivity dropped slightly as more employees returned to the office

Using the Data

Remote and hybrid work arrangements will likely continue as companies and employees work to find the right balance for the company and employees.  As small business leaders, we understand that remote work is an attractive feature of job postings, and 1/3 of employees would take a pay cut or change jobs to work remotely.

We need to manage our remote and hybrid work arrangements in ways that employees see as flexible and accommodating. 

In-person interactions with colleagues can improve morale and enhance company culture. It makes sense that we want most employees in the office, interacting face-to-face, at least some of the time.

Employees see most hybrid work arrangements as designed to meet the needs of the company, not employees.  Employees see incentives, such as free meals and other “perks”, as gimmicks to attract employees to the office without addressing employees’ needs.  We need to present hybrid work arrangements honestly in terms of company needs and priorities and those of the employees. If we provide a real balance of needs and priorities, employees will feel respected and heard. They will be more accepting of change.

The Role of Technology

We have no doubts about the power of technology to empower your employees to do their best work — in office or remotely.  Many small businesses scrambled to support remote work at the onset of the pandemic.  These solutions were often rushed and, as such, less efficient or effective than needed.  Too many of us, however, have not stepped back to assess, revise, and improve our IT support for remote and hybrid work.

We need support and technologies in place to ensure the long-term viability of remote and hybrid work.

Employees, when working remotely, want and need the same resources and abilities as when they are working in the office.  They want the same user experience regardless of where or how they work.  At the same time, we need to ensure our systems and data remain secure and protected.

When assessing your IT services, make sure you have the SPARC you need:

  • Security
  • Performance
  • Availability
  • Reliability
  • Cost

Leveraging cloud services, you can provide secure access to your systems and data, with a consistent user experience, at a reasonable cost.

Calls To Action

1. Read our recent eBook, Cloud Strategies for Small and Midsize Businesses. In this eBook, we: Set the stage by looking at how small and midsize businesses acquire and use technology and IT services; Explore the challenges we face moving into the cloud; and Map out four strategies for enhancing your use and expansion of cloud services.

2. Schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors or contact us to discuss how best you can support your remote and hybrid workers. The conversation is free, without obligation, and at your convenience.

About the Author

Allen Falcon is the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Global.  Allen co-founded Cumulus Global in 2006 to offer small businesses enterprise-grade email security and compliance using emerging cloud solutions. He has led the company’s growth into a managed cloud service provider with over 1,000 customers throughout North America. Starting his first business at age 12, Allen is a serial entrepreneur. He has launched strategic IT consulting, software, and service companies. An advocate for small and midsize businesses, Allen served on the board of the former Smaller Business Association of New England, local economic development committees, and industry advisory boards.

Hybrid Business Strategy: Examples, Considerations, and Recommendations

Hybrid Workplace

The Business Side of Hybrid Workplace Strategy

The business side of hybrid workplace strategy is forefront as we make plans for the future. In a survey recently published by Gartner, CEOs were asked to identify the top enduring changes resulting from the pandemic. 45% of CEOs stated that hybrid and remote work was the most significant long-term impact. This equals all other noted enduring changes, combined. Nearly every business will have some degree of remote and hybrid working arrangements, as we experience a change in employee expectations and broader cultural shifts.

In past posts, we have looked at the technology and related managed cloud services needed to properly support remote and hybrid workplaces. The business administration issues related to hybrid and remote work are more complex than the technology solutions.

Four Hybrid Workplace Business Considerations

We’ve broken down what you should think about when it comes to hybrid workplace strategy into four key points. Each of these aspects of a hybrid workplace contains examples of how a hybrid business strategy might be implemented. See how these four considerations can help you strike the right balance and create a hybrid workplace that prioritizes people.

1. Working Environment

As we have noted before, as employers we are responsible for providing staff with a safe and healthy work environment.  If employees are working remotely, or from home, on a regular basis (an expectation for the job), their work environment must be managed appropriately through a hybrid work strategy.  We are responsible to ensure appropriate lighting, noise, desk space, seating, and ergonomic accommodations, as well as productivity tools, and cloud collaboration services.

2. Payroll, Benefits, and Compliance

With employees working at home, you are more likely to be paying employees who both live and work out of state (or in another tax jurisdiction). In addition to accurately representing their work location for payroll, you will need to provide benefits in each state and comply with each state’s employment laws.  Minimum wage, sick time, and paid leave are a few of the regulations that differ between states, and need to be considered in a hybrid business strategy.  Healthcare plans and providers will also differ, as do contributions to state unemployment insurance programs.  Additionally, you will need workers’ compensation insurance coverage for each state in which employees work.

3. Insurance

Beyond workers’ compensation, you may need to update your general liability coverages to address employees working from home.  Your insurer may see additional risk and/or the need to document work locations to ensure your business is properly covered.  Most policies require that you list any company-owned or leased work spaces, including co-working spaces.

4. Taxes

Lastly, when it comes to a hybrid workplace strategy, having employees work in your state while living in another is not uncommon. States have reciprocity agreements that dictate how these employees need to file their personal tax returns.  When you have remote employees working in other states, the rules are not yet as clear. Some states expect you to withhold taxes based on your employees’ locations, as this is their workplace.

Even more impactful, some states see an employee’s work location as creating nexus, and will require you to file business tax returns in that state.

Recommendations on a Hybrid Workplace Strategy

We strongly recommend that you proactively address the business side of hybrid work.  Speak with your HR, tax, and legal advisors as you navigate and design your hybrid strategy and remote work plans.

  • Consider using a Professional Employment Organization, or PEO, to manage payroll, benefits, HR policies, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance.  In addition to operating across state lines, PEOs provide you with a unified approach to human resource services. They can assist with recruiting, onboarding, offboarding, and regulatory needs such as driver safety, OSHA compliance, and testing for banned substances. PEOs als0 assume liability for compliance errors.
  • Be prepared to provide employees working from home with the workspace and accommodations they need to be healthy, safe, and productive. Beyond IT, we can assist with home office workstations, desks, stands, lighting, and more.
  • Communicate with your insurance provider to ensure your coverages are appropriate and correct.
  • Consult your tax and legal advisors to ensure you understand when, and where, you have nexus with respect to corporate registrations and taxes.

If you’d like to chat more about hybrid business strategy, be sure to get in touch!

Six Best Remote Work Strategies 

Remote Work Strategy in Action

If you have remote workers, then how you manage your business and employees has, and will continue to change. We often talk about the technology that makes remote work efficient and that can help integrate teams. But supporting remote workers requires a broader perspective and understanding of the workplace.  As employers, we remain responsible for providing a safe, effective workplace regardless of where our employees work. Here a few considerations as you plan your hybrid business and remote work strategy.

If you have remote workers, then you should consider the following six best practices for a remote work strategy.

Six of The Best Remote Work Strategies

  1. Are responsible for their work environments, including the same health and safety regulations that apply in the office.
    • Ensuring safe and appropriate workspace ergonomics, sound levels, lighting, etc. are responsibilities of the employer.
    • Provide your remote workforce with appropriate furniture, lighting, and ergonomic tools.
    • And yes, an employee working from home might be eligible for Workers’ Compensation if they trip over their dog while working.
  2. Need to accurately track and manage working hours for non-exempt employees.
    • Avoid wage and employment related liabilities by ensuring hourly workers are compensated for all work time, including when they respond to the random off-hours email.
    • Setting clear policies and expectations can help avoid work hour, wage, and employment issues.
  3. Are responsible for ensuring their work is secure.
    • Remote work environments must be managed and secured to the same levels as those working in the office.
    • Data privacy regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI, and SEC17, do not end at the office door.
    • Networks, systems, applications, and data require the same levels of protection regardless of location.
    • Similarly, physical protections must be in place for printed documents.
  4. Can be accountable for intellectual property stored on personal devices.
    • Establish a clear policy and procedures for the use of personal devices for work.
    • Include the need for the company to install software or productivity tools to manage the business’ information on the device, including but not limited to cyber protections, personal/work data separation, local encryption, backup/recovery, and the ability to remotely remove work related data in an emergency.
  5. Want to avoid “in-person” bias.
    • Remote workers need mechanisms and unified communication options to participate in the informal conversations and interactions we take for granted when working in an office environment.
    • Supervisors and managers should help workers establish and build effective relationships, including those that offer mentorship and guidance, with direct co-workers and others in your firm.
    • Measures of performance should, explicitly, avoid the implicit bias that in-person visibility correlates to better involvement and teamwork.
  6. Should understand the tax implications for your business, and employees related to working remote.
    • Having employees in other tax jurisdictions can make proper payroll tax withholding and filing more complex.
    • States may or may not have reciprocal agreements and some states are imposing new rules.
    • Remote workers may create nexus in some jurisdictions, triggering sales tax and other tax obligations.
    • Work with your attorney and financial advisors to understand your requirements and to ensure compliance.

Next Steps to Create a Remote Work Strategy

Cloud infrastructure technologies help facilitate remote work and hybrid work environments. You can deploy systems, apps, and tools to make remote and hybrid work efficient and secure. Remote and hybrid work models, however, span every aspect of your business.  Policies, procedures, operations, and culture all require attention, planning, and support.

Work with your legal and financial advisors, and your HR resources, to ensure  your remote/hybrid plans will benefit your business.

5 Effective Ways to Improve Work from Home

Ways to Improve Work from Home

The Covid-19 pandemic proved that work from home and remote work was viable and productive for more employees than previously believed or acknowledged.  Necessity is a great motivator. Our businesses, employees, and customers responded, adapted, moved forward.  In the process, we have identified effectives new ways to improve work from home, as well as new benefits and pitfalls with remote work. Looking forward, our emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic is not a clear as hoped or predicted. The virus is here to stay and the impact on our lives is yet to be fully understood.  Our normal is not necessary “new”, but continues to evolve.

Considerations for Improving Work From Home

While we cannot predict the full extent of the shift, remote work, hybrid work, and work from home will be the norm. Learn how to work from home better, and remember to continue to reassess your work from home arrangement. This means asking yourself questions like, what can I do to improve my work-from-home setup? Could I boost my home productivity with additional productivity tools or technology? Is my work-from-home setup secure enough? What can I do to improve my communication skills while working from home?

5 Ways How to Improve Work From Home Effectiveness and Increase Productivity

Business need to continue to assess, plan, and adapt.  Here are 5 ways we can improve work from home and hybrid remote in-office work environments.

1. Device-as-a-Service

Device-as-a-Service, particularly remote desktop and virtual desktop infrastructure solutions, have clear benefits for new office norms. You can:

  • Provide a secure access to applications and systems with consistency regardless of where your employees are working
  • Better manage the computing environment, separating your business’ computing from the local device
  • Use existing, older laptops and desktops, thereby reducing hardware upgrade costs driven by operating system and application upgrades
  • Leverage Chromebooks as end user devices, lowering your total cost of ownership

2. Pick a Video Conferencing Service

Picking a standard video conferencing service lets you manage how you communicate internally and with customers. The right choice can also save you hundreds of dollars per year per employee while giving you and your team the features and functions they need to manage meetings and work efficiently.  By selecting a preferred service, you can invest the time and effort to integrate the service with your productivity and collaboration suites. An small investment in teaching employees how to fully use the solution also pays dividends.

3. Improve Employees’ Internet

You would never allow your Internet service to slow down work at the office. You should not allow home Internet speeds to slow down your remote employees. Reimbursing employees for increasing their Internet speeds improves productivity and morale. Providing employees with better WiFi routers and access points ensures their connections are available and reliable. Note: a few states require employers to reimburse home Internet services based on the percentage used for work.

4. Secure Your Remote Workers

Unless you provide the equipment and services, you cannot control your employees’ home networks and systems. At the same time, you want and need to secure your applications, data, and network. To do so:

  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible to control network, system, and application access.  MFA and 2FA are the simplest means of preventing hackers from using compromised user identities or credentials.
  • Upgrade home computers with additional, advanced threat protection services.  Many of the next-gen solutions offer greater protection from modern attacks and are designed to work with existing anti-virus solutions that may be installed on the device. Some of these solutions also provide tools for remote support.
  • Consider using physical security keys that provide authentication codes without the need for a smartphone or other device.

5. Protect Your Remote Resources

Whether using a company provided laptop or a personal computer, problems at home are disruptive and take longer to diagnose and repair than in-office problems. Things to improve working from home such as Device-as-a Service solutions separate the risk from the physical device, however employees using their local machines are still at risk.  At a minimum, ensure that you are backing up and can recover applications and data on remote laptops and desktops. If an employee performs critical or time-sensitive tasks, consider a continuity solution that enable the employee to return to work within minutes rather than hours.

Conclusion on How to Improve Work From Home

Whether work from home, remote work, or hybrid work will be strategic or tactical for your business, you can improve remote work security and employee experience with minimal cost.  We are here to help you assess, plan, and update your IT strategy and services to best meet your needs — and budget.  Contact us for an initial consultation, and to discuss how we can help you improve the work from home environment for your business.

 

Remote Workforce Security: Tips, Challenges & Lessons Learned

As part of its Global Year in Breach – 2021 report, security firm ID Agent found that remote workforce security is more difficult than generally thought. With many of the changes in how we work expected to continue, as business leaders we need to embrace hybrid work as the way of the future.

What Exactly is Remote Work Security?

Remote workforce security is a subset of IT cybersecurity that focuses on protecting corporate data and other assets when employees work outside of a physical office. Implementing strong security protocols and technologies for remote access, educating employees on how to identify security risks and stay safe, and strengthening your overall business data protection and security are some of the best ways to secure your remote workforce.

What to Know When Developing Security Procedures for a Remote Workforce

Pandemic Triggers Panic

2020 and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges. The biggest challenge was cybercrime. The mix of understaffed IT departments, maintenance failures, unpreparedness, record-breaking cybercrime, and employee stress taxed IT teams and services. Cybercriminals took advantage of this golden opportunity, and businesses were hit hard.

Businesses needed to rapidly shift to remote operations. For those with older technology, this shift was especially difficult. Everybody became a remote worker. IT teams needed to become instant experts in remote workforce security, including knowing the four pillars of cloud security. For too many businesses, it was a mad scramble to to get their teams remotely or face shutting down entirely. Many employees lacked training in remote work; many IT teams had never managed remote security at scale. A barrage of unintentional, insider threats assaulted IT teams daily.

Stress Creates Vulnerabilities

Why was the massive shift to Work from Home such a boon to cybercrime?

IT departments were unprepared and understaffed.  Only 39% of IT executives polled felt they have adequate IT expertise on staff to assist with remote work issues. Only 45% of organizations reported having and adequate budget to support remote work.

At the same time, employees were dealing with unexpected stress at home and more likely to make cybersecurity mistakes. Over 50% of respondents admitted they were more error-prone while stressed. 40% said they made more mistakes when tired or distracted. Altogether, 43% of workers surveyed acknowledged mistakes resulting in cybersecurity repercussions for themselves or their company while working remotely.

Cybercrime Complications

Chaos and confusion created opportunities for cybercriminals. Experts estimate that overall cybercrime was up by 80% in 2020. Much of that increase was from phishing attacks. Cybercriminals took advantage distracted, stressed workers, with limited IT support, and immense numbers of email. In 2020, phishing attacks skyrocketed by more than 650%. Attacks hit 75% of companies and accounted for almost 80% of all cybercrime.

Successful ransomware also jumped more than 145%. In 2020, 51% of all businesses and 40% of small and midsize businesses experienced a ransomware attack. 50% of attacks on SMBs used vicious double extortion ransomware. Ransomware will continue to top the list of cybercrime trends in 2021.

FAQs About Remote Workforce Security

Next Steps for How to Secure Your Remote Workforce

Stopping ransomware and decreasing your company’s risk of a successful cyberattack against remote and hybrid workers starts with stopping phishing and its destructive effects. We have tools that help your IT team support and protect your people and your business, while also protecting your budget.

To learn more about you cyber risks, and solutions to fit your needs and budget, contact us and schedule a complimentary Cloud Advisor Session.

 

Work Life Post COVID-19 Will be Different

As reported by the Boston Business Journal, a recent survey conducted by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, with help form several regional business groups, found that businesses are projecting that 47% of employees will continue to work completely or partially from home post-Covid. If this is the case, the number of remote workers will jump 2 1/2 times from the pre-Covid rate of 18%.

While this survey’s focus was looking at the potential impact on the commercial real estate market in the metro Boston area, we can expect these results to be somewhat similar for metropolitan areas across the country.

A significant, permanent shift in the percentage of remote workers will impact how businesses operate.

To adapt, you will want to eliminate issues that are “inconveniences” when temporary, but should not be allowed to hurt productivity or efficiency in the long term. Some of the changes we have seen and helped businesses deploy include:

  • Changing your infrastructure (and using cloud services) to provide users with secure, direct access to applications and files, eliminating the need for remote desktop or VPN connections to on-premise networks and systems
  • Expanding your use of social communication tools, like Google Chat and Microsoft Teams, to enable the casual and incidental conversations that occur in office
  • Incrementally automating common tasks and work flows to simplify and monitor processes
  • Giving your staff the ability to manage inbound and outbound calls through the company’s voice service, ensuring
    • Call flows, through ACD and IVR menus, work properly
    • Team members can transfer calls to others
    • Staff do not need to use personal phone numbers and voicemail
  • Ensuring your calling groups, like those for help desks, function well regardless of a person’s location
  • Updating threat protections for users, data, and applications outside your physical offices.
  • Selecting video conferencing services that are secure and that provide your team with useful features and controls, such as:
    • Controlled and secure access
    • Ability to share desktops, windows, and browser tabs
    • Privacy tools, such as alternate backgrounds
    • Captioning and transcription capture

As many of these improvements can be accomplished with the tools and systems you already have in place, the cost to ensure productivity is manageable.


Complete this form for a free, no-obligation assessment, or contact us to schedule an introductory call with one of our Cloud Advisors.

Remote Learning + (Privacy x Access) = New IT Needs

While schools, teachers, and families want schools to safely re-open, the reality is that in most areas of the country, remote learning will be part of the plan this coming school year.  In addition to ensuring student access and adapting teaching methods, the move to remote learning creates new communication and privacy issues.  Working with schools and districts across the US, we see new requirements for voice services, such as:

Full Access

  • Even schools with Voice over IP phone systems may not have a way for staff to receive and make calls remotely.  More than forwarding an extension to a home or cell phone, staff should be able to answer, transfer, and initiate calls.  Additionally, unanswered calls should go to the school, not personal, voice mailbox.

Hotline / Service Desk

  • With staff working remotely, provide the ability for managed call groups with either “ring many” or “round robin” features to ensure staff are able to answer student calls quickly.
  • In addition to IT help lines, these service desks can help librarians assist student with research, enable counselors provide better coverage, and ensure calls to administrative offices are answered or routed when staff are working remotely.

Privacy for Personal Phone Numbers

  • Not all staff have school phone numbers that they can use to call, and receive calls, when out of the office.
  • Special education teachers, aids, liaisons, and coordinators, and other staff that need to communicate one-on-one with families, should not have to make calls from, or disclose, their personal home or cell phone numbers.

Cloud VoIP solutions can augment and fill gaps in your current phone services so you can fully support remote teachers, staff, and learners.

With cloud VoIP services, we can easily tailor incremental and point-solutions to your needs while managing per-user and total costs.  Capabilities include:

  • Individual direct dial numbers or extensions
  • Soft phone apps for mobile devices, laptops, and desktops, providing:
    • Ability to make and receive calls on any device without disclosing personal phone numbers
    • Access to all phone service features
    • Access to system voicemail services
  • Single or multi-level call direction menus
  • Service Desk / Agent Pools that provide:
    • Ring many, round-robin, or prioritized inbound call assignment
    • Ability to mark self available or unavailable
    • After-call work period before receiving next call to allow for documentation/transition

Depending on the features and functionality you need, we can deploy native Microsoft and Google voice services or bring in third party services designed to work with G Suite for Education and Microsoft 365.

Please contact us to discuss your needs and explore your options.

Remote Workers Need Voice Services

As remote work becomes a longer-term consideration, we have spent time and money to make sure that our teams can work from home.  Computers, WiFi upgrades, remote desktops, and new cloud services have been parts of the solution. Often forgotten are voice services.  Employees that normally work in the office may not be set up to effectively use your phone system from home.  For some businesses …

  • Employees answering general lines are unable to forward calls to other employees, requiring callers to hang up and redial or the disclosure of personal cell and home phone numbers.
  • Members of hotlines, service desks, and other managed groups cannot receive live calls, forcing them to constantly check and respond to voice messages and dramatically increasing the effort to coordinate activities.
  • Individuals are forwarding business lines to home or mobile phones, mixing business and personal voicemails and calls.

A robust voice service can dramatically improve remote worker productivity.

By moving to a cloud Voice over IP (VoIP) service, or augmenting your current phone services, you can ensure your business communications run smoothly.

  • Robust desktop apps allow receptionists and administrative staff to answer, transfer, and route calls.
  • “Soft Phone” mobile apps allow staff to send and receive calls from personal devices without using or disclosing personal contact information.
  • All voice messages remain within the system, ensuring data privacy.
  • Managed calling groups function properly, maintaining routing, sequencing, and time management features.
  • Employees have access to conference calls, and optionally video call and secure chat services.

In addition, many cloud VoIP services seamlessly integrate with the Microsoft 365 and G Suite ecosystems, improving ease-of-use and providing additional features.

If you need to shore-up your phone service, we have multiple, affordable options we can match to your needs.  Please contact us to discuss your needs and options.

Protect Yourself from Personal Devices

(Published 4/12/20 – Get our Sample Policy)


For many businesses, employees are working from home for the first time. Given the rush to change how our businesses operate, many of those employees will be using home computers or personal devices.  While enabling companies to continue operating, doing so can place your business, data, customers, and employees at risk.

If you do not already have a policy in place, we have published a sample policy covering employee use of personal computers and devices. The policy, intended to augment your existing company policies (such as appropriate use), covers Company and Employee responsibilities.  Since you may need to install software and utilities on the device to ensure compatibility, secure access to your systems, and compliance with your data privacy and protection requirements, the policy strives to create a balance that ensure employees will not lose personal data or use of the device for personal reasons.

You can access the Sample Policy here, free of charge. Please review the policy with your HR and IT resources and modify it as necessary for your business.

As noted in the policy, you should expect to provision current versions of software and the necessary data protection tools. For example:

  • Most Office 365 licenses allow you to install the desktop software on up to 5 computers and 5 tablets/smartphones for each user.  These rights mean that you can provide employees with the same software on their home computers as they use in the office. Doing so improves productivity.
  • Employees may have antivirus protection software installed, which may or may not be current or sufficient for your needs.  You may want, or need to layer on advanced threat endpoint protection software that will not interfere with existing tools, such as Webroot.
  • Employees likely do not have dns/web protection services installed.  As the computer is used for personal activities, adding web protections can prevent web-based malware from impacting your data and business.

Please contact us for a complimentary Cloud Advisor session.  Without obligation, we can discuss your needs, discuss how to best protect your data/business, and recommend affordable solutions to consider.

library

Crash Course in Office 365

eBook | Source: Microsoft —
You already know the productivity power of Office applications like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Full adoption empowers you to access your …

Google Workspace Security

eBook | Source: Google —
Google started in the cloud and runs on the cloud, so it’s no surprise that we fully understand the security implications of powering your business in the cloud.

Make it Work: The Future of Collaboration and Productivity

eBook | Source: Google —
The future of work is here – it’s just not evenly distributed. This report identifies three changes businesses  can make to work in the future

Unblocking Workplace Collaboration

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Poor workplace collaboration is 1 of 5 top reasons people quit their jobs. Break down collaboration blockers so that teams …

Google Workspace Migration Guide

eBook | Source: Google — What are your goals, and what makes one technology solution the best fit? Here are some insights that can help facilitate a smooth transition to new workplace productivity tools at all stages — with specifics on Google Workspace — from decision to preparation to deployment to upkeep.

Six Types of Remote Workers and How to Support Them

eBook | Source: Microsoft —
Great teams build great companies. Understand the six types of remote workers who impact your team, evaluate their technical needs, assess their …

Webcasts

Next Normal: WFH and Remote

(4/20/2021) – We explore how Work From Home and remote workers alters your IT service needs. Taking a holistic view, we look beyond using apps and accessing files, discussing factors that protect your business and support productivity