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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.

5 Tools for Remote Team Success

One of the challenges we face with nearly everybody working remotely or from home, is how to manage teams.  In particular, customer-facing teams and teams whose members normally work together in person require more adaptation.  here are

Managed Live Chat for Web Sites

If done well, Live Chat on your web site improves your ability to engage and service your current and prospective customers. In addition to providing real-time connections to site visitors, robust live chat systems let you classify operators, message between operators, and hand off responsibility for chats. Leveraging live chat, your customer facing teams — sales and service — can work more effectively and with greater coordination.  Contact us to discuss how we can broker tools like Olark, and get you up, running, and trained quickly.

Managed Shared Inboxes for G Suite

Customer facing teams often share an inbox to managing incoming messages.  When the team is remote, tracking who is responsible for each email thread becomes even more difficult.  Tools like Hiver let you manage, route, and track shared inbox messages across your teams.  Contact us for more info and check out this webcast and demo.

Team Planning Tools

Tracking tasks, projects, and dependencies among teams requires some organization.  In Office 365, the Planner app provides a simple format for tracking team members, assigned tasks, and basic dependencies.  As part of the Office 365 suite, Planner integrates with users’ inboxes and calendars, and with personal and shared storage.  Planner can also be added to Teams channels as a Tab.

In the G Suite environment, we recommend Hive as an affordable, easy to use, planning and task management tool.  It is similar in functionality to Planner and other tools, like Trello, and integrates well with your G Suite identity, Drive, and more.

Contact us for help and guidance getting your project tools in place.

Bookings in MS Office 365

Designed for use by appointment-based businesses, Bookings is an Office 365 app that lets individuals schedule appointments themselves.  Customers can select the time, a particular person, or the first available when scheduling. You control available times, available staff, and appointment defaults. If you are reaching out to your customers, Bookings is way to speed up the appointment setting process.

Intranet Sites

With teams working remotely, access to files on in-house services may be limited, difficult, or slow.  Remote access tools like desktop sharing and VPNs add complexity and increase users’ frustration.  Moving files into Intranet sites can provide fast, secure, reliable access.

    • In G Suite, you can turn Drive folders and hierarchies into Intranets in a matter of minutes with OverDRIVE.  The software lets you create and manage web sites quickly and efficiently, using Drive as the content repository.
    • In Office 365, Sharepoint sites provide an easy mechanism to share files and other content relevant to teams.  You can connect Sharepoint to Teams and Groups, giving users secure access to files and resources vai the methods easiest for them.

As you assess your operations and your needs, we are here to help.  Please contact us for a Cloud Advisor Session.  Our assessment and recommendations are free and without obligation.

Resources for Remote Work

To assist you in coping with the impact of the COVID-19 emergency, we are providing this list of resources to help you fully leverage remote work.

We have additional business and technical resources listed in our COVID-19 Resources for SMBs blog post.

(Updated: 3/27/2020 — Updates in italics)

 

 


Fast and Easy Intranets and Customer Portals in G Suite

  • Secure web sites are a great way to stay connected and engaged with your team and with customers
  • While Google Sites is somewhat limited, there are other options
  • OverDRIVE automates the creation of web pages and sites, using Google Drive as the content management system
  • Click here for more information and to arrange a demo or a trial, or contact us for assistance.

Cloud Access to On-Premise File Servers

  • We have the ability to quickly setup remote, mapped drive access to on-premise file servers via the CentreStack cloud service.
  • This service provides a secure, easy to setup and manage solution that gives your team access to your on-premise file server without the need for expensive and difficult-to-manage VPN services.
  • As a month-to-month, affordable service, CentreStack gives those working remotely access to critical files and data.
  • Contact us for more information.

Simple Tools to Coordinate and Manage Tasks

  • With Office 365
    • Most Office 365 licenses include access to Planner, a simple tool for tracking tasks, individually, and across teams, departments and working groups.  Let us know if you need some guidance or training.
    • Teams is a comprehensive tools for social collaboration with built in Wiki’s, file sharing, and audio/video conferencing.  We can help your team learn and use this powerful tool
  • G Suite
    • You have access to Keep for notes and reminders. Contact us for a demo or assistance.
  • Other Tools
    • Hive, Trello, Slack, and others give you social teamwork and project management capabilities that are easy to adopt and use.
    • Hiver let’s you quickly setup shared mailboxes for customer service and team functions (see a webcast and demo here).

Cloud Access to QuickBooks

  • We can move your on-premise QuickBooks (or other application) setup to the cloud and provide secure remote desktop access.
  • Doing so can provide, as needed:
    • Secure access to multiple users
    • Export of reports and data to Excel or other systems
    • Local printing of checks, reports, and invoices
    • Fast, reliable access without VPN hassles and expense
  • Contact us for more information.

Emergency Server Migrations / Hybrid Clouds

  • We have staff on-hand to move file and application servers to the cloud, providing secure access for remote/virtual workers.
  • Contact us to assess your needs and possible solutions.

Flexible Communication Services

  • If you are not able to extend your business phone service to workers at home, please contact us.
  • We have a number of VoIP and number matching services that can fill this need.
  • We can also address other issues, such as the need for separate or additional voice/text services.

Free/Discounted Phone and Communication Services

  • Several VoIP and online meeting providers are offering free or dramatically discounted services for up to 90 days.
  • Providers include, but are not limited to: Dialpad, UberConference, RingCentral, and Cisco WebEx.
  • These services can be configured to work with your existing phone services to extend access and features to employees that do not normally work remotely
  • Contact us to discuss your needs, workflows, and options.
News from Cumulus Global

Working the Way You Live

Our own Bill Seybolt was featured on the Main Stage at the Launch Out 2015 conference in Nashville, TN. View his entertaining take on working remotely, below.

 


Interested in working remotely or on the go? Contact us about the tools that make it easy.