Coronavirus and Business – Are Your Staff Enabled To Work Remotely?

Posted on: March 13th, 2020 by David Debono

In the event of mandatory quarantines or office closures due to the Coronavirus, does your business have the technology in place to enable your staff to work remotely or work from home?

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The Coronavirus or COVID-19 virus has caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty throughout Australia and the World, the jury is still out regarding the severity and the broader impact that this virus is going to have not only to our health and health systems, but also to our economy and businesses.
With over 120,000 infected globally and over 4,500 deaths, unfortunately it seems likely that things are only going to get worse before they get better.
We are already seeing Australian businesses struggling including Restaurants, Tourism, Retail (unless you sell toilet paper…) and small businesses that work off tight margins and lean operating profits. Businesses that do not have cash reserves could be severely impacted by sick leave, declines in sales and supply chain issues. We are starting to see schools, events and sporting events shutdown to prevent the spread.

If one of your staff where to be infected by the Coronavirus, do you have a work from home policy for your employees, to prevent further infections? Are you prepared in the event that our schools and childcare centres introduce mandatory shutdowns? If there are compulsory quarantines and your staff can’t come into the office or need to stay at home to look after their children, is your business enabled sufficiently to allow your staff to work efficiently and effectively from home?
Do your staff have access to company documents and network drives, access to emails and the ability to facilitate remote meetings and teleconferences to communicate with fellow staff, suppliers and customers?

We have compiled a plain English overview of common IT and communications products and services used by Australian businesses to stay connected whilst working remotely. We have summarised common features and functionality which will aid productivity, access to information and communication.

 

Remote Access to Data and Documents

If your business is already predominantly cloud enabled, your staff can access cloud services, applications and cloud storage using their home computer or work laptop, and their home internet connection or mobile broadband connection. Accessing cloud based applications and data using their home internet connection or mobile broadband services.

If you are not cloud enabled you could consider the following:

  • In order for your users to access data or applications off the corporate server or network, a Client to Server VPN application will be required to allow remote access to inhouse data storage, networks and other server based business applications. In most cases you might have Microsoft VPN included with your Windows operating system. Other options include Cisco VPN Client or Cisco AnyConnect, OpenVPN, Kerios and NordVPN.
  • If you have a number of staff who require access to business documents and need to collaborate with each other on a document there are a number of easy to procure cloud storage providers which allow for flexible, scalable, convenient and secure file storage, without the need for VPN’s and setup by IT. Products like Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive, Google Drive are quite inexpensive and easy to use, even for non technical people.
  • If you are using Office365 or Google G Suite for your email hosting, you already have access to One Drive and Google Drive included in your subscription, you just might not be using it.

 

Access to Business Phones, Landlines, Desk phones and Phone System

Access to Telecommunications services are critical for business communications. Unfortunately, only being contactable via your mobile phone may not be enough for larger businesses when it comes to managing call flows and customer service processes. Therefore, it is important to be able to divert calls to wherever your team is based.

  • Many modern hosted phone systems, on premise PBX’s and contact centre solutions will allow for calls to simultaneously ring on the desk phone in the office, personal/work mobile phones and also on your desktop computer or laptop. If you have the phone system software or mobile app installed on your device, staff can make and answer calls remotely, as if they were working in the office and had direct access to their extension and handset.
  • You shotelecommunications-work-from-homeuld check what call routing functionality you have available on your current phone system or contact centre solution, as it could be being underutilised.
  • Depending on your phone system and network configuration, if you are expecting staff to be working from home for an unspecified period of time, it could be possible for them to take their VoIP handset home and connect it to their home internet connection, and their extension will be back online. This is commonly available with both hosted and on-premise phone systems, some network configuration adjustments may be necessary.
  • Modern hosted phone systems allow for complex call routing, IVR’s, call queues and hunt groups to be configured, in the event that you want to divert particular calls to a specific person who is working from home, that can all be configured quite easily.
  • You can give customers who dial in, the ability to select the department they want to contact and the phone system can route calls to one or many people in your organisation who are working remotely.

If you have the functionality available on your current phone system and your staff are working remotely, there is no reason to not be able to maintain the quality of customer service and communication between your team, customers and suppliers by leveraging off the capability of your phone system.
In the event that you still have an old phone system or an on-premise PBX that isn’t easy to configure, hosted phone system licenses are becoming more and more affordable, feature rich and quick and easy to provision without the need to send a technician to site.

Audio Conferences, Video Conferences and Virtual/Web meetings

conferencing and collaborationIf your business is forced to reduce or eliminate the number of face to face meetings, both internally and with customers or suppliers, an audio conference or teleconference for voice only calls, or a video conference or web meeting which allows for video communication is the next best thing.

If the impacts of the Coronavirus require your staff to Work From Home or to work remotely and still be required to communicate with people, you might need to consider how conferencing and collaboration technologies can improve the productivity of your staff.

 

  • An Audio/teleconference will allow you to organise a phone call between 3 or more people. This can be managed using the native functionality on your smart phone, some phone systems will allow for teleconferences, or there are dedicated conferencing suppliers who can set up a conferencing bridge with dedicated dial in numbers regardless of where you or your participants are located around the world.
  • Video Conferences and Web meetings, allow users from multiple remote locations to have a ‘face to face’ virtual experience, share content and share computer screens. Web meeting technologies are already widely used, common products include Webex, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Hangouts, Microsoft Teams (Skype for Business is being phased out) and many others.
  • In terms of hardware, video conferences can be conducted via smartphones, tablets, laptops and PC’s with web cameras.

Using Audio and Video conferencing technologies are the next best thing to an actual in person meeting. In the event that there are quarantine or work from home protocols in place due to the coronavirus, this technology allows your business to continue to have effective and engaging meetings with your staff, suppliers and customers.

Some other benefits include reduced costs of travel both locally and internationally, meeting room access and costs of setting up physical events.

Depending on what conferencing service you have there are a number of added additional benefits:

  • Ability to record meetings for later access, manage questions and answers via online chat for large virtual events
  • Manage training and inductions remotely
  • Overall efficiency and productivity gains from reduced travel to and from meetings and the ability for your staff to continue working despite the circumstances.
  • Reduced physical contact and reduced risk of virus exposure.

Remote meetings have proven to be an effective way to communicate and participants tend to become more productive with the ability in achieving more virtual meetings in a week compared to a number of possible face to face meetings.

Data Security and Network Security

If you are forced due to the Coronavirus to have your staff work from home or remotely, there are a number of associated business risks. There are obvious cybersecurity and data security issues associated with corporate data being accessed remotely. There are data network, device security, password security, antivirus and staff training and awareness that should be considered.

The complexity of your data security and network security is going to be contingent on the size of your business and sensitivity of your data.

  • A good rule of thumb when working remotely, is to limit access to sensitive data to only people that absolutely need it.
  • A conscious effort should be made to segregate your data into separate folders and review access permissions periodically to ensure that only relevant staff have access to data that they need, you should also be careful who is able to authorise access to folders and sharing of data.
  • Corporate data should only be accessed over secure internet connections and never over unsecured WiFi networks, unless using a VPN. The VPN will encrypt internet traffic accessed by the remote worker.
  • Try to use complex passwords and don’t reuse passwords, ideally use a Password Manager.
  • Use encryption software to protect documents
  • When using cloud services, ensure that Two Factor Authentication (2FA) is enabled wherever possible.
  • Firewalls and Antivirus software should be installed on all devices that are accessing the network or corporate data.

Summary

If your business is concerned about the impacts of the Coronavirus on your day to day business operations and business continuity, the effective use of technology can enable your staff to continue to work remotely and effectively.

In the event of quarantines or you are forced to introduce a mandatory work from home policy, where staff are not able to come into the office, the right mix of Cloud based storage and VoIP communications and collaboration technologies can reduce the impact on your business and ensure that your staff remain productive and efficient regardless of where they are working from.

The good news is that in the last 5-10 years cloud technologies have progressed rapidly. Features and functionality have improved, the price points have come down and there are a multitude of suppliers who are well equipped to help you source and setup these services.

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Whilst the coronavirus is a cause for concern and there is a lot of uncertainty, there is no need to panic. With the right planning and contingencies in place, there is no reason for your business to grind to a halt and we can hopefully ride out the coming weeks and months with minimal impact to our businesses, staff and families.

Circle Business Consulting and our partners are well placed to assist your business with Cloud Enablement, IT transformations, Telecommunications, Conferencing and Collaboration, IT Security and Managed Services. We deliver IT and Telecommunications related services all over Australia, we have helped Aussie businesses all over Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Darwin and Hobart.

So whether you are located in New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), Victoria (VIC), Western Australia (WA), South Australia (SA), Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Tasmania (TAS), Northern Territory (NT), give the team at Circle Business Consulting a call, the initial consultation is obligation free 1300 978 073.