In this time of ever-increasing external challenges, be it weather-events or global pandemics like COVID-19, it seems that the world is changing hour by hour and the landscape of what is considered “business as usual” is anything but usual.
Organizations of every size are now facing unprecedented demands and must quickly and agilely adapt to circumstances that most companies never even envisioned and certainly for which many do not have formal working response plans. “Disaster Recovery”, “RTO”, and “RPO” strategies have been in the IT vernacular since 9/11, but local, state, or national “Stay-at-Home” orders are new to all of us.
Now more than ever, local or national social-distancing mandates require businesses to mobilize and deploy remote work strategies, processes, and tools in a matter of hours versus the months, if not years, for which most organizations typically plan.
The world, in the space of two months, has come to know of and massively rely upon Zoom, Teams, Slack, WebEx, and other collaboration and audio / video communications tools. This blog, the first of a series related to “Collaboration during Chaotic Times,” will focus on defining the essential parts of every organization’s Business Continuity preparation and execution related to remote workers and their ability to work together and with customers effectively.
In the broader Collaboration space (what is often traditionally referred to as “Unified Communications”), we focus on three major workload pillars. They are:
- Collaboration (1:1 & group chat, meetings, content sharing, co-editing, storage)
- Communications (audio & video calls / meetings)
- Conferencing (conference rooms / meetings, & large events)
Here at Turner Techtronics, we work with our customers every day to mobilize, monitor, and manage each of these workloads. For the rest of this introduction post, I will focus on what the key areas of collaboration across the pillars are and what every organization needs to consider as MUST HAVES to support their in-office and remote work forces. So, let’s jump in with a few key thoughts.
- Collaboration Remotely as if you were in the Office – Chat, Group Discussions, Meetings, and content sharing are all things we do in the office naturally without the need of sophisticated tools. This is what most organizations think of as “teamwork”, but by enabling and using collaboration toolsets in the office, it allows organizations to operate the same wherever you are. If you collaborate using these tools in the office, there is no learning curve or impact if you use them from home. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack have become, in our opinion, as mandatory and essential as email. In fact, as organizations embrace collaboration tools, the use of and reliance upon email and constantly overloaded inboxes decreases significantly. We are very bullish on Microsoft Teams in particular because of the “unified interface” nature of the tool in front of essential everyday applications like Outlook, Office, SharePoint, OneDrive, Planner and Dynamics for Microsoft customers. Microsoft Teams is quickly becoming the go-to interface for collaboration in organizations that rely upon Microsoft tools for productivity as we do here at Turner Tech. Even with the huge surge of Microsoft Teams usage by existing and new customers over the last few weeks (up over 40% daily usage in the last two weeks alone), we see most organizations with no (or very basic) planning or understanding of how to effectively mobilize (deploy) and manage Microsoft Teams. We will dive much deeper into Teams in a subsequent post. Slack and Slack Enterprise Grid have similar implementations with little or no planning going into how to properly plan, deploy and manage the tools.
- Use Cloud-based Storage & Document Links – The use of cloud-based storage has been embraced by many organizations in large part due to consumer adoption over the last decade. Even those organizations who still use traditional “file-shares” located in on-premise servers either have plans to move storage to the cloud or at least are replicating and backing up data to the cloud for protection. Consumers are used to G-Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc., and organizations have increasingly larger investments in OneDrive, DropBox, Box, & GSuite. The key distinction for the purposes of this post though is that employees use these cloud-based services as their primary storage for work files, and these work files are synchronized to their office workstation, laptop, or mobile device. Once workers’ files are consolidated in the cloud, many new ways of effective work open up. Whether it be work from home, mobile, or virtual desktop use, users now have secure and compliant access to files as needed and, more importantly, are able to utilize these files in new ways. Gone should be the days of sending copies of documents through email and manually “versioning” each edit a colleague makes. Effective collaboration now is the live co-editing of documents that are shared between users via the collaboration tools mentioned in point #1. In our own business for our internal work, we leverage departmental or project-based Microsoft Teams channels to share, discuss, review, co-edit and store documents, spreadsheets, presentations, reports and other relative content. For many of our customers, we leverage Slack for instant communications and similar collaboration.
- Embrace Video Meetings, Minimize “Self-View” & Use a Headset – Use of video in meetings often gets a very emotional reaction. Many of us have become used to jumping in many times a day to a tele-conference, and we never even give a thought to how we sound on the phone. On the flip side, when it comes to people joining tele-conferences with the camera on, particularly when at home, the reluctance skyrockets. We have seen the most effective remote-work teams embrace a “video-first” remote-work scenario– just as people are accustomed to seeing you in a meeting while at the office, the same should hold true when at home. For many new users of video meetings, seeing themselves on the screen is distracting and, for some, even anxiety-inducing. The key is to keep the camera on but minimize or hide your self-view. If you need to check your teeth for that left-over piece of spinach from lunch, check just like if you were in the office, through the selfie camera on your phone, or a quick trip to the restroom before your meeting. Studies show that once users are not distracted by looking at themselves, they are 3 times more attentive and present. If you need to answer the door or get up to refill your glass, it is important to turn your camera off to limit the distraction of your moving in or out of the frame and then actively turn it back on when you return to your seat. If you are the one speaking, do not react to cameras turning off or back on unless it becomes a significant distraction. If your home environment or location has sensitive or distracting activity behind you, use the “blur” feature in Teams or Zoom to minimize the distraction. The blur feature is very useful even when you are back in the office or work in an area that has sensitivity or compliance concerns related to video. Lastly in this area, whenever possible, use a headset (and the mute button). It is a better experience both for you and your teammates.
- Explore “No-Code” Automation & Helper Apps – Now that you have the ability to meet, collaborate, and store your work in the cloud, you can drive additional value when using tools that make your job easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Using “no-code” automation tools like the Microsoft Power Platform (Automate, Flow, Forms, and PowerApps) within minutes, you can create personal and departmental automations that will result in immediate efficiencies to your in-office, and remote-enabled operations. Using “no-code” automation tools like the Microsoft Power Platform (Automate, Flow, Forms, and PowerApps), within minutes you can create personal and departmental automations that will have immediate impact.
I will share a couple of very relevant examples of this in our own business. Because of the unprecedented work-from-home mandates our customers are adapting to, we have added dozens of new staff members to help our clients’ increased 24/7 needs to support their newly remote staff. Even though we use many sophisticated service management tools, faced with the need, our Delivery Managers leveraged Microsoft Bookings, Shifts, & Forms to very quickly create “applets” to manage new employee schedules allowing for real-time visualization and shift management while empowering new employees to “shift-swap” as needed to deal with chaotic home and work schedules.
Another quick example: To better protect and ensure the physical health and safety of our staff and facilities, we quickly created visitor drop off “applets” where vendors, visitors, and customers can quickly and automatically log and track drop-offs through stationed, sanitized tablets, ensuring minimal risk of social transmission.
If the idea of creating applets seems daunting, don’t worry! Our Turner Tech professionals are here to help or create these solutions for you.
One of the undeniable, lasting impacts that the current pandemic crisis will have is that the way we all work will permanently change. Remote work scenarios will start to become primary work scenarios for many organizations and become a required contingency for all businesses, no matter the size. While this kind of rapid change is often uncomfortable, we are seeing throughout our own workforce and our customer-base that, once this foundation of “remote-work must haves” is in place, new opportunities present themselves to be of value to your customers, offer or expand new services to the market, and better support and protect your own personnel. Collaboration and effective communication from anywhere are now mission critical. Let us know how we can help.
In this ongoing series of posts, we will dig further into each pillar and how best to mobilize, monitor and securely manage each of these workloads. We will forward to sharing our views and hearing yours.
Stay Safe & Stay Home, we’ll help with the rest
Chief Technology Officer
Turner Techtronics Inc.