Home working and the Covid-19 crisis

By Ray Bell, Chief Technology Officer at inTec Business Solutions

Taking a moment to pause and reflect on the last month, Ray Bell reviews the home working situation as the Covid-19 pandemic forces many businesses to establish a completely new way of collaborating.

General observations

1) Whilst the current virus outbreak has brought the subject of working from home to the forefront, the solutions are often the same as would be used in other remote working goals such as:

· Looking to reduce office space/increase hot desking

· Localised transport or weather issues

· Part-time/home workers

· Parents needing to look after children at home

· Access issues to the office

As a result, we are already starting to see the current challenges beginning to shape future I.T. strategies for many of the new clients who are coming to us for help in recent days. We have a wide range of clients, some who have already adopted some of the recommended technologies and are already working from home comfortably and some who are finding it more challenging. Of course, working from home simply isn’t practical for some businesses but we want to do what we can to reduce risk and keep our clients working.

2) Most businesses have a varied I.T. infrastructure that can present different challenges and opportunities. As a result there are generally some quick wins that can be delivered from existing technology and in the cases where there isn’t an obvious solution, we would need to focus on a work around process. In our experience, the three headline areas of focus for home/remote working are:

a. Telephony - How do we divert calls to different locations and not lose visibility of those calls from a tracking or recording perspective? This is easier to achieve with cloud-based platforms where the users are already using soft phone clients/headsets on PCs, laptops or smartphones. It is achievable from a traditional phone system but generally requires call divert to end points that are outside the telephony system and clients can lose functionality to transfer calls, record calls and have an incomplete picture of data analytics. Moving to cloud or hosted solutions can also open up new functionality solutions that can drive productivity, efficiency and improved customer experience as well as reduce reliance of hardware-based points of failure and legacy, end of life technology such as ISDN. Some users may also be able to be fully self-sufficient with a mobile device and we can save the cost of a device or service no longer needed.

b. Document access and collaboration – if documents are saved in file servers and emails are managed in on premise servers, this can cause access challenges for remote workers. Many businesses have started using Office 365 and whilst that gives the ability to store emails and documents in the cloud, this is often only scratching the surface of the functionality contained within solution. As an example, Microsoft Teams is built into Office 365 and is a powerful collaboration suite including live document sharing, video & voice conferencing, chat, task management and automation and workflow automation. All this functionality and more is included in a standard licence and can be accessed from any location from multiple devices. By adopting Office 365 for more than just email and licences, you can move away from File Servers and reduce the risk of losing locally stored documents on laptops and home PCs. In addition, Office 365 has a number of internal comms solutions which can be vital in keeping in touch with people across different locations and avoiding feelings of isolation.

c. Business applications – this is a more complex area as many businesses have numerous applications and often legacy industry specific software. Moving to a cloud-based strategy will facilitate remote working as well as simplify the internal I.T. Support overhead and investment. Whilst it will put additional emphasis on connectivity resilience and IT Security, this will be more than offset by efficiency gains, reduced infrastructure costs and the ability to integrate across different applications/deliver better MI. If a cloud strategy is not possible due to legacy server-based applications, there are alternative solutions such as off-site hosting, VPN access and remote desktop that could assist with the challenge of accessing internal applications when out of the office.

3) Each business in different industries also has a range of roles such as office-based admin, remote workers, senior management, call centre agents, factory workers, field-based engineers etc. We have learned that different roles often require different tools to do their job i.e. company mobile or BYOD, PC or laptop, access to certain applications. We would always recommend a user profiling exercise for any client to help understand how we make sure that people are using the best tools to do their job. Whilst there may be investment required, we often find this offset by a saving i.e. perhaps we can reduce licences that aren’t be fully used or remove desk-phones from users with company mobiles etc.

In summary of the above, these are very challenging times but there are solutions out there and often we find they are already in place albeit not everyone is aware or has been trained in how to use them.

To conclude, our approach to a home working action plan is:

1) Short term - look at the existing technology solutions and identify what can be done now with the technology available;
2) Medium term – tactical investment in cloud-based solutions that will help reduce reliance on legacy applications and infrastructure;
3) Long term – use these learnings as an opportunity to re-visit the overall I.T. Strategy and ensure it is aligned to the business plan.

If you would like to discuss home working solutions for you and your team, book a free consultation with our team.

Thank you and take care.

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