These are interesting times. You might be thinking about how you can keep your employees productive if they need to work from home, possibly for a period of weeks. If you have an outside sales team, they are already probably quite mobile. But what about your accounts, operations and admin teams? How do you keep everyone engaged, productive and collaborating?
Large companies, such as IBM, sent their employees packing from their offices more than a decade ago freeing up entire office blocks to be turned into condos. Along the way they spent millions to create the infrastructure to support them and make them feel connected with their work colleagues and customers. Fortunately, mobile technology has grown by orders of magnitude and concepts such as cloud computing have made the idea of telecommuting far easier.
Send out a survey of your employees’ infrastructure before they are sent home
Ask about internet connectivity, telephony (landline and cellular) and their working area. Most people these days have unlimited broadband plans in their homes along with mobile phones, but it’s important to determine how good the service is and if you are going to need to pay for phone calls and additional data usage. If they don’t have a company-supplied laptop, find out if they have an available computer at home to use.
Though it will be temporary, it’s also important to find out if the employee has a workspace available away from distraction. Starbucks and beach chairs don’t count.
Premise-based IT infrastructure
Identify the applications you use that are premise-based and which are in the cloud. Many older applications such as your accounts, production and HR systems may actually be hiding on a server in a closet. Contact those vendors and find out what they offer for remote connectivity. Or, assuming that the worker’s computer is left on at the office, there are several remote access tools, when combined with a VPN, that can be used to access their desktops and premise-based applications. Whatever method you choose, test it thoroughly before you need it.
With the possible exception of calls to your sales team, most of your telephone traffic probably comes in via your desktop phone system. If you have a modern IP-based phone system, your employees can quite literally unplug their desk sets and plug them back in at home; nothing will change. There may also be an app available for their cell phones.
If your phone system is older, you may still have the option to forward calls to another phone number such as a mobile or home phone.
Finally, consider distributing headsets, if employees don’t already have them, as they will likely be spending much more time on conference calls.
Messaging with presence
Most of us use messaging as part of social media, but as a small company you are likely not using it unless you have multiple sites or existing telecommuters. The best thing about messaging when working remotely is presence; your co-workers will know when you are at your desk and when you are not. This is also handy for managers. Most tools also have built in desktop sharing for collaboration and video.
Consider adopting tools that your employees are already using such as WhatsApp or Skype. These tools work great and they are free. Your CRM maybe another choice. The advantage of it will be that conversations will be stored on the customer, opportunity or service ticket record.
Your sales team is probably quite good about keeping customer contact data up to date in your CRM. It may be time however to reinforce the importance of contribution from all your customer facing teams. If a customer makes contact, it should be logged and tasks assigned if needed.
Email and cloud document storage
You and your team are probably already using either Google OfficeSuite or Microsoft 365. Both offer very strong cloud-based document management that allow collaboration in the form of Google Docs and SharePoint. If you aren’t using them, at minimum set up a departmental file structure and encourage employees to move their work docs over to them.
If your company shuffles around a lot of paper, this is the time to implement scanning.
Test and document everything
Consider sending a worker from each department home to work for a week to test your remote infrastructure. They should be able to be just as productive at home as at work. If they are used to using desktop versions of office, they will learn to use the online versions as well as perhaps unfamiliar tools such as VPNs, remote desktop phone apps etc.
With a little bit of planning and little cost, your company can be prepared to handle an office closure whatever the reason. Your employees will remain productive and engaged and your customers amazed at your foresight. The key is in looking at your existing and new infrastructure requirements department by department and testing everything to make sure it works.
Let us know what you are doing to prepare for your employees to work from home. Explore more about improving customer experience, what’s coming in GDPR and key ways to encourage CRM adoption in our further blog posts below. Talk to Sparkstone.