For large organizations, the shift to a remote workforce isn’t as simple as opening a laptop and Slack. Here’s what CIOs need to do now to support the post-COVID workplace.
When the pandemic forced thousands of workers to work home last spring, obstacles loomed everywhere for CIOs. Today, months later, the challenges continue as many companies were forced to rethink how—and where—we work.
An estimated 20% to 25% of workers won’t come back to the office full-time, working at home some days, in the office others, even satellite offices on other days, according to estimates by Global Workplace Analytics. And at least 5% will be permanently remote. In the case of a second wave of outbreaks, CIOs must be prepared to again to pull people out of the office and send them home with little to no warning.
Remote working communication is just as complex as it is for office workers, if not more so. It involves a wide range of aspects, including technology, software, telecommunication infrastructure, personnel and security. This poses complex challenges for CIOs. Does your business phone number follow you wherever you go? Must employees divulge their personal mobile number to conduct business from a remote location? Do they have proper Internet access and secure access to proprietary systems and files? Do they know the company rules and expectations for remote work? The new way of work requires a new kind of infrastructure—one that’s flexible, secure, reliable and meets the needs of all employees.
Being Ready for Change
The remote working shift, in particular, was especially challenging for call centers nationwide. At the start of the pandemic, many agents struggled to keep up with the volume of customer calls, and the wait times at companies everywhere spiked. If a person had reason to call a customer support line during the pandemic, they might spend hours on hold, waiting for someone to answer their call.
Shifting from centralized contact centers to a remote workforce was complicated, and most companies weren’t ready for it. Some workers had old home computers or none at all, while others relied on poor Internet service. Often, critical software relies on internal company networks, and because of the need for security, call center traffic is routed through VPNS.
It’s different than saying, ‘Grab your laptop and go home. Call us and we’ll get you plugged in.’ Add to that: most company managers were ill-equipped or not trained on how to manage a remote workforce.
– Mark Wechsler, Vice President of Advisory Services, ConvergeOne
Remote Working Requires Cross-Department Collaboration
Charting a smooth remote working environment will rely heavily on collaboration between HR, CIOs and facilities managers. When lockdown forced a quick pivot by companies, savvy companies pulled together teams across various departments to address such issues as high availability VoIP implementation, stipends for employees to help with internet and phone costs and developing guides for employees and managers on how to successfully work in a remote environment. Successful teams are now organizing leadership courses for managers on how to manage remotely and have begun a regular cadence of company communication to ensure connection and transparency.
When Telecom Becomes an Asset
Effective remote working also requires that corporate executives stop thinking of telecom as a utility, says Wechsler. Too often, he says, IT and telecom departments operate reactively and their services are measured by simply how much they cost versus how they can improve their businesses.
If leaders consider the communication infrastructure as an asset—one that offers reliable information access, transport, and delivery regardless of where your employees are located— then they will take the time and care to plan appropriately to maximize the asset's value, says Wechsler.
“When the lights don’t work, you just say, ‘make it work,’” says Wechsler. “They need to be looking at these things as an asset.”
Wechsler says companies should plan and adopt the appropriate technical, operational, and business processes today, in order to facilitate the necessary changes, whether it’s about people, process, or technology, to ensure they can truly take advantage of different communication modalities when and where needed.
When remote working infrastructure works, it can boost productivity. In the case of customer service teams, working remotely boosts efficiency, allowing agents to handle 13% more requests each day, according to a study by Quarterly Journal of Economics.
CIOs must start by closely examining systems and processes and identifying which ones aren’t scalable, which ones are at the end of their lifecycle, and how best to provide connectivity no matter where someone works, says Wechsler. They must then invest in software and tools needed to make employees’ workspace feel like their office.
Security will be a top concern in the months and years to come, as will regular reviews of applications to ensure everything is running at full potential to avoid slowdowns. Organizations must also invest in training to ensure employees stay up to date on technology, and ensure even the most tech illiterate can navigate all applications.
The new remote workplace will also require “device independence.” Dialpad, for instance, is a voice over IP system on your computer that lets you forward calls to an app and you can pick them up on your cell phone. A cell phone, then, becomes a business asset that provides people with a corporate number that travels with them. Microsoft Teams and Webex allow employees to access key data wherever they may be and even set up a group conference call using the device, just as easily as they could via a desktop computer.
As remote working becomes the norm for a majority of the U.S. workforce in the months and years to come, leaders must create an infrastructure that won’t necessarily cost money or interrupt business continuity. Instead, it must boost productivity and revenue. “Rather than just getting everyone out of the building,” Wechsler says, “it will be about meeting the needs of users—wherever they are.”