Unicomm > 2021 > May

Remote and Hybrid working tips

If you’re one of the many businesses considering permanent hybrid and remote working when you return to the office, what do you need to know before making the switch? What are the drawbacks, if any, and how can you make life easier for your remote team?

You certainly need to think about technology, and equipping your remote workforce for either permanent, or part-time home working. You may also face challenges in areas such as maintaining the company culture and guarding against feelings of isolation or being “out of the loop”.

New call-to-action

It’s worth remembering, too, that many employees appreciate the social aspects of working in one central location, even if they hate the commute. A hybrid workforce still needs opportunities to talk to their colleagues, bond and let off steam.

There’s plenty to think about, so here are our top tips for avoiding the pitfalls and enjoying the advantages of remote working.   

Cloud is key

The switch to cloud computing was gathering pace before the Covid pandemic. Now it’s full steam ahead, as businesses were forced to adapt to the effects of the Covid lockdowns. Cloud-based services enable equip hybrid workers to operate in a more secure, efficient and cost-effective way when they’re not in the work environment.

If staff do split their time between the office and home, they need consistent access to the same suite of tools wherever they are. Ideally, managers and employees need to be able to access the same data and applications from any device, as well as the requirement to make and take business calls in any location.

Cloud-based communication and productivity tools allow this and much more. Take for example, Microsoft 365 – what was once a few separate apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook – is now a full productivity suite that ensures any business can keep a consistent experience for staff no matter where they’re working from, and what device team members use. The simple fact is that the ability to securely access documents, tools and services from anywhere is pretty much the first priority of any transition to hybrid work.

Make the most of office-time

One of the main benefits of a hybrid working model is its flexibility. Your staff are in the office some of the time, so your hybrid strategy should include functions that make the most of these occasions.

If employees are working in the office two days a week, keep those days free for important one-to-ones, team building sessions, brainstorms and client meetings. Even if you are meeting clients by video, it might be useful to have your team around the same table for at least some of these calls.

In a hybrid environment, the office becomes an arena for work that can’t be done at home. That includes face to face work, but could also mean work that requires high bandwidth internet, like video conferencing or sharing large files. Whatever it is, plan the working week accordingly, with more team-centred tasks pencilled in for the office and the more everyday tasks left for home.

Keep in control

To reap the benefits of remote work models, you have to make sure remote workers are as happy and productive out of the office as in it. Hybrid helps here, because you’ll see staff face to face some of the time and can catch up on concerns and frustrations. But even part-time remote working can still lead to a sense of isolation and a drop in productivity.

Again, technology provides at least part of the answer. Any cloud-based communications and productivity solution worth its salt provides real-time data that can measure employee productivity remotely and offers analytics that team leaders can leverage to identify and deal with minor issues before they turn into major ones.

Managers also need to be as readily available to their remote or hybrid team as they would be if everyone was in the office. No matter how busy you get, try to check in regularly with staff to ask about progress, help iron out problems and sometimes just to say hello. After all, it gives you an opportunity to relax a bit too!

Be aware of the have-nots

Hybrid workplaces will be welcomed by many employees, but not everyone has a quiet space at home, or even office space at all. Distractions and interruptions mean that some of your employees will always want a desk in the office to better concentrate and get their tasks done.

And even those who are well set up for remote work may need to be reminded of the importance of work life balance. Research has found that during lockdowns, home workers put in more hours than ever, but that’s not a sustainable situation and could lead to significant burn-out among your staff.

Employee mental health is still an employer’s responsibility, even when staff are working remotely. Encourage your teams to stick to office hours, and to turn laptops and work phones off at other times (except in exceptional circumstances). If you don’t want burnout and productivity issues to infect your team, don’t let working from home turn into living at work.

If hybrid or remote working is likely to be part of your agile strategy, you do need to plan ahead. Having the right technology in place is crucial, but you also need to consider other factors. Happy and productive staff are key to any good business, and that’s as true out of the office as it is in it.

If you have any concerns about moving to a more hybrid way of working, or would like to know what communications solution would best suit your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch. As Unified Communications specialists, Unicomm has the experience and knowledge to deploy your future-proof communications solution with confidence and the ongoing support you need to focus on what matter most – your customers.

New call-to-action

Related articles

How does remote working impact your IT infrastructure and security?

As you probably know, there’s a lot of pressure on organisations to continue with remote working policies even when the pandemic ends. Organisations as diverse as Lloyds, Twitter and Unilever have already said they’ll embrace flexible working in some form after the pandemic. Thousands of others are following suit.

“18% of respondents said they wanted to work entirely from home when the pandemic ends, and a further 57% favoured a mix of home and office working”

In most cases, new flexible models will be in the form of hybrid working, which means employees splitting their time between the office and home. Hybrid is certainly popular among employees. In one recent survey, 18% of respondents said they wanted to work entirely from home when the pandemic ends, and a further 57% favoured a mix of home and office working.

New call-to-action

At the same time, hybrid can work for organisations, too. Hybrid working is letting Lloyds cut 20% of its office space, and other businesses anticipate savings in the form of reduced equipment and utilities costs. Add cost cutting to easier recruitment and retention and it’s perhaps no surprise that, according to some estimates, three or four times as many people could be working at home after the pandemic than before it began.

Having said all that, introducing hybrid work isn’t something you should do lightly. It has significant benefits for many organisations, but also poses significant challenges.

Remote work during the pandemic was an emergency response to a novel threat, which in many cases forced businesses to adopt piecemeal new policies and working practices almost overnight. When hybrid work becomes a business choice, employees, customers and regulators will expect it to be implemented in a more thorough and systematic way.

What does that mean in practice? Well, it means that the consequences of adopting hybrid work need to be fully accounted for. There are IT infrastructure and security implications to consider, from the performance of your network to vulnerabilities in the digital tools you equip home workers with. If you need to invest in new technology to meet the needs of your hybrid workforce, can it be easily and cost-effectively deployed and maintained?

You also need to take into account both the effect on employee motivation and, potentially, customer service. Remote work can’t be allowed to undermine either employee productivity or customer satisfaction.

None of these challenges is insurmountable. In fact, most can be overcome with a combination of the right policies and the most appropriate technology. In the rest of this paper, we’ll explore each challenge in turn and suggest some easy-to-implement solutions.

Ensuring IT security and compliance

“One of the greatest worries for IT leaders around remote work is security and compliance”

One of the greatest worries for IT leaders around remote work is security and compliance. Hybrid workers regularly connect to your network from beyond the office firewall. Sensitive customer data is passed between colleagues using consumer-grade internet connections. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies can help organisations equip remote workforces in a cost-effective way, but create security concerns of their own.

How do IT teams maintain security with an increasingly dispersed and nomadic workforce? It’s a fundamental question, because security threats are rocketing. The 2020 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report found a significant increase in all kinds of cyberthreats, from phishing to web application breaches.

Interestingly, the report found that 22% of all breaches were caused by human error and ignorance. Employee education will clearly be as crucial a part of securing your networks and applications as the tools and services you adopt, and we’ll talk more about that later.

Organisations need to think about all the vulnerabilities that remote work creates. Some are obvious – others much less so. For example, remote workers, without the IT department looking over their shoulders, might decide to save work in consumer-grade cloud storage accounts. They might decide to email sensitive documents to a home account so they can be printed out on a home printer. The personal devices employees use for work may not be regularly patched and updated.

These are all considerations businesses must take into account as they forge ahead with hybrid working. Creating safe remote work needs education and support for staff, a responsive help desk, and a culture where employees feel free to ask even the simplest questions about basic security.

Adopting the right tools is important, too. Remote work is work, and requires enterprise-grade services and applications with sophisticated security built in. A unified communications platform like MiCloud Flex is a case in point. The platform offers a dedicated environment hosted in secure data centers with advanced multi-layered security measures, including full encryption.

And with solutions like MiCloud Flex, employees get everything they need to communicate and collaborate effectively in one integrated package, so they won’t be tempted to bolt on unsanctioned third-party tools and apps that may open vulnerable backdoors to your data.

New call-to-action

Top tips for hybrid and remote working

IT infrastructure has to be at the centre of any organisation’s successful transition to hybrid working. Technology has a key role to play in making home working as effective as working in the office.

With that in mind, here are some key considerations for making the switch to hybrid work as smooth as it can possibly be.

1. Cloud is key

Very generally, the more you can utilise the cloud, the better it is for your hybrid strategy. OK, you may want to keep your most sensitive data safe where you can see it. But in terms of equipping remote staff, cloud really is key.

And that’s especially true when staff are splitting their time between the office and home, and need consistent access to the same suite of tools wherever they are. Ideally, they need to be able to access their data and documents from any device, and make and take professional business calls in any location.

“Your staff need to be able to access their data and documents from any device, and make and take professional business calls in any location”

Cloud-based communication and productivity tools let them, and do much more besides. One of the issues of remote work is isolation, and individuals feeling unable to draw on the collective wisdom of their colleagues. That’s less of an issue when they can collaborate in the way they want, through video, email, voice and chat, and share screens and documents.

2. Keeping control

Managers need to know what their teams are doing and that everyone is pushing in the same direction. They need to be able to identify molehills before they turn into mountains. Naturally, many team leaders worry that a permanent switch to remote work will take away a crucial element of control.

Hybrid helps here, because employees are in the office at least some of the time. But even part-time remote work can lead to a dilution of company culture and a dip in productivity. For a start, team leaders need real-time data to make sure teams are working as well out of the office as in it. Happily, many good cloud-based communications and productivity solutions have measuring tools and reporting features built in.

“Team leaders need real-time data to make sure teams are working as well out of the office as in it”

Managers should also be readily available to their remote teams, just as they would be if everyone was in the office. Check in regularly with staff to ask about progress, help iron out problems and sometimes just to say hello. It’s not rocket science, but it never hurts to remind staff of the support that’s available if they need it.

3. Home isn’t always work-friendly

Not all staff can work from home easily. They might not have a home office or a quiet space for video calls with clients. It’s worth remembering that some staff with cramped homes or only basic internet connectivity might still require full-time access to the office.

And even those who are well set up for remote work may need to be reminded that working from home shouldn’t become living at work. Research has found that home workers during Covid put in more hours than ever, but that’s not a sustainable situation. If you don’t want burnout and churn in your teams, make sure remote staff keep to office hours and remind them to turn off email and Teams when the working day is over.

New call-to-action

Making IT deployments seamless. Three real world examples

Hybrid becomes a step too far if you have to spend too much time and money deploying the technology to make it happen, or staff are unprepared for the change. But that needn’t be the case, as these examples demonstrate.

1. Overnight switch

“IT staff can implement and test the new technology in a closed environment, while users are separately trained to use it”

To make the switch to new technology as seamless as possible, do it one fell swoop. This method takes detailed preparation. IT staff should implement and test the new technology in a closed environment, while users are separately trained to use it. To cut costs, much of this training can be done online, though a practical ‘hands-on’ element should be included too. When the technology goes live, everybody needs to know how to use it. When everyone is up to speed, switch from the old solution to the new overnight, so any gremlins can be ironed out without disruption to everyday operations.

Pros: Everybody is using the same system straight away, reducing confusion. You can time the switchover to coincide with the end of one contract and the beginning of another, reducing costs.

Cons: Everybody is using the same system straight away. If there’s an issue, it affects everyone.

2. Mix and match

“Combine the old and new solutions for a limited period, letting staff acclimatise to the new solution while having the safety net of the old if anything goes wrong”

Combine the old and new solutions for a limited period, letting staff acclimatise to the new solution while having the safety net of the old if anything goes wrong. How might this work? With a cloud-based unified communications platform like MiCloud Flex, users could download the softphone app to use on personal smartphones, while continuing to use a PBX-based telephony solution in the office. MiCloud Flex offers a consistent experience across platforms, so by familiarising themselves with the softphone app, employees are effectively getting to know the complete solution. When users are fully conversant with the app, the old PBX can be turned off.

Pros: Users can get used to the new system by using it to communicate with colleagues, while relying on the system they’re familiar with to make important customer calls. If there are teething problems with the new platform, the old one can take over temporarily.

Cons: You’re running two solutions at the same time, so it’s not the most cost effective strategy.

3. Phased deployment

“Gradually get used to the new technology without inconveniencing customers. By the time the roll out reaches frontline staff, any niggles will have been ironed out”

Set one team or department up with the new technology, and let them be the pathfinders for your organisation. After a set amount of time using the new platform, the team can report back on any issues they had with adopting the technology, and that feedback can then inform the training of the next group in line. And so on, until the organisation has completely switched to the new platform, and the old solution can be switched off. Start with teams that aren’t customer facing and gradually move towards frontline staff.

Pros: The business gradually gets used to the new technology without inconveniencing customers. By the time the roll out reaches frontline staff, any niggles will have been ironed out.

Cons: The longest and therefore least cost-effective switch over.

The method you choose will depend on the size of your organisation, the technology being deployed and the technical know-how of your employees. Whichever it is, the key to all successful IT deployments is careful planning. Cloud-based solutions are particularly easy to deploy, because they avoid much of the need for in-house equipment.

New call-to-action

Developing world class customer service remotely

“Increasing customer retention by just 5% can equate to an increase in profit of 25%”

Keeping customers happy is crucial to your business. You may know, for example, that increasing customer retention by just 5% can equate to an increase in profit of 25%. Or that 73% of customers say they stay loyal to brands because of friendly customer service agents. Happy customers also act as ambassadors for your business.

So you may worry that switching to a hybrid working model will undermine your reputation for great customer service. After all, it’s well known that happier employees work harder for customers, but how do you judge your remote team’s state of mind? For that matter, how do you know they’re as productive in their back bedrooms as they are in the office?

Modern, cloud-based communications can help. For a start, they let team leaders check in with staff regularly, via the channel of their choosing. They also let managers measure the productivity of teams, in terms of calls answered, time customers spend on hold, and so on.

But more than that, good cloud-based unified communications let customers interact with your business in the way they want, creating excellent customer experiences. As long as your customers can easily contact your agents, they really won’t care where those agents are based.

Cloud-based unified communications let your customer service staff make and take professional calls from anywhere, and a solution like MiCloud Flex also lets you integrate your contact center with CRM or other business applications. That lets you deliver real-time customer intelligence to agents across voice, video, chat, email and more. Intelligent routing means customers get to the right agents or resources every time.

In other words, with the right tools and processes in place, there’s no reason that hybrid working models should have an adverse effect on your first class customer service. In fact, if staff prefer hybrid work, customer satisfaction may actually increase. 

New call-to-action

Preventing human error with effective IT support

With employees working away from the office, how do you know they’re sticking to security protocols, or only using approved applications? How do you know they’re updating software as soon as patches become available?

There’s certainly a perception that, when staff work remotely, IT loses an element of control and human error becomes more likely. And if human error leads to a leak of sensitive data – as it often does –  it could be very damaging indeed.

How do you prevent that in your hybrid workforce? The key is IT support and IT training. Make sure that members of the IT team are always available, and give every employee contact details for a manned support desk. If employees can get their issues solved easily, they’ll be less likely to go it alone.

“Educate employees about the potential risks of remote work, and produce written guidelines on the devices and apps that are sanctioned for use”

After that, cyber security training is the top priority. Teach employees about the particular risks of remote work, with regular refresher sessions and alerts to cover information on the latest phishing attacks and email scams. Make sure every employee knows and employs two factor authentication (where available) and password best practice. Produce written guidelines on the devices and apps that are sanctioned for use, and any that definitely aren’t.

And hybrid working – with employees regularly moving between their homes and the office – increases the risk of lost or stolen laptops. Make sure you have policies in place to cover just such an eventuality. Think about implementing remote data wiping for all company devices that leave the office.  

New call-to-action

The most important network performance factors to consider

The Covid pandemic hugely increased the pace of digitisation for many organisations. While automation, cloud computing and unified communications were all gaining traction before the pandemic, the need to quickly and thoroughly equip remote workforces massively accelerated those trends.

“According to analysts McKinsey, “businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks”

According to analysts McKinsey, “businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.”

Meanwhile, a study by Xerox found that, globally, businesses are prioritising investments in cloud-based software (65%), remote IT support (63%) and collaboration software (52%).

The question is, what does all this mean for network performance? Many corporate networks were pretty stretched before Covid, and are now being forced to handle an army of remote and hybrid workers connecting to a new breed of cloud-based tools and apps. Video conferencing tool Zoom saw an increase in daily active users of 2,900% in the first months of the pandemic, with much of that tsunami of data passing through corporate networks.

How do you measure the health of your network, and what network performance factors should you keep an eye on? The obvious ones are latency, packet loss and disconnections. As far as your IT team is concerned, problems with the network may be signalled by an increase in users complaining about slow downloads, lost documents and stop/start video conferencing.

A move to hybrid working could be the perfect storm for underpowered networks. More devices are using the network to access more applications. The switch to cloud computing means an increase in the amount of data travelling back and forth between distant servers.

You can optimise your network to better deal with this deluge in a number of ways. Investing in extra bandwidth, full fibre connectivity and a private line are obvious solutions. After that, network monitoring tools can help you identify bandwidth hogs and do something about them. Malware is not only a security risk but also a threat to network performance, so tight security is a win win. You may also need to check and replace old or broken network devices.

Finally, Quality of Service (QoS) can make sure bandwidth is reserved for critical applications and services. For example, if keeping remote colleagues connected through video is important, QoS can prioritise that data.

New call-to-action

Conclusion

We hope this article has gone some way to answering your questions on how remote and hybrid work might impact IT infrastructure and security. The short answer is that it impacts it in almost every possible way.

A permanent switch to hybrid work requires a new focus on security and employee education. It means putting tools and processes in place that allow staff to work effectively wherever they happen to be. Implementing the new technology smoothly and cost-effectively is important, and so is having the network performance to support it.

“A cost-effective solution that is easy to implement and simple to scale”

There’s a lot to think about. But while IT leaders need to put a well considered hybrid strategy in place, many of the obstacles to implementing new working patterns are easily surmountable with good planning and the right tools. For example, a full-featured unified communications solution like MiCloud Flex can help equip a hybrid workforce while enhancing security, improving customer experiences and giving managers the tools they need to monitor remote teams. Compared to on-premise alternatives, it’s a cost-effective solution that is easy to implement and simple to scale.

For more information on MiCloud Flex from Unicomm, please get in touch.

New call-to-action

Related articles

Ensuring IT security and compliance for the modern workforce

Modern workforces are increasingly mobile. That was true before the Covid pandemic, and it will be even more true after the pandemic ends.

It seems increasingly clear that many of us will never go back to the office full time. In one recent survey, 18% of respondents said they wanted to work entirely from home when the pandemic ends. A further 57% favoured a mix of home and office working.

New call-to-action

Businesses are seeing the sense in letting workers split their time between the office and their homes in a so-called ‘hybrid’ working arrangement. In part, that’s because firms that refuse to offer flexible work risk losing their best talent, and making recruitment more difficult. But they also anticipate potential savings in relation to office space, equipment and utilities costs.

The pandemic has shown that remote working needn’t be any less productive than its in-office equivalent, though some employees have felt isolated during lockdowns. A significant number don’t have an appropriate work space at home. That’s why a hybrid model, which lets employees work full time in the office if they want to, is considered the best option.

The full-time adoption of hybrid work does throw up some fundamental challenges, though. Chief among them is how your IT teams maintain security and compliance with an increasingly dispersed and nomadic workforce.

IT security in a hybrid world

If your organisation is considering a hybrid working model, this is a challenge you need to meet, with controls to protect your organisation. Cyber security is a constantly evolving space, where new vulnerabilities are seemingly uncovered just as fast as protections are developed.

The 2020 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report found a significant increase in all kinds of cyberthreats, from phishing attacks to web application breaches. In 2020, cybercriminals were intent on exploiting the vulnerabilities of remote working.

Remote working feels like a perfect storm for information security threats, and in some ways it is. For example, hybrid workers regularly connect to your network from beyond the office firewall. Sensitive customer data may be passed between dispersed colleagues using consumer-grade internet connections.

But despite everything, it is possible to keep your business critical and customers’ personal data safe, with due diligence and an IT security policy specifically tailored to the needs of a remote or semi-remote workforce.

An IT security audit should be high on your list of priorities, followed by an IT compliance review, preferably made by security professionals, to identify any critical assets that require better security practices. That’s because, interestingly, the Verizon report found that 22% of all breaches in 2020 were caused by human error and ignorance. Updating security guidelines with remote work in mind, and making sure employees are compliant, is essential.

It’s certainly a good time to remind staff about data protection best practice when it comes to things like two factor authentication, strong passwords and regularly updating devices and software. That’s especially true if you operate a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, which allows employees to use personal devices (including mobile devices) for work purposes.

.

Secure your data

Any IT security policy should also cover network security and the transit and storage of data. It’s a good idea to review and perhaps upgrade your Virtual Private Network (VPN) to better protect the accounts and access used by remote employees.

Don’t forget to define where work data should be saved; for example, staff that work from home, without the IT department looking over their shoulders, might decide to save half finished work in consumer-grade cloud storage accounts. Or they might send documents over an unsecure network to a home printer.

It’s clear from all this that security training should be a prerequisite of moving to hybrid work. According to one survey, 58% of IT leaders plan to introduce more security training if their company adopts a permanent remote work environment.

That’s sensible, but the training needs to be tailored to the needs of employees. Make it practical and relevant, and supplement it with regular refreshers and updates on the latest security threats and compliance frameworks, especially new phishing attacks.

Think about the tools you use

There are other things to consider as part of your security program, too. For example, in the survey mentioned above, almost half of IT leaders said they were aiming to improve their endpoint protection to better safeguard all devices that access the network.

Equipping your remote workforce with the right tools is important, too. Remote work is still work, and requires enterprise-grade services and applications with sophisticated security built in. A unified communications platform like MiCloud Flex is a case in point. The platform offers a dedicated environment hosted in secure data centers with advanced multi-layered security measures, including full encryption.

And with solutions like MiCloud Flex, a remote worker gets everything they need to communicate and collaborate effectively in one integrated package. That way, they won’t be tempted to bolt on unsanctioned third-party tools and apps that may open vulnerable backdoors to your data.

With a little planning, it’s perfectly possible to adopt a hybrid working model and keep your data and services safe, but planning really is essential, because you can’t leave security to chance. Adopt or upgrade security infrastructure if your IT security audit suggests it’s necessary. Equip your remote staff with tools that were designed with enterprise-level security in mind.

Perhaps most importantly of all, educate your remote teams on their responsibilities when it comes to security systems and meeting compliance regulations. The best defence against cyber threats is knowledge and strong best practice among your team members, helping to catch issues before they become larger problems that affect the every day running of your business.

If you’d like to learn more about MiCloud Flex from Unicomm, and how it can not only enhance your communication but your security too, please get in touch.

New call-to-action

Related articles