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Proven strategies to manage a work-from-home workforce

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The business world has evolved in recent years as more companies have opted for an increasingly distributed and mobile workforce through the widespread adoption of collaboration and conferencing technologies. However, the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has accelerated this decision making process for many companies that still rely on traditional office-based work structures.

Countless companies large and small have made a sudden pivot to mandatory work-from-home policies as a way to promote employee safety. Yet in their sincere efforts to protect workers, some firms are introducing new business risks such as potential breaches of cybersecurity and data privacy, along with new vulnerabilities for regulatory compliance.

Knowledge workers are familiar with popular technology platforms such as Zoom, Cisco Webex Teams, Microsoft Teams and Slack. The benefits of these platforms include an ability to reduce the number of in-person meetings while increasing individual access to information.

The coronavirus scare is likely to drive a growing mass market adoption of these technologies, resulting in an even more rigorous due diligence process to win over the more conservative firms. A few collaboration and conferencing technology providers will likely stand above the rest in providing sufficient data privacy and security controls to satisfy broader market adoption. Who knows? This virus contagion may help unleash a whole new era of distributed teaming and collaboration.

The first step forward is to provide the necessary tools for employees to remain connected and productive. As a result, more firms are finding conferencing technologies to be an acceptable alternative to the risks of sanitizing physical office spaces or allowing airline flights during the crisis.

Addressing the demands of a work-from-home workforce

Most knowledge workers have participated in Webex meetings before, but supporting a conferencing technology as the primary means of collaboration across a large organization entails a different level of foresight and planning on the part of management.

Undergoing a rapid transformation to a suddenly remote workforce requires adjustments in management processes, measurement systems, operational plans and cost analyses. Some of the basic questions to be addressed include: Should companies consider software that is “free”? How should they adjust policies about what are acceptable and what are prohibited uses of those tools? What cybersecurity risks could be introduced, such as the possible introduction of ransomware or spear-phishing? And for regulated firms, how confident are they in their ability to capture, store, and produce business conversations if required by the SEC, FINRA, or other regulatory bodies? There are also valid concerns about meeting the new CCPA and GDPR data privacy laws, and the governance controls needed to satisfy them.

For managers trying to address all these questions in real-time, it’s best to follow the practices of leaders who have been there before – namely, large global companies that have widely embraced collaboration and conferencing solutions. From this group of early adopters, here are five best practices to help guide the evaluation:

  1. Start with the benefit/risk analysis: Every organization should evaluate the benefits and risks of each new tool before choosing to allow them for use within the business. If key stakeholders conclude that the benefits exceed the risks – and that those risks can be controlled and mitigated through the use of technologies – then they tend to allow them to be used for business.
  2. Beware the freeware: Many collaboration and conferencing solutions have multi-tiered offerings, some of which are as simple as a free user download away from proliferation within an organization. IT leaders, along with security and privacy stakeholders, should be leading due diligence efforts now to explore which offering is sufficient to meet the firm’s data protection objectives, in addition to the comparative evaluation of features and costs across vendors. Premium-tiered offerings may provide capabilities that are not essential, but they may be the only tier that satisfies the organization’s risk threshold. Some vendors are even offering discounted or free access to premium tiers for use during this crisis.
  3. Data capture and storage: Every collaboration and conferencing provider is unique in terms of the support it provides to natively capture and store communications occurring on those networks. For firms faced with regulatory compliance obligations or frequent eDiscovery demands, relying upon a vendor’s ability to provide timely responses to requests for historical content may not be a risk worth taking. The availability of third-party solutions to capture and store content to meet regulatory and litigation demands should be a key component of any risk analysis.
  4. Updating communications policies: Common feedback from those abruptly dropped into a new collaboration tool is that it can appear to be a place to socialize, and often a distraction from key tasks. One important step for firms in the midst of deploying such tools is to ensure that communications and employee conduct policies are up-to-date, and not centered solely on email or other standard tools. Conferencing and broader unified communications platforms offer a variety of capabilities, some of which may not be used without taking specific steps – for example, recording a conference with an external party without first having received their permission. Knowing the features of each tool, and how those features would be necessary for individuals to perform their jobs, should be considered in order to make policies relevant to those who may not have had previous experience working remotely, or managing a distributed team.
  5. Training, training, and retraining: Remote work can be a major adjustment for individuals accustomed to an office environment, and it may not be ideal for tightly knit workgroups with high interdependencies. Those investing in collaborative and conferencing technologies for the first time should work closely with leaders in those groups to design training programs that reflect the nature, timing, and business impact of key deliverables. The goal should be to minimize disruptions to the business and to account for critical steps to meet key deliverable dates. Ensuring that users of collaboration or conferencing systems know how to find information produced within those tools is vital, yet this point is often overlooked. Step in to ensure that the technology can deliver the promised productivity benefits – even if deployed under less than ideal circumstances.

Until recently, firms in heavily regulated industries such as financial services and insurance have tended to disable or prohibit access to tools that were perceived to be too risky or expensive to manage. That calculation has changed overnight amid the current worldwide health crisis. Now those same companies risk being left behind by their competition by paying the costs of an ineffective home-based workforce while sacrificing the productivity gains which modern collaboration technologies can provide.

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