Written by Pete Tomlinson, CEO, Windsor Telecom
My top customer quote from last week was, “Of course we have a business continuity plan, but now I think it needs updating; we missed off alien invasion as well!”
The first thing I’d say to anyone reading this right now is, “Well done!” However tough it felt, if you work in one of the many thousands of businesses that virtually overnight made the switch from being mostly office based, to working at home, then you’ve something to be really proud of. We found it a bit crazy too, and we’re a technology company!
So, having spent a lot of time over the past week talking to customers, colleagues and technology partners, I’d like to share a few bits of insight that I hope are helpful.
The focus for most businesses over the last couple of weeks has been keeping their operations up and running and their own customers supported. That often meant bending or augmenting their existing communication systems and processes.
Although these ‘cobbled together’ solutions are keeping the lights on I don’t expect they were ever part of your strategic plan. Examples of this are diverting your inbound telephone numbers to ring multiple staff mobiles (our biggest request over the last few weeks), using WhatsApp groups, or FaceTime calling. All quick and easy to set up, but not ideal mid to longer term. Hopefully if you’re using one of these quick fix solutions your supplier did the same as us and reduced minimum contract terms down from their usual 12 months to 1 month, to give you more flexibility for the future.
So, you’re not alone. A lot of people are just relieved that they’ve made the move to homeworking, in whatever way possible, and now simply want to pause – take a week or so – and figure out what they really need and how to move forward.
This kind of work anywhere, anytime situation is the world Cloud or SaaS (Software as a Service) services were designed for. They’ve been gaining in popularity for some time, even without a compelling event and most companies already use them in some way.
There are a lot of great solutions, but the most important thing to think about is user adoption. Getting deployment right and moving people to love new tech can be hard enough in normal times, but when they’re already working in different ways, in different places, it’s even harder.
So, whenever you’re ready, the two things at the top of my list to look at are firstly making sure you have a great collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, part of Office 365, is a great choice, and secondly a decent cloud telephony system.
Microsoft Teams is the world’s most popular B2B collaboration tool and provides presence, messaging, video calling internally and externally and so much more. It’s also fully integrated into MS Office which most people are already familiar with so it gets easier and faster adoption than introducing new tools such as Slack or Zoom. Plus, Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Teams for Office 365 users as part of their Covid-19 response.
Cloud telephony might be one of those decisions that you’re tempted to leave until you’re back in the office, but maybe you shouldn’t. The benefits of its anywhere, anytime, any device functionality are so much more robust than the ‘divert to mobile’ solution you’re probably using now, plus it can be easily set up remotely.
Just make sure that any hosted phone system you look at right now offers all the functionality you’ll need in a dispersed workforce – apps for Windows and iOS, mobile clients as well as plug and play desk phones; wall boards and call recording also become even more important when managing from a distance. You’ll also want it to integration with MS Teams, now or later.
With the best will in the world, any buying decision you make in the next few weeks won’t have the same rigour as it may normally. Most cloud services are available on a 30/90 day term up to a maximum of a year. If someone wants longer, I’d avoid that right now. Obviously you want to find the perfect solution and don’t want to move again when things get back to normal, but give yourself the option as there’s a lot of innovation coming up in this space right now.
Most of our technology partners are coping brilliantly and doing everything they can to help their customers. Although we’re not on the frontline like the NHS or other keyworkers, our teams feel like we’re doing something of value that is helping businesses through this situation.
Unfortunately, BT Group (including Openreach), the UK’s biggest industry player, appears to be the one that’s found it toughest. Their porting process (moving existing telephone numbers from one supplier to another – very helpful in moving to cloud telephony) is largely off-shored to India which has caused them considerable difficulties. We’ve been working with industry peers and OFCOM to ensure they take the right steps to address this and we’re hopeful that porting will soon start to improve. Likewise, Openreach is having to make priority calls in new connectivity installations – again we’re working with others to help improve this process.
Otherwise, apart from a few short-term hardware shortages, such as PC headsets that suddenly became very popular, the technology vendors are managing this situation extremely well and should absolutely be able to provide you with guidance to help your business through the coming weeks and months.
We now have five generations in the workplace, decent connectivity in most places and a bunch of smart applications and devices that people are quickly getting used to. I’m not sure, once our workforces have proved they can be productive at home, they’ll want to spend hours commuting every day.
Maybe, rather than counting down the days to moving back to the office, the smart businesses will be the ones that use this as a catalyst for new ways of working. And I wonder whether those forward-thinking companies, who’ve embraced rather than resisted this change, will do especially well in the future. But more of this in a later blog.
If you’ve any thoughts you’d like to share, questions, or think we can help, please do let us know. Otherwise, take care and we wish you the very best.