In this guide, we will help you understand your Information & Communication Technologies infrastructure and provide advice on various options your business has, to protect your productivity and ensure the safety of your team when working remotely, or from home.
We understand that Telecoms and IT can be a daunting subject when you don’t live and breathe it as we do. So, we want to share our knowledge and real-world tips for what works for businesses and their employees, if working from home - or anywhere else, for that matter - is needed.
1) Understanding your Business Technology
As a business owner, or administrative leader, you probably already have a great understanding of what you have technology wise. Most likely, your business will comprise of:
c. Network Hardware
d. On Premises File Servers or Cloud-based Services, like Google Docs or Office 365
The trick is to understand what option you have, to allow staff to continue to use these services, the same way they would, if they were in the office.
2) Ensuring Staff Have Access to Business Technologies
Most businesses still rely on telephony as their primary method of communication with customers and suppliers and grind to a halt without them. Depending on your business technology setup, you have a few different options. This all comes down to whether you have traditional telephony (like WLR PSTN or ISDN), or hosted telephony (also known as IP Telephony, VoIP, Cloud-based Telephony, among others). If you aren’t sure, give our Customer Services line a call.
Which does your business fall under?
Traditional! What does this mean?
OK, you’ve got a couple of different options. You can forward your main business number to a mobile or home phone service to field incoming calls.
If you have a receptionist, we could set up a divert and they could still receive calls on their mobile and take messages for people to call back.
Staff direct lines can be forwarded to their mobiles.
If this sounds like you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hosted! What does this mean?
Excellent news, you have a host of options! Your main business number lives on a portal, that you can login to, and control remotely from anywhere you have an internet connection. You likely have an automated message that explains your business and directs the caller to dial a number for different teams. You can set up different advanced settings meaning that your customers and suppliers have the same experience they would calling your business as usual. We’ve explored these options for you further, below.
This one is covered by the internet access your team has, at their working location. Its likely you’ll have a mix of people working in different ways, from different places, as explained below:
Some of my team are road warriors and might need to work from a café, library, hotel lobby, or another public space:
If they are on the road and need to work at a café on WIFI for example, they will be sharing an unsecured service with other members of the public. If they need, they should have anti-virus/malware software installed on their PC. They should also ensure that they are working on WIFI and not their 4G phone data.
A couple of my team aren’t always able to get to a fixed internet service and might need to work using their 4G data:
This is a dangerous, but sometimes required option. You should consider moving them to an unlimited plan to facilitate this, as excess data charges can be catastrophic. If you’d like us to review what plans your users are on, and whether they may be appropriate for hot spotting, let us know. Forewarned is forearmed!
Most of my team are planning to work from home, using their current internet connection:
These users will need to consider their bandwidth at home. They might have their families with them; there may be kids watching tv or gaming (as they do). This could influence their bandwidth dramatically. If this is a likely issue, you could consider getting a 4G Wireless router and a 4G data sim – providing their 4G coverage in their area is good. Your team member can keep their bandwidth for work, separate from that of their family needs and remove any issue with what we call ‘over utilisation’ which means flooding their internet with too much traffic.
c. On premises File Servers
You need to find out if you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) setup for staff to use. These are easy to setup. They create a ‘private tunnel’ between a user that is outside your business network (working from home would be an example of this) and your business files. You should speak with your IT maintainer to set this up if its needed. They won’t need to speak to our team, but should they wish to confirm any details of your internet service, including router details, please give us a call.
If you use cloud services for files, then your team should have access, no matter where they are.
3) Advanced Settings Can Make All the Difference
If you’re saying to yourself ‘I have IP Telephony – what can I do to help my team’, then great question! You’ve got plenty of options, so let’s look at a few different settings that you can ensure are setup.
a. Desk Phone Anywhere – It might sound strange, but if you have IP Telephony, you can take your desk phone home, plug it in to your internet router and pretend your in the office. Result! Your customers and suppliers won’t know the difference. Ask your users to test this first and if there are any issues, they will be down to the home internet provider’s router settings (maybe not us). We can provide advice on what to say to retail internet providers to assist them in changing settings on the home router to allow this service to work as it would in the office. The only challenge with this is having the right cables, a willing to help internet provider and the proximity of where your user needs to work in their home.
b. Twinning – Twinning is the simplest for any IP Telephony user. It means that when their desk phone rings, their mobile handset does too! Even if they are part of a group of users who’s phones all ring at once. This is setup via your portal and takes minimal time. Ask us for a user guide and you can do it easily!
c. Phone App – Similar to twinning, but with a handy ‘Company Directory’. Your hosted voice platform means that any of your users with a smart phone can put a discrete application on their mobile device that makes it appear they are calling, or receiving calls, from your office. They can make use of calling extension to extension for free, as your other users are already setup on the directory.
d. Desktop App – This provides the ability to make/receive calls from a laptop or desktop, with directory facilities. Its great for people that need their mobile phones separate to their work PC’s or Mac’s.
e. Instant Messaging & Presence – One of the things staff complain about most is the ability to get in contact with others when needed, just for quick questions and updates. With instant messaging, your users have an app on their PC and/or mobile device that allows them to stay in contact. They can see if someone is logged on or off. This may seem intrusive, but the productivity far outweighs the change. If you wanted to take it a bit further and have your Outlook calendar integrated with the status of employees, people could see in real-time whether your users are on a call, in a meeting, or currently unavailable. There are some free options that are very basic, so let us know if you’d like some advice, aligned with your needs.
f. Video Conferencing & Screen Sharing – This is the ultimate for remote working, but better suited to businesses that have multiple locations and are looking to reduce their travel but maintain their face to face productivity. If you have this already, that’s great! If you’d like a user guide for your employees, we can easily accommodate.
4) Managing Your Teams Remotely – Top Tips
This part of our pack considers that remote working, especially for extended periods of time, can be isolating. Here are some ideas for how to keep your teams motivated and engaged, even when the pressures of being home can be distracting.
a. Have morning ‘round ups’ with your managers – This is a great way to set the deliverables for the day and catch up with everyone on progress. It may feel a bit more ‘micro’ than you’d be used to, or indeed comfortable with in the normal day to day, but when you’re all away from each other, its actually pretty special. It shows clear leadership and genuine care for the team. It also gives provides the opportunity for leadership discussions of what is and isn’t working and what can be done to assist.
b. Get your managers to do ‘round ups’ with their team too – Communication flows both ways and ensuring that any customer feedback is provided and addressed is key.
c. Setup a ‘Whatsapp’ group for the business – Easy and free! Set some business rules on what is and isn’t allowed; for example letting the team know someone will be on lunch between certain times is great. Getting into an argument over the football isn’t quite so productive.
d. Instant Messaging – Used for quick updates & communication throughout the day.
5) Set project expectations
Working from home can empower your employees to use their time more efficiently. But it’s not been fully embraced by all companies who think their employees might get carried away with housework, laundry and Netflix box sets. That’s why it’s important to set project expectations rather than worrying that your employees might not be sitting at their laptop constantly from 9 to 5.
Setting project expectations helps everyone understand what needs to get done and by what time. Maintaining a sense of structure like this is key if you want to stay productive. It also makes it clear how the work they’re doing while at home fits into the bigger picture.
6) Don’t obsess about activity
It can be tempting to chase your team more regularly when you’re not in the same office, but that won’t do you any favours. Now’s the time to show your employees that you trust them by actually trusting them. People work in different ways, especially when they’re working remotely, so let your employees work at home just as they would in the office. That means ditching the keylogging or activity tracking software.
Getting on people’s backs if they’ve not touched their keyboard in ten minutes makes them think you don’t trust them, whether that’s the case or not. Plus, people who want to bypass this will tap their keys periodically anyway.
Instead of obsessing about activity, you should be more focussed on connectivity. Make sure everyone’s clear on the communication basics such as having their messaging notifications on, posting regular project updates and dialling into team meetings.
7) Create meeting rituals
Pulling key stakeholders into a meeting room is easy when you’re in the same office – but staying in touch can get a bit trickier when everyone’s working remotely. We recommend setting up regular meetings and sticking to them. This helps keep everyone in the loop and reduces the odds of someone missing out on crucial information.
This is the same for one on ones. Depending on how people like to be managed, you might want to either hold a regular ten minutes at the end of the day or a longer meeting at the end of the week.
8) Foster a sense of community
It’s important to keep working at your company culture, even when you and your employees are working remotely. A group chat is a good starting point – a place for everyone to say hello at the start of the day and exchange watercooler style chat. You can take this to the next level with a few extracurricular groups. Book clubs can work just as well over video calls, as could watching a film at the same time or gaming with each other online. People can even take impromptu coffee and tea breaks over video call if they want.
And don’t forget to keep recognising your team’s achievements. It’s possibly more important to recognise the work of remote staff as it will show them how they fit into the bigger picture – as well as making them feel like more of a team.
9) Take a regular pulse check
It can be difficult to identify problems when your team works remotely. You’ll miss out on plenty of red flags you’d normally spot in the workplace – so it’s important to collect regular feedback from your employees.
Put a formal process in place and make sure everyone knows how they can voice their opinions. Better still, make sure they know they’re expected to do so. Honest feedback shouldn’t be an optional activity, it should be part of the routine – just like attending meetings and sticking to deadlines.
10) Hold a weekly debrief
At the end of the week, get everyone in your team on a video call and have a debrief of the last seven days. Take it in turns to share your highlights of the week, one thing you each learned and what you’re all looking forward to most next week. And if you want to make it even more supportive of remote working, let people raise any remote working challenges they’ve got and solve them as a group.
The main purpose of the weekly debrief is to tie all of the above points together. It creates a meeting ritual, keeps people engaged and helps everyone know how their efforts are still important to the company – despite not being physically in the workplace.
Remote working: the key takeaway
The key takeaway is: don’t overthink it. Working remotely shouldn’t fundamentally change much about how you work. Just make sure you’ve put the systems and frameworks in place to help everything run smoothly.
Remote working is about empowering your people to work however they’re most productive. Give them the same trust and flexibility you’d give them in the office and they’ll reward you with the same great work.