We are now months into social distancing and remote work due to COVID-19. As we work toward the new normal--which almost certainly will extend the “work-from-home” model--it’s time to take stock as to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to remote collaboration technology and planning for disaster. Because, unfortunately, COVID-19 is likely not the last pandemic we will experience.
After Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina, we all went through the exercise of planning for disaster and creating business continuity plans. Those events showed how vulnerable infrastructure can be to catastrophic, but localized, events. As a result, companies established plans that would get people back to work, either remotely or by relocating to temporary space in non-disrupted areas.
Well, with COVID-19, there’s no unaffected area. Even companies that accounted for an epidemic or pandemic in their business continuity planning have likely found ways they’ve been caught flat-footed in response to this coronavirus outbreak.
Even for companies that prepared to send thousands of call center employees home in the event of an emergency, the actual “doing” has probably been difficult. For example, companies that outfitted call centers with desktop PCs had to distribute and support the installation of laptops and VoIP headsets to thousands of users in a very short amount of time. Variations in bandwidth have likely affected VoIP quality, call routing and application response time. There’s also the unexpected background noise associated with children and spouses learning and working remotely in the same home. All of this is impacting key call center metrics.
How do your conferencing solutions stack up under constant strain and unexpected use cases?
At companies where the majority of employees work in an office, the selection of a videoconferencing tool was based on the assumption that 75% of an extended team attending meetings will do so from between two and four meeting rooms. You should be surveying your employees to see how well the solution and the end users have adapted to everyone being at his or her own end point.
Even if you can’t switch vendors before people can come back into the office, you should be looking for best practices and tools that will improve the experience for your end users. For teams that have a dozen people in a team meeting, the roster views in a video meeting likely aren’t big enough on a laptop screen to provide the visual clues that show when someone is trying to speak and can’t be heard. Teams will need to learn to structure meetings differently to allow input from all participants in an organized way--either via chat or regular Q&A breaks.
Preparing for the Worst--over Time
There have been four influenza pandemics in the last 100 years, with three occurring in the last 60. SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2 all occurred in the last 20 years. Neither SARS nor MERS reached pandemic stage, but with fast and easy global air travel and increasing population density, the risk of pandemics is increasing, and there is a good chance we will experience another disruptive epidemic event in the next decade. Between influenza and coronavirus, pandemics could become a once-a-decade event. Indeed, planning for disaster takes on a whole new dimension.
The “good” news (if it can be thought of that way) is that what we are experiencing now can make planning for disaster more focused moving forward.
IT teams responsible for their VoIP and real-time collaboration technology stack should be assessing how their current solutions have performed over the past couple of months and look for ways to improve performance. Look at your help desk tickets to see where users have been having issues. Survey users to get their input on the experience of collaborating remotely.
The next evaluations of collaboration technology should include an assessment of how the solutions perform under these circumstances. While you should pick the best solution for the normal use case, understand the risks and the steps you’ll need to take to adapt that solution for an extreme event--or, as the case will likely be, events.