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What Happens When the Workspace Is Home?


Map app with "work from home" as location marker
Image: IQoncept -
The workspace has been rapidly transformed over the last several weeks as the spread of the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) has forced organizations to rapidly institute work-at-home policies wherever possible, leading to a scramble for many companies to ensure that employees can remain productive when no longer in the office.
Achieving a successful work-at-home strategy requires not only that employees be able to communicate, collaborate, and access the tools they need while at home, but also that they have sufficient network performance to function, and that the organization is proactively monitoring remote employee engagement. Implementing a work-at-home program should include the following:
1. An assessment of collaboration tools — If your primary collaboration environment consists of email, a phone, and a file server, you’re already behind the times. A modern virtual workspace must include capabilities that allow individuals to engage with each other, regardless of location, in real-time, and in the context of their work. It must support equal capabilities for those inside the company as well as for engaging with partners, suppliers, prospects, and customers. Increasingly, the foundation of virtual work is a team collaboration application that integrates messaging, content, information, applications, and meetings into a work hub. Examples include Avaya IX Spaces, Cisco Webex Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, Mattermost, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Symphony, Workplace by Facebook, and the team apps offered by UCaaS and UC vendors including 8x8, Fuze, Mitel, NEC, RingCentral, Unify, Zoom, and more.
To support business-to-business collaboration, organizations may enable guest accounts, federate among like-for-like applications, or leverage interoperability services from vendors including 8x8, Matrix, Mio, and NextPlane.
Another core component of a successful work-at-home collaboration strategy is video-based meeting services (most of which either have their own team collaboration capabilities or integrate into partner team collaboration apps). Fortunately, many vendors are making their team and meeting platforms free for certain use cases, or for a limited length of time, to assist those who need to quickly spin up video meeting capabilities (see my running list here).
2. An assessment of the work-at-home network — In most cases, IT historically hasn’t worried much about a home worker’s network. Instead, it simply provided guidance and allowed the home worker to select services and implement wireless networking. This approach isn’t sufficient to ensure productivity in the home and IT must now address it. IT must take an active role in providing tools that test Wi-Fi coverage in the home, monitor voice and video quality, and enable employees to procure services sufficient to meet their needs. As schools begin to rapidly spin up distance learning, expect to see network contention issues, especially in the last mile, become more prevalent.
3. A virtual private network (VPN) strategy — While some remote workers will only require web-based and cloud app access, for which browser-based encryption suffices, the reality for many organizations is that some work-from-home employees will still need to access custom applications not yet ported to a web interface, or that aren’t available outside the enterprise network. IT must be able to rapidly scale VPNs in support of the increasing numbers of remote workers, as well as ensure the adequate performance of applications delivered via these networks. If home workers are connecting to enterprise telephony services via a VPN, IT must be tracking phone number location accurately to ensure that a 911 call made from the home is routed to the proper public safety answering point and that the correct user location is provided to emergency services operators.
4. A human relations strategy — For many, working at home is liberating. Gone are the long commutes and expensive lunches. Employees at home often gain the flexibility to take some time for a walk or workout, to eat with the family, or to set flexible hours. But for others, remote work may prove difficult depending on personalities and home situations. A homeworker without sufficient space to work without interruptions from children or spouses may find it difficult to remain productive. Some are going to miss the live engagement with coworkers and are going to feel that their work isn’t being as noticed as it had been within a normal office environment.
HR teams must ensure that they are engaging with new work-at-home employees to understand how they’re coping and to ensure not only that they’re remaining productive, but that they continue to feel engaged with coworkers. Some organizations may even wish to consider modifying work schedules, perhaps going to a four-day workweek, which some studies have shown actually increases productivity.
Meeting the challenge of rapidly shifting to work-at-home scenarios isn’t going to be easy, but conducting an assessment of collaboration tools and home network environment, and ensuring that you are actively engaging with new work-at-home employees to monitor their level of engagement and happiness, will go a long way toward success.