Workforce Mobility and Remote Collaboration: Looking Beyond Today
With the rapid onset of the coronavirus around the world, many of us have been forced to make a shift to working remotely. For many businesses, operations had to be quickly picked up and moved into remote workspaces – specifically, employees’ homes. This abrupt change has resulted in many IT groups rethinking their existing infrastructure, not only to meet today’s needs, but also as we look ahead to how the pandemic might change the way we use technology in the future.
Through B&N’s existing IT infrastructure, we were fortunate to be able to make this transition quickly. Whether you are still working through it or looking to the future of workforce technology, here are a few things that helped us make the transition, along with some lessons learned.
1. Invest in infrastructure to support virtual collaboration
Having all the hardware, tools and software in place is critical to eliminating physical boundaries. Our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which was already adopted across the company, was a big part of what helped make our transition to a virtual workplace successful. VDI allows us to access our programs and files from any location, whether we’re in an office or working from home.
2. Provide a range of support options
While making the adjustment to a remote workforce, we’ve provided support to employees in a number of ways. Our IT team is on call to support troubleshooting when issues arise. During the initial switch to working from home, we also made sure to have clear, consistent and regular push communications to employees about troubleshooting measures they could take supplemented by online documentation and reference materials.
3. Find a central platform for collaboration
Avoid using disjointed applications to simplify workflows and keep processes streamlined. There are many applications and software packages available that encompass a variety of communication services, from voice and video calls to instant messaging and group chats. We have found success using Microsoft Teams, which allows us to share files, communicate using messaging, calls or video, and conduct virtual meetings.
4. Lessons learned
While our VDI allows us to pick up and work from anywhere, we had to find ways resolve issues that would typically be more easily addressed, or avoided, when working in the office. For example, connecting to external monitors and setting up new devices, like printers, is an issue that is easily handled in a physical office. Remotely, we’ve had to address issues like this using remote collaboration tools that allow for sharing screens, instant messaging, voice and video calls, and even taking remote control of another user’s desktop.
Other recurring problems have been wireless network and latency issues. The wireless speed at home typically isn’t the same strength or speed of business wireless and is more prone to interference. We’ve helped ensure our team has the best connection possible by walking them through wireless troubleshooting steps, and in some cases converting them to a wired connection. To streamline support calls, we’ve asked employees to test their internet speed at home when they experience issues so that we can prioritize issues and get people up and running faster.
While operations will eventually transition back to an office environment, how that looks might be very different than what it was before the coronavirus pandemic. I predict that we will start to see a cultural shift as a result. Previously, we didn’t have wide adoption of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, even though we have employees all across the US. Now that we have been forced to adapt, I believe we will continue to see the use of these tools to help us stay better connected and collaborate more effectively. It has been very rewarding to see new technologies embraced with such a dramatic effect on how we work in such a short period of time.