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Biz Advice: How to stay connected in this new work-from-home environment

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By Michael LeBlanc |

Amid all the uncertainty of 2020, one thing we can say for sure is that it was an unprecedented year. We were all impacted in one way or another, and we all had to pivot and restructure how we lived and worked. The new year brings new challenges but, as business owners and managers, we must stay focused on our business and customer service.

Making ‘Work from Home’ Work

As our region works to get back to business, we’ve been thinking of innovative ways to help our clients move forward and navigate the new landscape. As “work from home” has become the new normal, one thing is clear — reliable and flexible business communications are more critical now than ever.

This new work structure has posed a number of telecommunications challenges. For a company that has never implemented work from home before, here are some tech tips for a smooth transition.

  • Review the home networking carrier and network components of the employees and subcontractors. Upgrade any subpar equipment.
  • Recommend upgrades to older desktops or laptops that will be used for video or audio calls.
  • Assess video capabilities — Does the home user have a camera? Is the sound and picture of sufficient quality for video calls?
  • Consider a low-cost LED lighting setup to put behind employees’ monitors to brighten their faces on screen. This is a small investment to make meetings look much more professional.
  • Noise-cancellation headphones can overcome background noises, if needed. Apple AirPod Pros will do the trick..

Now is also a good time to re-evaluate your carrier situation. With so much uncertainty surrounding Internet service these days, larger businesses should consider a primary and a backup Internet provider. The reliability of cloud-based phone services, especially as it relates to home workers, is also compelling — as is the cost savings that can result.

Troubleshooting Tech Issues

While there are some major telecom challenges that companies face when employees work from home, thankfully there are also relatively painless ways to overcome them.

Routers (also known as “firewalls”) at home offices can be lower-end, consumer-grade, and pose quality problems with phone or video calls. One feature in particular, SIP-ALG (or “SIP-Helper”), may need to be disabled on the router or cable modem. It claims to help SIP, which is the protocol that VoIP uses, but actually does the opposite. A call to your local cable company’s tech support can ensure these features are disabled.

Also consider your employees’ home WiFi quality, which is often provided by the router, and not a stand-alone access point (or two). Too often the signal is weak in an employee’s home office, and this can affect business communication.

It’s critical that home workers have their Internet (or the phone calls themselves) actively monitored for dips in voice quality — a service offered by some providers. Just imagine if your employees are answering sales calls. Would a potential customer want to choose your company if they can hardly understand the first person with whom they interact?

Ensuring Smooth Operations

After a company has successfully transitioned to a work from home model, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure operations run smoothly.

Remote employees can be incredibly productive. However, we strongly suggest having regular video meetings, department by department. The social isolation of home workers is real, but if folks stay connected, at least by video, it’s manageable.

Likewise, it’s important to have accountability through specific deliverables or measurable metrics. In our telecom world, we enable managers to record agents’ calls and provide regular reports of their users’ telephone activities as well as how well customer interactions are handled. Users can make and answer calls from anywhere, on any device (telephone, mobile or desktop software app), and the accountability follows them wherever they go.

It’s also important to be proactive to maintain your competitive edge. Consider offering web-chat options for both sales and support on your website.

For companies in medical, automotive or other service-based industries, the ability to send and receive texts from your main number to your customers (such as appointment reminders) can be extremely valuable. This saves everyone time and cuts down on personal Covid-19 risks.

Protecting Sensitive Data

As more business is done via video and telephone over the web, one concern about remote work is protecting client information. The best way to do this is via VPN (Virtual Private Networks) to create a tunnel from the users’ homes to the office, so all traffic must go through the office firewall.

Using passcodes or PINs, or a waiting room, will add layers of extra security on video calls. In addition, consider using a password management app like LastPass to strengthen protections when logging into critical sites with a customer or financial data. One of the benefits is that users never really use the password itself — the software does — so when a user leaves the company or is terminated, that password access can be immediately disabled.

Ensuring Connectivity for Work, School and Play

As more people work from home — and more students learn from home — Internet capacity is especially critical and can be a very serious issue for families.

First, ensure enough bandwidth is coming in, including upgrading with the local cable or telephone company to get higher speeds. For a busy family of five people, we recommend at least 250 megabits-per-second of speed.

Also, pandemic bandwidth patterns are causing many neighborhoods to have massive spikes in usage, affecting call and video quality for users during certain times of the day. If your Internet is lacking, call and complain! This is very much a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

There are many other services and options available to better balance the needs of mom and dad vs. the kids when it comes to bandwidth usage in homes. We have some tools and devices to make “work from home” (and “school from home”) better for everyone.

Will WFH Become the Norm?

We hear story after story of companies reconsidering their commercial real estate needs in light of this new trend. Many employees say their new routine would be hard to undo. While nothing is certain, our prediction is that the status quo may continue for some time. Who wants to spend pointless time sitting in traffic, anyway? And how nice to have extra time to exercise, right? Considering all of that, working from home certainly gets our vote!

Michael LeBlanc, is president and CEO of CCi Voice, a Holtsville, NY-based leading telecommunications provider serving the Northeast with local staff that visits customers when needed. Reach him at mleblanc@cci.tel or check out CCi Voice’s social media channels for the latest news and updates: @CCiVoice on Facebook, @CCi_Voice on Twitter and Instagram, and @ccivoice on LinkedIn.