What we learned from the new normal
Aktion has always had a good balance of employees who have worked in a traditional office and those who work at home. A large majority of our sales and application consultants already work from a home office and many employees split their time between the two. COVID-19 changed how we approached this balance. It shed some light on some of our strengths as a mobile organization as well as some new perspectives about ourselves as we moved to a full work from home paradigm – insights that we wanted to share.
As an IT organization, we set up every system with a robust level of security measures to avert spam, malware and cyber-attacks. Our staff is trained on identifying attacks during our on-boarding process. Each employee is issued IT equipment in the form of Notebooks for the just-in-case moments. While in the office, they are augmented by external docking stations, multiple monitors, external keyboards and mice for convenience and productivity purposes. The Notebooks are built with full capabilities – built-in WiFi, microphones and cameras. These integrated features allowed us to stay connected and productive, even if lacking the convenience and greater functionality that can be found in external webcams and headsets.
Aktion also uses Voice over IP (VOIP) phones with a Cloud-based PBX. The phone system allows for easy installation. Once your IT department has configured the desk phone unit, all you need is power and internet connection for a surprisingly simple and effective way to make the home office feel as connected as a brick and mortar office.
To stay connected during the day, Aktion uses MS Teams for instant messaging between staff members and in groups. As we developed a new work from home strategy, we learned how to use its powerful collaboration capabilities such as integrated SharePoint sites for file sharing, team calendars, conversation boards, and integrated online meetings with shared notes – a new version of the traditional conference room collaboration.
We thought we had it all in place and that we could go without the office conveniences that we had become accustomed to using regularly. As quarantine progressed, we learned some new things about what it really meant to work from home.
For starters, we realized that not all of our staff have the right space and peripherals to take advantage of their notebook computer at home. Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated home office that is ready to connect – and many of us who forgot that extra keyboard and monitor in the office, found that working from a laptop alone can be less than optimal. The transition to a longer stretch of working from home highlighted the inconvenience of working from only the laptop screen and touchpad for some users. And that Voice over IP (VOIP) phone, yeah, many of us forgot to bring that home too. Ensuring that everyone has the right peripherals (or a plan to transfer them from the corporate office) BEFORE the unexpected occurred would have been highly beneficial in the long run.
As web meetings became more and more the norm for communications, holes in our capacity became clear. For starters, not all employees were issued external headsets with a microphone. Many who had been issued this equipment did not have it properly configured for connection to their computer, only to their desk phone. Many of us didn’t realize that the headset would be a critical item for online meetings.
While we all used one universal form of conferencing – not every organization that we interact with uses that same system. Many online meetings were stalled as one or another member wrestled with audio and video connections. Countless meetings were joined with the computer and phone dial-in – creating challenging echo effects and distractions. In some situations, the microphone placement resulted in loud background noise, and in others it was obvious that a post-it note or similar had been taped over a participant’s camera instead of them simply deactivating it. Overall a loss in productive meeting time occurred as these issues were resolved. We learned that all our employees need training on both equipment integration and multiple online meeting tools on the front end to help in this area as it became much more a part of our day-to-day workflow.
So, while we had all the security measures and capabilities in place for our employees to work from home, we learned a lot about our abilities to use our equipment outside of the old norm. Through our experience, we developed some recommended solutions to the challenges we encountered and have been able to share those experiences with our customers more and more frequently. In the new normal, we (and our customers) will be better equipped for whatever next life-altering event hits our businesses.