March 2020 | Point of View

Coronavirus: 5 Questions & Answers on Operating as a Digital Workplace

With COVID-19, your ability to operate as a digital workplace is essential

Coronavirus: 5 Questions & Answers on Operating as a Digital Workplace

With coronavirus, many companies have gone to fully remote work. The concept of working from home may sound simple, but the preparation that goes into a 100% digital workplace is no small feat.

At West Monroe, we help organizations become digital workplaces – typically to improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, and save costs. With COVID-19, your ability to operate as a digital workplace is essential – even if only for a defined period. You have little time to make investments and decisions – so we pulled together five questions, based on our experience, to ask your technology team. So you can hit the ground running.

1. Do employees have the hardware they need to be successful? 

Simply, your workforce needs the right equipment to do their jobs. Do all your employees and contractors have a laptop – either instead of or in addition to a desktop? Do they have headsets to make calls and spare laptop chargers at home? If not, we recommend taking the proactive step to have enough laptops, headsets, and other hardware for everyone – as soon as possible.

Once equipped with the right hardware, broadband connections become important. Do employees have the right internet speed while working from home for the type of work that is expected? Conduct an inventory of employee’s broadband connections and pay attention to their capacities down and up to ensure you have adequate capacity for telephony, video, or screen sharing. Not everyone will need the same amount of bandwidth, so you may require some role-specific guidelines to keep requirements realistic. If you find your workforce is lacking bandwidth, your collaboration strategy may need to take that into account. You may also need to revisit your reimbursement policies regarding personal broadband connections. For some employees, you will need to invest in mobile hot spots and related data plans to establish adequate internet access at home. Work with your people to get at least a minimum-viable capacity in place.

And if your company relies on VPN and all employees are working on it simultaneously, your current hardware may not be able to handle that load. Starting today, test the limits to understand whether you need to change your mobile workforce solution. 

2. Virtual collaboration: First, do you have the right tools and technology? 

We often take for granted how many colleagues, partners, and vendors we collaborate with daily to get our jobs done – via phone, email, and other communication devices. To be successful while remote, maintaining that collaboration is critical.

Do you have tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, WebEx Teams or Zoom that allow the ability to chat, co-author documents, access important files, and host meetings with video? Do you have intelligent workplace tools such as Beezy to help employees stay connected and productive? These types of solutions help connect employees at all levels and deliver targeted, personalized information to the right employees at the right time.

Having the right collaboration tools is critical, but do your employees and partners have the proper training and skills needed to use them effectively? There is a good chance this may be the first time your workforce is using the programs and tools as intended. Do you have documentation and best practices that can easily be shared as employees navigate these platforms? When users are given proper instruction and support, their usage of the tools and their productivity both improve. Investing in this type of support now will cut down on the time learning them later.

3. Virtual collaboration: Second, do you have the culture to support it?

If working from home is not the solution for your company just yet, there is at least a likelihood that travel will slow down due to coronavirus. (Salesforce recently announced it is suspending non-essential travel for its 50,000 employees.) More meetings will have to be virtual, making a platform that allows effective communication essential. Does your culture promote video conferencing today? If not, can you make efforts to become more virtual before these work-from-home policies are required? Using video helps employees stay connected, regardless of distance. If your company doesn’t have the remote working culture today, it will be even harder to change and teach employees how to use your digital workplace collaboration tools while remote.

Traditional ways of working will also change. Teams will need to be flexible with a potential shift in working hours. Consider the school closings in Japan: If daycare or schools begin to close, traditional work hours might shift to accommodate changing schedules. Team meetings may have to shift to earlier or later in the day to best fit schedules.

Managers will also have added pressure to ensure their teams can perform well while remote. They will need to make sure their team has an adequate understanding of tools and that they encourage collaboration, foster open communication, and can measure productivity. Microsoft’s usage analytics is a good built-in tool to see how people are working. Third-party tools, like Brainstorm’s QuickHelp, can also help with monitoring and shaping effective usage through learning, support material, communication campaigns, and analytics. While this data is helpful information, managers still have the task of clearly crafting and communicating expectations for how their teams should interact and collaborate. For instance, being available and online during normal work hours. From there, it’s a matter of managing to those expectations. How your management team goes about managing this change can make a significant difference in your results.

4. What is the best path forward for security and mobility?

If your remote working strategy involves employees using personal devices, employees will shift from working on secure networks and machines to relying on their own devices and home and public Wi-Fi.

To address the security concerns these changes represent, here are a couple ideas:

  • Fast-track multifactor authentication (MFA) to allow your workforce access to the sites and files they need while ensuring the right person is logging in. This can take several months to implement at a sizeable organization – both technically and culturally – so start working toward this today. Meanwhile, in the Azure and Office 365 ecosystem, Intune and Conditional Access can be combined to validate that the devices accessing your data are sufficiently trusted before providing access to corporate systems. 
  • Get people remote access without sacrificing security. Are all apps and programs that employees use accessible from home? If not, are you relying on VPN technologies that put untrusted personal devices onto your corporate network? If you are stuck with applications hosted in your data center, consider using a reverse proxy such as Azure Application Proxy to make your web applications available to users outside your corporate network, quickly and securely, using TLS and multifactor authentication. This can effectively reduce the burden on your VPN infrastructure while maintaining security. If you have desktops in the office and need to allow remote workers access to them, solutions like ConnectWise Control can be integrated with Azure Active Directory, protected with TLS and MFA, and deployed very quickly. While not a cloud-first mobile-working experience, solutions such as ConnectWise Control can allow employees to access their everyday desktop from anywhere and work without significant disruption to their everyday processes.

5. Can your support desk handle a higher volume of requests?

When your workforce is remote and trying to figure out new processes and tools on their own, your support desk requests will surge. Do you have self-service resources and knowledge bases to provide support before requests occur? Do you have enough IT resources to cover increased demand?

Evaluate – today – your ability to troubleshoot remotely. From taking pictures with mobile devices to using remote-assistance software, this will be necessary as in-person options subside. You may have to get creative if you are not able to meet and diagnose in-person and still help your remote workforce resolve issues. Consider increasing your self-service capabilities by using a tool like ScreenSteps to easily create and publish guides that help avoid many of the issues that go to support. You can even create workflow articles that mimic the troubleshooting process that people would get from a first-tier agent. If done right, through the process, your workforce can even become more adept with technology and troubleshooting.

It takes a great deal to keep your workforce efficient while remote. While not exhaustive, this initial set of questions will help you mobilize your digital workplace and make you more nimble—for today and beyond.

Want to review your digital workplace strategy with our team? We’re here to help. Get in touch with Kaumil Dalal, our lead digital workplace director. 


Explore our latest perspectives