It's a great bet that you never did any thinking about moving all your employees to work from home before we all had to do so at the start of the COVID pandemic. But have you done any thinking yet about how to best bring some or all of them back to the office when it ends?
While there’s still no certainty as to when the COVID-19 novel coronavirus will be under sufficient control for us to consider returning to some semblance of “normal” we must believe that will happen eventually. Since we have some time to plan, let’s take advantage of it.
Much of what happened as everyone hurried home was not the result of carefully considered decisions. We all did the best we could with what we had. Expense was not the top priority. The safety of our people was.
In preparation for returning, there are many good decisions that need to be made. Some are obvious. Some are not so much.
Did you turn anything off? Since you weren’t going to be using any of the telecom and datacom circuits servicing your offices and other facilities it would have been advisable to pause them, suspend them, or otherwise try to stop paying for them while not in use. Of course nobody knew when we’d be returning, or how long those circuits would sit idle, so very few took the time to see if they could put them on hold. And as the months wore on, this idea was forgotten or lost in the confusion.
If you did manage to put some of your telecom billing on hold, you’ll need to re-activate or re-provision it before you send people back to the office.
Did you turn anything on? With everyone working from home, your corporate data was now traveling across a great deal of residential internet access. This expanded your threat surface substantially. How did you handle that?
Did you re-provision access for any of your employees or executives, providing business-grade services to replace their residential package? Did you replace any of their existing security provisions, such as firewalls, anti-virus, virtual private networks (VPN) or other?
Depending on where each employee will be working from going forward, you may choose to retain these provisions, or not. This is a key decision that will need to be made for each employee; will they be working from home enough of the time to warrant the additional expense?
Did you discover any great opportunities while everyone was dispersed? Many companies discovered services like Zoom or Microsoft Teams once everyone was working from home. It was the easy way to replace conference room meetings. Everyone could see and hear everyone, share applications on the screen, and collaborate very effectively on work.
If that was new to you, perhaps this is a good time to make it part of standard operations. While you’re at it, examine your phone expense during that time. One of the great benefits of implementing a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS, often pronounced ‘you-cazz’) is that all calls between your own locations travel across your corporate network or the internet. This immediately reduces plain old telephone service (POTS) expense significantly for many companies.
Again, more decisions to be made. If you’re currently using hard telephone devices at your employees’ desks you’ll need to examine how amortized and depreciated they are. Is it economically feasible to de-commission them and replace them with soft-phones and mobile phones? Not only is it economically feasible but, from a user experience perspective, are your hybrid users of the future going to want a UCaaS experience at home and a hard phone in the office? You’ll also eliminate your telecom switch or PBX costs. UCaaS has meant tremendous increases in efficiency and collaboration coupled with substantial cost reduction for many companies. Perhaps this is a good time to take advantage of the opportunity to change over.
How much of your workforce can you afford to leave at home if you want to? There are many variables involved in this calculation. How close to fully depreciated is the equipment they used in the office? Untold millions of computers, displays, printers, keyboards, mice, and associated devices have been sitting idle for months while their typical users were working from home. What will become of that equipment if those users don’t come back? Can you shift them to other users? Can you afford to discard them? Does it make more sense to donate them to charitable institutions who repurpose and redistribute used IT equipment? There are certainly tax advantages to making contributions. There are also significant costs to be wary of when you discard computer equipment, in the form of fines you may be required to pay should you dispose of anything improperly.
Other variables include continuing the investments you may be making in the access services, security, and equipment your employees are using at home. Will they be working from home enough of the time to warrant your continuing those investments? If you don’t continue those investments will they be interested in working from home at all?
This is a good time to re-examine your telecom/internet cost re-imbursement policies. Do your people use equipment you provide? Or do they use their own? If the latter, do they pay for it or do you? Through reimbursement? Or have you simply added them to your existing plans?
Which policies and procedures will need to change? Will you need to completely renovate your onboarding procedures to accommodate new employees who will be working from home? Will you implement workflow management solutions to track employee productivity? This is a good time to examine all company policies to determine their viability in a hybrid environment of office-based and home-based employees.
The ultimate wildcard will be how the major carriers will react as the topology of their networks change. Many residential customers enjoy “all you can eat” programs with unlimited minutes and/or data characters. With a growing volume of business being conducted by those residential users from their residences, how will they move to recapture lost business service revenue? How long might it take before they feel the need to change both their residential as well as their business-class services.
The time to start considering all of this and more, in preparation for a post-pandemic future, is now.