Using Technology to Enable a Distributed Workforce
Like so many organizations, one of the challenges that COVID-19 presented to Beacon Mutual was ensuring that it could rapidly transition to a remote workforce while continuing to deliver the product and services expected by its customers, partners and stakeholders. Unsurprisingly, technology was key to seamlessly executing this transition. Looking back on this experience one can subdivide the application of distributed workforce technology into three general themes: what we knew, what we figured out, and what we are exploring.
What we knew
The day one priority for any organization is ensuring that its workforce can connect and access the applications and tools needed to perform their primary job functions. Through Business Continuity Planning (BCP) or even day-to-day business operations, this connectivity is one that most organizations had solved or were capable of solving with relative ease.
Technology approaches for basic connectivity range from utilizing a company issued mobile device to connect through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to utilization of remote access software solutions such as Citrix to natively access secure applications in the cloud through a public Internet connection. Through mainstream business practices, such as telecommuting, most businesses were already experienced with this technology case and rapidly scaled existing solutions to meet the increased demand.
What we figured outEnabling a remote workforce requires key technologies and a degree of worker adoption:
- The need for enhanced digital technology is critical: With many organizations, reliance on manual or paper based processes and the need for virtual collaboration drove expansion of existing technical services and rapid adoption of new technical services. Even organizations that already had progressive use of telecommuting or distributed workforce found that with completely distributed teams and the inability to utilize any paper based workflows, the need for enhanced digital technology was critical. Fortunately, technologies to meet these needs were readily available and mature. Typically these technologies are already deployed in some capacity in most organizations.
- Digital signature capability is crucial: Digital signature tools such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign provide the technologies to replace wet signatures with digital signatures and provide automated workflows to fully automate manual paper based processes.
- Video conferencing is essential for collaboration: Video conference tools such as Zoom, Go-To Meeting, and WebEx provide the ability for virtual face to face meetings and the ability for screen sharing so that meetings and working sessions can carry on and in some cases even be more productive and engaging then traditional methods. Finally, the need for full digital collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack became more evident and impactful.
- Cybersecurity tools are a must: Cybersecurity risks increase as cyber criminals look to capitalize on a vulnerable and disrupted workforce through increased frequency and sophistication of phishing attacks and scams.
While most of the aforementioned technologies are used in most organizations today, the degree of adoption throughout the enterprise is often spotty and utilization is higher in project based teams versus operational teams. The rapid enterprise adoption of these digital tools is not just a licensing and deployment challenge. The ability to adapt to new technologies varies among employees and may require changes in work style. Business policies and procedures need to be revisited to ensure that they support digital workflows. Read more about Sustaining Healthy Internal Controls During the COVID-19 Crisis.
What we are exploring
Just when many organizations have settled into a rhythm, with a fully-distributed and technology-equipped workforce, comes the consideration and planning for a return to the traditional office setting. With this will come another round of technology challenges as many organizations will experience a partial return and a more blended workforce of remote and on-site workers.
Conference room meetings that may have traditionally had a call in worker or two may now need to be outfitted with a large screen video monitor to support a significantly larger number of remote participants. Workers may have disparity between home set-up and office set-up, especially if they had the opportunity to re-purpose some of their office equipment, for example monitors and keyboards for home use. Digital cameras for desktop users may have been a novelty in the past but a necessity now and in the future. Under the covers, the office network and infrastructure that supported a traditional in-office workflow prior to COVID-19 may start to show signs of overload as a fully digital enabled workforce shifts all bandwidth back from home connections to direct corporate network connections.
With this new round of challenges will come some technology benefits. The efficiencies gained through automated electronic workflows will remain. Increased use of digital methods will mean that some office printers never get fired back up, resulting in operational savings. And lastly, but not the least, all those business continuity plans that were so painstakingly assembled and tested? You can probably skip the test this year because you’ve just been through the mother of all tests!
- Read the News & Insights blog for 4 Tips for Telecommuting and Remote Safety Services.
- Visit our COVID-19 Resources page for information and links to other national and local resources.