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Remote communication tools: carte blanche or set menu? Industry leaders reveal recipe for secure communication

From a technology perspective, the past year made me think of the old cliché ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’. A pandemic triggered the world’s biggest experiment in remote working – and by and large, it is working. But there have been struggles along the way, and I’m curious to understand them.

So recently I’ve had a series of conversations with IT leaders, reflecting on how they managed communication and information during a year that completely upended traditional IT operations. One of the things I was interested to find out from them was whether it was better to let users call the shots for the apps and productivity tools they need to get the job done, or if the new way of working makes it even more necessary for IT to impose a certain amount of control. I’m sharing what they told me because there are useful lessons for businesses of all sizes.

The right tools

As I’ve covered in previous blogs, fatigue and burnout took hold after early productivity gains plateaued and then fell. This is an issue that goes beyond technology. But it’s also true that access to the essential tools play a huge part in determining whether or not companies were successful in managing the move to working from home.

For some people, the daily experience might consist of replying to emails, taking calls from colleagues or customers on WhatsApp, staying on top of internal updates on Slack or Microsoft Teams. Developers were using Confluence for file sharing, Agile development tools like Jira and Rally, and Git to manage source code.

Remote working is about much more than videoconferencing, but the novelty of running dispersed teams made video meetings a necessity this past year. It was often a case of juggling apps like Zoom, Teams, Webex Meet, Skype, GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts; and I’ve probably left a few others off that list too.

Channel hopping

Does that sound like too many channels? It does to me, and it’s no surprise that this led to frustration and set back productivity.

Niall Davis, resourcing manager at Fujitsu EMEIA, told me his company uses Microsoft Teams as its tool of choice as part of successfully moving to a complete remote working model. “Like other places of work, the social aspect is sorely missed, however cross-organisational collaboration has been facilitated well through the use of technology,” he said.

Curious, I asked Niall why Fujitsu hadn’t chosen another platform, and whether considerations like security had played a part. He said: “Teams was selected org-wide. We used to use Lync, and Teams provides greater collaboration in my view.”

Multiple choice question

Eoin Casey, Chief Data Officer with Elavon Financial Services DAC, agreed. “COVID-19 has escalated that all organisations review their technology infrastructure offerings to a 100% digital office for large numbers of employees. This needed to be done when looking at productivity, communication and transparency,” he said. EFS had already put this infrastructure in place through Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams.

Mark Brennan, CTO with Clarity Engagement Solutions, summed up the situation really well when he said the explosion of apps and tools over the last 10 years mean there are multiple choices available to suit individuals’ and teams needs. “We have more choices more competition in this area which is only good news for everyone. The challenge becomes working together in growing teams and scaling the organisations.”

Like many businesses, Clarity used multiple different conferencing apps. “When it comes to working in teams or across organisations it is important that we standardise on an agreed set of tools initially because it can hamper productivity and efficiency if you don’t. And, as you scale, other risks such as security and data protection become real risks that need to be considered,” Mark said.

 

Free-for-all is an expensive mistake

He believes that every company, no matter how small, should have an IT policy that defines the standards, approaches and tools the team should use to optimise efficiency, productivity and mitigate risks. Forming the policy should involve taking feedback from the teams so IT can while also having the scope to evolve as the organisation scales. “Without some parameters set out in IT policy it becomes a free-for-all with many different ways and tools to work with and support,” Mark said.

I’m less interested in the specifics of which technology tools work best – that’s a decision for each company to make – but for me, the key takeaway across the three conversations I’m sharing is the importance of standardising on a set of tools to get the work done.

Last year was about getting through by hook or by crook, and largely we did that. But the world of work has changed utterly. Between renewed lockdowns and people’s own preferences, we won’t be going back to the way things were.

Businesses of all sizes need to take stock of the changed circumstances and adapt to them. They need to optimise large parts of the way they operate, from collaboration and employee engagement to HR policies and IT strategy.

In the longer term, I believe not having the right tools for the digital workplace will impact on hiring, so this is not a time for muddling through with IT or letting everyone bring their own apps and devices. They need to settle on a defined set of technology applications to help their people get the work done without unnecessary stress and friction. We’ve had first contact with the enemy, so now it’s time to re-evaluate the plan.

 

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