React, Adapt, Adopt

The Evolution of Work: What Organizations Should Focus On in the Next 3, 6 and 12 Months

11 May 2020

Over the past six weeks, millions of additional people in North America discovered that work is not a place, it is an activity as they reacted to the global COVID-19 pandemic and chose, or were forced to, work from home.

This article will quickly recap the challenges of the past several weeks but primarily will focus on key areas that organizations should be considering over the next 12 months. In doing so, we will use the following React-Adapt-Adopt model in order to illustrate the necessary shift in priorities over time.

COVID-19 Communications and Collaboration Evolution

1. React (Weeks 1 - 6)

Many organizations abruptly were forced to have large percentages of their workforce shift to working from home. This placed unplanned demands on communications and collaboration infrastructure as in some cases, 100% of the work force were working remotely. Organizations with data-center based communications and collaboration solutions typically encountered problems because the “edge infrastructure”, what allows remote workers to connect securely to corporate servers, often was only designed to support between 25% and 50% of the work force simultaneously connecting.

In addition, with 95% of the U.S. population under some form of lockdown (305 million people), and Canada’s top public health officials urging Canadians to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary, businesses able to continue, have workers more distributed than normal, which is causing a vast increase in the number of concurrent calls and meeting participants, doubling and in some cases exploding to five times previous volumes. A meeting of eight people that may have previously taken place in the office, with just one remote participant (effectively just two participants) now involves eight conferencing participants, all remote.

Organizations during this initial “React” period, focused on ensuring remote workers had the required software installed on either work laptops, home computers or sometimes mobile phones. For many organizations, scaling up or rapidly deploying Microsoft Teams was critical to being able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues using threaded discussions (in channels), voice and video calls along with interactive videoconference meetings, often including real-time meeting notes, document or screen sharing, and sometimes polling and whiteboarding.

Because during the initial, largely unplanned, phase of adjusting to COVID-19, organizations were forced to undertake an intense amount of effort in order to simply ensure critical work could still happen, from a communications and collaboration perspective, little or no attention was paid to audio or video devices. A laptop with a built-in webcam, microphone and speakers was enough. A USB headset, even if not noise cancelling, was a bonus.

In the React phase, anything that worked was good enough.

2. Adapt (Months 2 - 6)

For many, the past several weeks were challenging as they navigated not only using new software tools, or existing tools in new ways, but also, carved out work spaces within their homes, often juggling with spouses or roommates who were also trying to work. Simultaneously many have needed to deal with children in the home, many of whom were adjusting to distance learning for the first time.

While challenging, most organizations have been able to successfully enable their remote work force. For many organizations now is the time to examine people, process and technology in order to identify opportunities to optimize the work from home experience.

Microsoft Office 365, including Teams, captures and provides both IT professionals and individual users with a wealth of information that can be used to optimize remote work. Indeed, for some organizations there is a potential over abundance of reporting tools and metrics, sometimes leading to analysis paralysis. Of special note, Microsoft Teams (along with Skype for Business) is one of the few communications and collaboration platforms that provides user satisfaction data. User satisfaction metrics prove invaluable in determining what is effective, what is driving user engagement and what actions are best aligned with positive business outcomes.

Having consolidated metrics from almost 500,000 users globally, it is clear that the right audio and video endpoints significantly improve the quality, and more importantly, the user satisfaction related to Teams calls and meetings.

As you look to empower and support your remote workforce over the upcoming months consider the following:

(For the purposes of this article, I have elected to use Yealink products as examples of the technology component. Yealink has a complete line of Microsoft Teams certified and compatible devices and was the first provider with a full-range of Microsoft Teams certified audio and video devices.)

  • Passive and active noise cancellation can improve overall meeting productivity allowing you to more easily hear other participants and helping others hear you more clearly.
  • Using Microsoft-certified headsets ensures that volume and mute buttons function properly and that call and mute indicator lights properly represent whether you are muted or not, avoiding distracting or embarrassing background noise. This is not the case for many older Skype for Business headsets your users may now be using.
  • With the increased number of meetings people are participating in, headset comfort is an important consideration.

Yealink UH36 Microsoft Teams Compatible Headset

  • A speaker phone device can provide additional mobility, including the ability to stand and walk around during longer calls; some senior leaders favor this type of device.
  • For video calls, a high-end speaker phone, such as the Yealink CP900, which employs six beamforming microphones, is able to provide excellent audio without requiring the user to wear a headset.
  • Many users with longer hair have expressed a preference not to use a headset. If these users resort to using the microphone built-in to their laptops, overall audio call quality suffers.

 

Yealink CP700/CP900 Microsoft Teams Certified Speakerphone

 

  • Users who often deliver presentations to clients, record training or other videos, or senior leaders, may benefit from a device that provides an enhanced video experience, such as the Yealink VC210 Teams collaboration bar.
  • This type of device provides 4K video, a 120-degree viewing angle and support for auto-framing. The collaboration bar easily clips on to a secondary monitor or touch screen, which provides improved viewing angles and far superior image quality compared to built-in laptop webcams.