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  1. Telecommuting: Supporting Remote Workers During and After COVID-19

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    If you’re like millions of Americans, taking a break from work probably used to mean walking to the breakroom for coffee and saying hello to your coworker down the hall. Now you may find yourself reading through this blog on your couch for your break, while convincing yourself you don’t need another snack from your kids’ stash of goodies before tackling your next project.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of employers supporting telecommuters, or people who work from home, skyrocketed. However, working from home was on the rise prior to the outbreak. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 26 million people worked remotely at least part of the time before the pandemic. In fact, the total number of people who telecommuted increased by 115% between 2005 and 2015. Yet while some are used to keeping themselves away from the snack cupboard and successfully being productive while working at home, millions of employers and employees are new at it. We’ve put together a few tips that we’ve found helpful during this unprecedented time.

    Technical Tools

    From a technical standpoint, dozens of virtual tools can keep coworkers connected. Video conferencing software enables face-to-face meetings when physically getting together is not an option. Instant messengers, like Skype, foster quick communication for business purposes or the occasional aside! But remote work and collaboration go well beyond video conferencing and instant messaging. A whole suite of cloud-based unified communications applications including screen sharing and browser sharing can help groups of remote employees collaborate on mission-critical projects. In many ways the future of work has become the present, out of necessity. This is only set to continue as countries experiment with an incremental, limited easing of restrictions over the coming months.

    Applications that are typically only accessed at the office require a bit of planning, but there are options. Many businesses use a virtual private network (VPN) to give workers secure access to their company’s network. Employees can set up from virtually anywhere that has a Wi-Fi connection and access applications as they typically would at the office. DQE has seen an increase in the number of customers accommodating their newly remote workforce with this tool. Additionally, we’ve worked with many customers to increase their bandwidth so they can accommodate new, heightened demands on their network systems. This in turns means productivity can remain high, which is vital for businesses eager to weather the effects of COVID-19 successfully.

    Embrace Employees

    Employees are feeling more stressed and isolated than ever before because of the pandemic. Workers who are now also serving as teachers because their children’s schools are closed may be feeling the pressure even more. CNBC reports companies that successfully schedule time to check in on employees and provide emotional support will have a higher employee retention rate and more individuals who feel appreciated by their leaders.

    Working from home can be beneficial for employees who feel supported, so it’s important to embrace your workforce more than ever during this crucial time. An article by the American Psychological Association says telecommuting overall increases job satisfaction, and employees experience less work-related stress and exhaustion. Conversely, drawbacks include social and professional isolation. The article encourages employers to consider ways for staff to build relationships virtually, including creating online message boards or providing small stipends by using meal delivery services for virtual lunches or coffee breaks.

    We’re here when you need us

    At DQE, we’re doing our best to adhere to these and other best practices to support our employees as much as possible during this time. Whether we’re in the office or working from home, we also remain committed to you – our customers. If there are additional ways we can support your business as you manage a remote workforce now or in the future, please contact us any time.

  2. Mobility — The Great Wireless Migration

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    The business world is becoming more wireless – this phenomenon is often called enterprise mobility, where employees are working out of the office using mobile devices and cloud services. But the great wireless migration also means that businesses must adapt to the fact that their customers are using mobile phones much more than desktops to access websites, read email, and buy things online.

    Telecommuting

    People are now working from home more often than ever, and the impact is undeniable. According to GlobalWorkPlaceAnalytics.com, 50% of the workforce holds a job compatible with telecommuting, and 20 to 25% of workers regularly take advantage of that option. The number of regular telecommuters has grown 103% since 2005, not counting those who are self-employed (self-employed people are more likely to work from home – in fact, 22% of the self-employed work from home all the time). Today, 3.7 million employees, almost 3% of the workforce, now work from home at least half the time.

    Employees may be interested in working from home for a myriad of reasons – some of the most common include avoiding the time and expense of commuting, or achieving a better home-life balance, by for example trading off childcare duties with a spouse by working different hours. Flexible hours mean a worker can run errands or schedule appointments without having to take a personal day.

    It’s pretty easy to imagine the many ways telecommuting benefits employees, but employers benefit as well. Employers can save on workspace, sure. It’s also easier to adjust the scale of your workforce by using telecommuters, which can be a major advantage in some industries. But the real benefit is being able to employ highly qualified people who are unwilling to relocate for a job — and improved employee satisfaction and retention.

    Productivity can be enhanced, too. For example, employees who have a minor illness, such as a cold, often choose to work if they can telecommute, because they can get their job done without infecting their co-workers. Further, employing telecommuters means at least some portion of your operations can continue normally in case of a weather emergency, such as a heavy snow, or other disaster. The cost savings can be significant. As an illustration of this, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the entire 5-year cost of implementing telecommuting throughout government is $30 million – while a single snow day costs $100 million.

    What’s more, there’s a significant benefit to society as a whole. Reduction in car traffic reduces pressure on overcrowded highways and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, it’s been estimated that if everyone who was interested and had a compatible job worked from home just half the time, the national savings would be $700 billion per year.

    Data security in telecommuting

    For any business that employs telecommuters, data security is an important issue to consider. For starters, workers will be using devices that are not physically located at the company’s offices, and mobile devices are easily lost or stolen. Enterprise mobility management is a set of systems that helps secure corporate data on mobile devices. These can include password protection and remote wipe technology, in which a device’s memory can be cleared from a lost device. But managing security issues can be significantly more challenging if employees are working with their own devices, as sometimes happens with smaller companies especially.

    In addition to securing devices, the data itself must be secured. Enterprise mobility also refers to data being mobile – so, for example, a worker could access the same digital presentation on her desktop, laptop, and mobile phone, perhaps through cloud computing. Sensitive information that is transferred over the internet should be encrypted. Enterprise mobility management often includes VPNs, or virtual private networks, which provide security and privacy to employees accessing and sending data remotely.

    If telecommuting is part of your company’s current or future plans, be sure your technology is aligned with that goal.

    Mobile meeting technologies

    The evolution of live video streaming technology has been incredibly rapid and has changed business profoundly. Simply put, you no longer have to be in the same room to have a face-to-face meeting.

    Video calls can be useful for communicating one-on-one with a worker, conducting a remote job interview, and so on. Video conferences take that idea a step further, and enable full-scale presentations and meetings — they can include shared screens, chat via text, file exchanges, digital whiteboards and more. A variety of different kinds of meetings are possible, ranging from lecture-style meetings in which only one person is speaking, or forums where different attendees can speak. Collaboration on documents or diagrams can be enabled.

    Videoconferencing can be an excellent option to meet with clients or co-workers when travel is time-consuming, difficult, or expensive. Virtual meetings can be less desirable in some situations, such as if the meeting is sensitive and the meeting participants don’t know each other, or if reading body language is important.

    A wide range of videoconferencing services are available, ranging from free and relatively unsophisticated services to more robust paid solutions. PC Magazine has identified some of the most popular and versatile services as ClickMeeting and Cisco WebEx Meeting Center. Many such services have a free trial period.

    Implications of mobile phones in the wireless revolution

    Almost everyone has a mobile phone connected to the internet available anytime, anywhere, and is reachable via phone or text anytime. This has revolutionized the way people live — and the way they do business. Some 80% of internet users own a smartphone, and they are spending increasing amounts of time online using their phones.

    Mobile web use has grown 400% in the past decade, and web design has had to change accordingly. The term “responsive website” means that the website responds automatically to the device accessing it – so the site will look and work great on the tablets and smartphones available now (as well as new devices not invented yet), regardless of screen size. If your website is not responsive, you’re missing customers, even if you’re a business-to-business operation and expect that most people browsing your site are doing so from a desktop. Google Analytics tracks what types of devices are used to access your site – if you haven’t looked at that figure lately, you might be surprised.

    We’ve all had the experience of accessing a website that isn’t optimized from mobile on a smartphone and giving up in frustration. According to Google, 61% of customers are unlikely to return to a site if they had trouble accessing it on mobile – instead, 40% go straight to a competitor.

    Mobile e-commerce is catching up as well — 40% of all online purchases in 2015 were made from a mobile device, but this is expected to grow to 70% by this year. If you sell online, your website must be responsive.

    Email newsletters are somewhat behind websites in becoming optimized for mobile, because it is technically more complicated to design email newsletters that render well on small screen sizes. But people read email on their smartphones at an increasing rate. Some 70% of consumers delete emails that don’t look good on a mobile device. It’s predicted that by 2018, eight in 10 email users will access email exclusively from mobile devices. Thus, it’s increasingly important that your e-newsletter is responsive, too.

    How DQE can help

    DQE Communications can help your organization adapt to the great wireless revolution with customized, reliable network solutions dedicated to your business needs. With guaranteed symmetrical upload and download speeds, you can be sure your business offices stay connected, giving your organization the ever-changing flexibility and bandwidth scalability it demands. Contact us today to find out how we can help.