This is a guest blog by Nadia Davis, senior marketing consultant, based on an interview with Tammy Valentine, president of LuckyTamm Digital Marketing. You can watch the original interview on IGTV or below.

Work from home (WFH), telecommuting, video conferences, screaming kids in the background, hectic workflow, #COVID19, “uncertainty” as the most popular opening keyword for online content … none of this is news anymore. We are all used to this new normal, as technology rules our workday now more than ever, and organizational success relies completely  on the ability of your workforce to have access to it  and use this technology fluently.

Adjusting to Technology is Like Grieving

Woman comforting another woman who is crying

Over the last month and a half of nationwide quarantine, we all learned new things about our tech comfort level. And it sure looked a lot like the five stages of grief.  Maybe your interaction with technology looked something like this:

At first, you  assumed that your need to up your tech game at home would be short-lived. This denial didn’t last — you quickly learned that you had to accept the new reality of virtual work for a much longer period of time than originally expected. 

Anger? Yes, you surely felt  a lot of frustration as networks went down, VPNs were overloaded, and finding out that multiple don’t talk to each other, thus hindering the workflow. And you probably weren’t the only person in your house feeling the rage. Even itsLearning, the most popular K-12 platform designed to support multiple students logging on at a time,  went under several times because it wasn’t ready for the user surge. 

After all this, you probably tried to bargain with multiple conferencing services to see if you could plug in your technology gaps with free services like Zoom, UberConference, or Google Hangouts. There’s no denying that these platforms soared in popularity as the reality of virtual work set in, and they definitely made communications easier for a lot of work-from-home warriors. But we are learning now that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, or a free conferencing platform. You have to pay for both in other ways. 

Finding Multiple Issues with Ad Hoc Free Accounts

While free technology sounds attractive, what we all soon found out is that free accounts often lack  the necessary encryption levels to keep our data protected. Zoom-bombing stories with hackers calling in and screaming profanities in the middle of a meeting made the national news. 

We also don’t yet understand what type of user tracking and data gathering these free services entail. Have you read all of those small font terms and conditions that you agreed to in a rush to get to the log-in screen? If you have, you deserve a medal.

While medical providers quickly switched to telehealth, some may have neglected to vet the video chat platform they were using for HIPAA compliance, thus exposing patient sensitive data to hackers. The ramifications of that are yet to be seen.

Lots of us switched to MS Teams. While Teams is great, the platform requires user training in order to achieve a seamless meeting experience. As practice showed, not all users were ready to embrace that level of technology on minutes’ notice.

So now the question remains: How do we make sure that if we switch to remote or virtual operations , our businesses, our employees and our customers are prepared?

Measuring Technology Use and Comfort Level

In order to prepare for the future, it’s important to look at the past. Let’s consider t three business scenarios with various levels of technology use and comfort level among employees and the difficulties each has had to face.

Technologically Behind Companies Facing an Uphill Battle

In-office only companies with no remote employees before the pandemic have had to work the most to deal with the realities of current work. 

Many members of this group include more conservative industries such as energy, banking, legal, construction, or healthcare. In this scenario, executives have generally prioritized in-person meetings to online experience, often due to compliance issues (such as the aforementioned HIPAA). 

These companies may not have had any teleconferencing policies or training for their workforce, so they had to scramble once everybody became remote. They also had to go up against a very steep learning and adoption curve to put remote operations in place in terms of IT and user fluency and comfort levels.

Consistency as a Problem for Hybrid Teams

Remote-and-in-office workforce organizations were in a better position. They already had a part of their workforce working remotely, so switching to an all-virtual environment company-wide was less of a hassle. But many of these organizations ran into the dilemma of lack of technology standardization across the org as many of these companies did not have one prefered remote conferencing provider. The employees were given freedom to use either Skype or Slack or MS Teams or Uber Conference or Clear Slide or Go to Meeting across various teams. 

The result was a wide range  of technological savviness across a number of platforms for different team members. Teleconferences through the platforms that some employees were less familiar with required on-the-go training with the presenter often having to ask people to mute themselves, or guiding them where to click to share their screen. 

Technologically Native Teams Have It Easiest

Lastly, tech and software companies or all-remote workforce companie  were in the best position as they had already been using remote conferencing. Typically they had a very clear procedure of what their platform of choice was company-wide with all employees knowing how to use it from their daily ops. Little changed for these companies, and they were  already well-positioned to continue their operations in a virtual space. Their IT had all the necessary security measures in place, user laptop authentication was seamless, and workflows experienced minimum interruption.

Looking to the Future of Tech Use for Remote Workers

Woman using virtual reality at her work desk

How do we ready ourselves for tomorrow, regardless of whether you are a millennial-filled agile software startup or a medium- or large-size business with a mixed gen X and baby boomer workforce that may need help embracing technology for all-virtual operations?

Here are our top five tips:

  1. Pick a platform that works for you. Whether it’s a paid Zoom account, MS Teams, Blue Jeans — find what works and commit to it. This will cost you money, just like all sound business investments. Quit thinking of technology investments as an expense, but rather as the cost of doing business. And please, don’t pick a service on price only — find a platform that can maintain or boost your current productivity levels.
  2. Train your people on your new platform. Make sure you use it every day, even when everyone is back in the office. Practice makes perfect and everybody takes a different amount of time to become comfortable with a new gadget. A company-wide mandatory training should be your standard!
  3. Ensure that your technology is secure for your employees and customers. Work with your IT team and make sure that they run contingency scenarios and do cyber security threat assessment to ensure that if you have to go all virtual again, you are bullet-proof to the hackers
  4. Trust your people. While work from home days were once viewed as a perk or a benefit, being forced to go entirely remote has changed that misconception. What many companies have learned is that most people are perfectly capable of pulling their weight without having to occupy office space. For those micromanagers who lived by the rule of having to keep tabs on their directs, this quarantine was a major discovery: meetings still took place, contracts got signed, marketing campaigns launched, and people did what they were supposed to do without needing to be told, closely supervised, or reminded. The truth is, most people  want to do a good job and appreciate it when their employer trusts their expertise and ability to execute it the way they see fit. We are all adults, we can take care of business, and we are much happier when we are allowed to do so on our terms while delivering the expected results. Hopefully trusting your employees more is one major silver lining of this pandemic. 

What Does “Normal” Mean Now?

As we start to go back to our pre-quarantine routines and adjust based on the new things we’ve learned, it won’t be a big surprise if a lot of employers started expanding their remote work programs based on the WFH success seen throughout the country. We have learned that WFH can be lucrative for both sides: a lower overhead for the business (with less office space to pay expenses on) and greater flexibility for the employees. 

To complete this shift, employers big and small have to create a remote technology game plan that can be robust enough to withstand mass use surges like what we experienced during COVID-19 closures. Start thinking about what you could offer your employees and your customers today if you were to take operations remote again. Pick your teleconferencing platform, test it, test it, and then test it some more with various stakeholders. Once approved, drive adoption company wide. Train people to get comfortable with technology, encourage its use even when we go back to offices to promote fluency. And if we ever have to repeat this country-wide remote experience again, we will hopefully be in a better technology enablement situation with fewer calls dropped, fewer people scrambling to get into a meeting, and more productive and life-like conversations in virtual reality.

Watch the full interview on IGTV below.