Snowmageddon 2011 hammered us here in Sedalia, and as a result, we worked from home. Telecommuting can be very productive, but it requires some preparation. Emergency telecommuting, like what we did, is typically done without any of this preparation. Let’s quickly review seven preparatory steps that could make for more effective emergency telecommuting the next time the situation hits your office:
1) Add Remote Call Forwarding services on your primary phone number(s). This lets you redirect your calls, so if no one is at the office, your phone doesn’t ring unanswered or go to voice mail. With remote call forwarding in place, you’ll be able to call in, use a password, and redirect the call.
2) Consider using a service like RingCentral (www.ringcentral.com). Set it up in advance with an auto-attendant, assign extensions (which forward to employee’s home or cell phones), then use Remote Call Forwarding see above) to forward your normal business number to your RingCentral-assigned number. Your staff may be working from home, but none of your phone callers will know it. And after it’s assigned, you can manage the entire service instantly via the RingCentral website.
3) Provide a phone directory. Whether or not you use a RingCentral-style solution, make sure your staffers know how to best reach each other. And remember that just because an employee has a home phone doesn’t mean it will be available. Other family members may want or need access to that home line. Maybe the cell phone is the best option in a telecommuting emergency.
4) Set up VPN (Virtual Private Network) functionality on your network so that you can connect from home as though you were setting in your office. We’ve become dependent on our networked data, and you’re sure to need something on that server while you sit stranded at home.
5) Create a real office space. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, working for an entire day with a notebook computer on a lap desk is a world away from doing that for a couple of hours in the evening. A real desk, room to place papers, a door to close out the kids, and good lighting all make big differences.
6) Provide virtual meeting space. A solution like Cisco’s WebEx, combined with microphones and cameras at each computer, provides an inexpensive way for several people to collaborate. You’ll be able to use this with clients and vendors, too. There’s no need to wait for an emergency to take advantage of this communications tool. And many assume this technology is meant for someone else. Don’t fall into that trap. Use it a few times, and you’ll soon understand its value.
7) Consider backup Internet connections for key personnel. An emergency telecommuting situation is likely to come up due to a weather-related issue, and those issues often wreak havoc on Internet connections. In this last blizzard, my house didn’t lose power, but my wireless Internet connection at home, which relies on power availability at several other locations before it reaches my ISP’s main office, was out for six hours over two days. Fortunately, I was able to use my cell phone for email. But if you have to have Internet service, check into backup alternatives. One that would have worked for me: an upgrade to my HTC Evo (Android-based) phone service through Sprint would allow me to use my phone as a wireless hotspot so that other devices (i.e., my notebook computer) could connect to the Internet via my cell phone’s 3G/4G connection.
Though telecommuting is an idea that’s yet to catch on in some locations, the occasional emergency may leave your company without options: it’s telecommute, or don’t work at all. Investing some planning time before such an emergency situation happens in your office may make your next telecommuting experience far more productive.