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3 Ways Unified Communications Can Help Build the Future of Remote Work

Written by: Isabella Nielson

It’s hard to think back and remember life in the office, where the cloud was optional and video conferencing was only for international clients. In March, many companies moved to a work from home approach and expected their employees to instantly understand how to manage and use platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Slack at an expert level.

Many months later, employees are still in need of help from IT with their unified communications (UC) operations. We previously discussed IT’s role in employee experience and their responsibility for the ease of use of unified communication and collaboration platforms as well as monitoring of workplace analytics. With this year’s massive shift to remote work, IT has felt the pressure increase.  

Although unified communications and collaboration platforms are essential to the success of remote work, the well-being of employees is even more crucial. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many companies to focus on the idea of employee resilience for the first time.

But what is employee resilience? In the past, employee resilience looked very different than it currently does. The ability to work past physical disruptions was the old narrative. Now, adaption to a completely digital workplace and home offices with limited social interaction is the new challenge facing employees. Digital employee resilience is the strength of workers to adapt to the environment surrounding them, whether that directly affects their work, or it’s simply working beyond external factors.  

This type of resilience is key to the success of remote work, but employees cannot be successful alone. We’ve outlined three ways that IT, working together with HR and management, can better leverage UC and collaboration platforms to build digital employee resilience and support the future of remote work.

Unified Communications  

1. Create a Digital Community with Unified Communications and Collaboration Platforms

Make-shift home offices come with countless hours of sitting alone or with family working around you. This can create a reasonable distraction and a sense of isolation for employees.

How can IT, HR, and management bring the office-like “social life” to their remote employees? Taking full advantage of the collaboration platforms in which companies have invested can create company-wide engagement and help improve morale.  

Leveraging technology to create a stronger sense of community can be one of the most effective ways for IT to support digital employee resilience. But this kind of support needs to go beyond implementing a unified communications platform.

Creating and enforcing policies around UC usage gives employees a starting point of what to expect from these new apps. Trainings around key features like presence, file sharing, and integrations with other apps helps workers be even more efficient than they were in the office. Don’t forget to also touch on things like GIF sharing that bring a sense of camaraderie into the digital sphere. On top of that, IT’s proactive monitoring and troubleshooting of issues that arise on these platforms can have a direct positive impact on employee resilience.  

What’s the best platform for you — Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, or another? See how we stack them against each other.

HR can also use these apps to support employee resilience. Even though most end users are not currently working from the office, communication between managers and employees should not decrease or stop. If anything, communication should increase to fill the gap left by a lack of in-person interaction.

HR should encourage managers to host meetings and one-on-ones with team members to help them set goals and define priorities. Persistent communication is valuable, especially since remote employees may feel uncertain about their managers’ availability and expectations. Management can further bolster morale by creating virtual happy hours, team games, or informal groups for friendly chatter to help replace the previous social aspect of the office.  

Workplace analytics

2. Manage Remote Workers with Cross-Application Visibility and Workplace Analytics

When everyone was in one office together it was easy to watch over employees’ work, and track and catch up with them. Expectations were clear, and every app and device needed was ready at the drop of a hat. Working from home requires a strong sense of trust between management and employees to get their job done well.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is, unfortunately, a phrase that has become a little too common for management working with their out-of-office employees. Many remote workers feel extra pressure to communicate their work activities. According to the August 2020 Productivity Overview Data report from Nemertes Research, 55% of respondents said that managing remote employees is their biggest work from home challenge. IT is, in part, responsible for providing the management and support needed for remote employees to get their work done, stay connected, and stay happy.  

Unified communications and collaboration platforms support digital employee resilience by bridging the communication and productivity gap between remote and physical in-office management. IT can aid efficient team and project management by setting up their UC platforms as a central hub for work. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack include integrations with many pre-existing tools ranging from project management apps like Trello, Asana, and Jira to team-specific tools like Smartsheet, ADP, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

These integrations allow end-users to access key features of their most-used third-party apps, illuminate workplace analytics metrics, and share that information with other team members without leaving their UC platform. This increases visibility between employees, managers, and entire teams. In turn, this clarity leads to better project outcomes and happier employees.  

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But it’s important to understand exactly what employees need to make the most out of working from home. Adopting and deploying the correct third-party app integrations provides better visibility, easier management, and streamlined monitoring. This can create an external incentive for higher productivity at the home office.

Meet with each team to determine which apps they need to access within the UC platform and implement those. This will ensure everyone has the tools they need without cluttering their workspace with unused apps. Then follow this up with a policy for employees to request access to other integrations in the future, and ongoing monitoring of what’s getting used and what isn’t. Governance like this helps workers access the information they need, and IT and InfoSec can confirm all integrations meet company security expectations.

With the support of IT, these apps can be useful for both the end-user and managers to keep in contact with employees and ensure that they stay happy — all while meeting project deadlines.  

remote work

3. Implement Technology that Supports Work-Life Balance

Now, more than ever, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult. When your desk is in the same building — and sometimes the same room — as your bed, it can feel like work life is always blending with your home life. The boundary between where work ends and relaxation begins can be non-existent. With workload and productivity expectations that are the same or higher than when everyone was in the office, employee burnout is a real threat to resilience.  

Gartner has provided some insight into how IT and managers can help their workers create the necessary boundaries between work and personal hours. Allowing for flexibility in schedule and accommodating alternate start and end times makes the hours worked more effectively. This is valuable for employee resilience, as it gives employees control of how and when they work.

A changing work environment also requires a changing workload. What once involved walking over to a colleague’s desk to have a short meeting has turned into an endless chain of calls and emails. A Zoom call just isn’t the same as a quick hallway conversation. As resources, productivity, and expectations evolve, the workload should likewise adapt to incorporate these new elements.  

Microsoft is taking a stance on preserving employee well-being with several new Teams features announced at the recent Ignite conference. The ability to schedule and set working hours on a visible calendar is a first step towards creating a boundary between work and home. The new “virtual commute” experience that will soon come to Teams allows employees some time to themselves. This establishes time without distractions, perhaps to have coffee and check email in the morning or set tomorrow’s tasks and “unwind” after a long day. This is a meaningful transition for unified communications into managing focus, resisting burnout, and supporting the resilience of employees wherever and whenever they’re working.  

The crowded fast-paced environment of an office will, for better or worse, never look the same. COVID-19 has not only fast-tracked an evolved end user work experience, it has also accelerated a shift for how and what IT is on point to manage. For IT staff to effectively tag-team with their HR colleagues and all levels of management to support employee resilience, they need the right tools to keep UC and collaboration platforms running smoothly.

Our PowerSuite software can help IT monitor many aspects of workplace analytics and manage the performance and security of the remote work experience using Microsoft Teams and Zoom in one single pane of glass. 

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