Eight weeks ago, a normal day involved getting the kids up and going to school. Starting your day with a networking meeting at a local coffee shop, then stopping by a client’s office. Maybe stopping by the local department store to grab a birthday present over lunch, then heading into the office, which is a series of cubicles with everyone working closely together and able to collaborate around the conference room table, or more often than not the coffee maker. Our day might end with another networking, or social event in a crowded bar with a few adult beverages either hoping to land next big client, or to just complain about Jessica in accounting.
Then, our world was turned upside down. The kids are home “E-Learning” through the end of the school year. What was one day a month has turned into the full-time curriculum. This is leaving parents, and school administrators with lots of questions, and looking for answers about the fall semester.
Retail stores just started reopening but limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time. They’ve installed plastic dividers between the customer and the cashiers. They are asking customers to pay with a credit or debit card, because cash exchanges hands too much, and going to an email or texted receipt, so that the cashier does not need to hand a receipt to the customer. Many stores are asking shoppers to wear a mask. I took my dog to the vet for his annual exam. They came out to my vehicle and got him. Once his exam was completed, they brought him back and put him in my vehicle. Then the doctor called to discuss the exam, had me pay over the phone, and they emailed me a receipt. A local coffee shop has converted a canoe paddle into a “coffee delivery system” for their curbside service. No one is allowed inside, and all orders must be placed via their website or app. Our local restaurants are doing carry out or delivery only. When they do start to reopen, it will be with very limited indoor seating and no large gatherings.
These are some of the new normal we have accepted already over the last few weeks, with even more unknown changes to come. The idea of Walk-in service is gone currently. Everyone must make an appointment. Many of the personal services, such as hair or nail salons are opening and asking people to call or text when they have arrived and can’t come inside for their appointment until approved to enter. In some cases, employees and customers are having their temperature taken with a forehead thermometer before they can enter.
Within client office space, we’re seeing workers return, but even that’s not like before. Computers and desks need to be spread farther apart. If an employee is higher risk, then they will remain as a remote worker for now. In some cases, a single person from a department is reporting to work, while the others work remotely. One company created a schedule having a couple of employees in the office each day, but it’s a different set each day.
One office is doing a rotating schedule so only a few people are in the office each day. When they arranged the schedule, they put people working on the same project in the office together. This allows them to ask quick questions, because management realized that the staff is less likely to pick up a phone or send an email if they feel it’s a “quick question”. Their office doesn’t have a secured instant messaging solution.
Most people believe that this new Normal is going to continue to see employees working from home. I was told today that September is the expected timeframe for home visits to be allowed again for educational, behavior or foster care systems. Carrying hand sanitizer within our vehicle, purses, briefcases, and even pockets is now part of our society.
Within the Tech industry, we’re also seeing challenges with this new Normal. With needing to move desks farther apart, sometimes the existing networking and power cables aren’t long enough to reach. Keeping your workers remote long term instead of just temporarily means the need to expand and protect your network increases. We discussed VPNs and VoIP phones in other blogs, but many haven’t considered exactly what this looks like for their network going forward.
We spoke last time about using Zoom, but some industries can’t use Zoom because it’s not secure enough for HIPA requirements and for passing Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which leaves companies to find another solution or option. Many of you may already have “Tools” in place and just don’t realize it. Microsoft Teams can be set up to allow only communications within your organization. The chat capabilities, as well as meetings, are solid tools. I recently worked with Microsoft’s tech support on a case for a client. The tech I was working with was calling me from India and the phone connection was just horrible. He had asked me if I had teams installed, and we did our meeting/tech support over Teams. It sounded like he was sitting right next to me. The quality of the conversation was exceptional, especially compared to the horrendous phone call we had previously.
When you are connecting multiple types of devices and operating systems – laptops, tablets, cell phones, both android and iOS, to your company data, there are challenges to make sure all the communication works securely without fail. Microsoft has really taken long strides to allow for this almost out of the box with the right licensing. Microsoft has rebranded the Office 365 name to Microsoft 365. It’s not just an “Office App” any longer, but more of an extension of your network, with security and threat protection built in. The premium package gives you device management that you can granularly configure, so if you don’t want Jessica from accounting to be able to access company data from an open network like from Starbucks (when they open up again), you can restrict that. Even to the point where if a cellphone, or laptop gets stolen you can force all company data to be wiped from the device even if you never see or have access to it again.
As we move into this new Normal, we suspect that we will continue to find new challenges as we go forward. When your business runs into these challenges, or if you have questions, we are here to help you with solutions so your company can thrive in this new environment.