Author: Paul Beaumont, Central Networks and Technologies
Coronavirus has fundamentally changed the world. We are all going through very challenging, unprecedented times, and as social distancing and self-isolation measures have been introduced, it is crucial that we stay connected with the rest of the world while remaining at home – and safe.
It’s equally important however, that housing associations continue to provide excellent customer service for their tenants and this is where technology comes in.
Home working is now essential; even if you’re not yet set up to fully instigate working from home you will need to begin to adapt. Allowing your employees to continue to work in a safe environment not only means greater employee morale during worrying times for all, it means your business can continue to operate and communicate, even at reduced capacity. Here, we provide some tips to ensure that Housing Associations stay connected during the outbreak.
Ensure you have effective phone systems in place
Phones are an essential way we communicate with one another. If you have an effective phone system in place, your employees can seamlessly communicate with each other and with tenants from the comfort of their own home. This can also help to ensure that you are continuing to provide great customer service. The ability to take phone calls and possibly high-volume calls is crucial.
You might decide to just keep it simple and divert individual extensions to employee mobiles. However, this isn’t the best solution for call centre based, customer service staff. A better solution might be to give your employees handsets to use at home, however you need to bear in mind that this would take some time to implement.
One of the main options to consider might be the use of softphones. A softphone is a software program for making telephone calls over the internet rather than dedicated hardware. This means your employees use a phone from their PC or Laptop. It’s a useful tool, but if your system isn’t cloud based, you may need a virtual private network (VPN) to facilitate this.
Utilise a virtual desktop
The most reliable and secure way to ensure employees can work remotely is via a virtual desktop infrastructure. Using this type of solution allows employees to work from anywhere with a desktop that replicates their office setup. Providing you have remote access and bandwidth to support connectivity, employees can, relatively easily, connect to your systems.
Harness the power of Office 365
You can use Office 365 web services from any computer to access email, files, Excel and Word online. This is still within your protected environment and there is no need to install the software.
You can also make use of Microsoft Teams to enable video conferencing, chat and virtual meeting rooms for your employees. Microsoft Teams is sophisticated product, allowing for deep, interactive information sharing.
Ensure smooth IT operations
Ensuring smooth IT operations is as crucial as ever. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself to reduce the risk of mishaps:
- Are my servers physically secure?
- Do I have sufficient security controls and monitoring in place?
- What if something goes wrong with a server? Is it configured with redundancy?
- Does it have remote monitoring and lights out management capability?
- Who will conduct backups and how will they take place?
- Are your backups still using old fashioned tape-based systems? If so, who can change them?
- How will our IT team run housekeeping routines?
By asking yourself these questions and making necessary contingency plans you’re putting yourself in the best position in the event of a dilemma.
Don’t forget about information security and GDPR
Sharing company information and data to external computers on unsecured servers can lead to breaches in confidentiality – if not handled correctly. There are several ways you can ensure your data remains safe.
Firstly, you should forbid the use of employees using their personal email address for work purposes. This poses serious risks of IP theft, losing company privacy or violating customer privacy. It can also disrupt network operations because of exploits that can be implemented on computers.
Another thing to consider is enabling two-factor authentication when accessing your systems remotely. This will give you and your system added protection. You should create a remote working policy for your employees, explaining the do’s and don’ts when processing from home.
In recent weeks, the way we work has been turned upside down. With the lockdown announced, housing associations are needing to adapt to maintain effective communication with staff and tenants. They can do this by ensuring that they have effective phone systems and virtual desktops in place. By being agile and also seeking any necessary IT support, social housing organisations can ensure effective – safe – communication during the outbreak – and beyond.