The rush to work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has led to a rapid adoption of video-based meeting services, often without organizations having the time to perform necessary due diligence to evaluate security and compliance capabilities. Of late, a few security-related issues have arisen around Zoom Meetings, leading Zoom founder Eric Yuan to pen a blog post stating that he has implemented a 90-day feature development freeze to focus resources on addressing security issues.
As you can imagine, Zoom’s competitors have used these issues to reinforce their own commitments to security as they attempt to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Most recently, Zoom’s encryption model has come under attack, underscoring an issue that isn’t unique to Zoom. Like Cisco and Symphony, Zoom offers end-to-end encryption for its messaging app. However, Zoom doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption for meetings. Rather, as described her, it encrypts voice and video data in transit between the Zoom client or Zoom Room endpoint to Zoom’s servers, but once the data reaches the servers, Zoom must decrypt the data to support recording, transcription, and a variety of other features. Zoom isn’t alone in this respect. For meeting vendors to offer advanced features such as transcription and recording; take advantage of emerging AI capabilities like facial recognition; or support third-party integrations, they must be able to unencrypt video and audio data to analyze it.
The common model for encryption among meeting applications is data at rest (on the provider’s servers) and in motion (e.g., endpoint to server). Cisco is worth noting as an exception, as it does offer an end-to-end encryption option for Webex Meetings.
However, as Cisco notes, using this option disables its web app, recording, the ability for participants to join a meeting before the host arrives, and the use of video endpoints. Another vendor, Wire, offers end-to-end encryption for videoconferencing and messaging, but has a limit of 10 participants per call. The fact that most all video meeting vendors have neither end-to-end encryption nor the ability for customers to manage their own encryption keys as standard in their services means that government entities can obtain a warrant and tap meetings.
Most cloud providers, including Cisco, Google, and Microsoft, publish transparency reports that list government requests for data. Yuan’s blog post notes that Zoom will soon likewise do the same to address concerns about meeting data the government might be requesting to access. More to the point, the debate over end-to-end encryption brings up the question as to whether or not enterprises truly need it to meet their security and compliance needs. Obviously, the unique needs of the organization will drive requirements.
Those operating in regulated industries, conducting meetings in which personally identifiable information is shared (e.g., telemedicine), or involved in national security, will likely have more stringent security requirements than say an analyst firm having an internal meeting to discuss an upcoming research project. For those organizations that truly can’t take the risk of a meeting vendor, or third-party entity, gaining access to meeting data, on-premises meeting platform options from vendors such as Cisco, Compunetix, and Pexip may suffice. Using these kinds of platforms means that a company is buying, deploying, and managing its own conferencing infrastructure within its data center, or within a public cloud service that it controls.
For those responsible for information security and/or collaboration, it’s worth taking some time to understand the security capabilities of vendors in use, and those you may be evaluating for future use. Start first with documenting your own requirements for information protection and privacy and conduct a thorough assessment of whether or not cloud providers can meet your needs, or if you will need to consider an on-premises option.
People around the world are discovering the power of video conferencing and webcasting as an alternative to meeting in person. There are so many advantages: zero travel time, easy meeting recordings, the ability to jump into a meeting with anyone, anywhere, at literally a moment’s notice, and—of course—it’s a safe way to connect during the COVID-19 outbreak.
At the same time, many business owners are wondering, “Are there hidden costs to doing this? Am I running any risk by having meetings on video? Should I postpone the high-stakes ones until I can meet in person?”
Webcasting vs. In-Person Lectures
Many people feel unsure about replacing a large meeting or lecture with a webcast. The concerns are reasonable: it’s a real nightmare when a meeting with 100+ attendees suffers from technological difficulties.
That’s why having high-performance software is crucial. If you’re connecting with a group on video, you need to know what to expect. Specifically, considering the powerful tools that exist today, you should expect total reliability, a consistent video stream, and high audio quality. With good software, you can take those things for granted. That’s why universities and schools are judicious when choosing a platform for educational webcasts.
Trust Building on Video
Researchers have found that people come to trust each other more quickly via Video, compared to audio-only. On the other hand, it does take longer compared to meeting in person.
This is understandable—you’re not really there, in the room, with the person; in reality, you’re looking at a screen. However, that’s not a reason to stall meetings until a nebulous future time. Instead, you can use proven techniques to give yourself an edge while forging trust via Video.
- Making a point of talking about personal, non-work-related topics
- Avoiding multitasking
- Respecting the other person’s privacy by meeting without background noise and muting when necessary
- Always showing up to video meetings on time
Distinguish yourself as a reliable, trustworthy person by adopting these simple habits, even if you’re limited to virtual meetings.
The Meeting Must Go On
Come what may, virtual meetings are a reliable and effective substitute for meetings that can’t happen in an office or over lunch. When people are spread across the globe, homesick, or otherwise separated, video meetings are much more efficient than audio calls alone for communication and collaboration. That’s thanks to the full range of expression you can apply on video.
By thinking your in-person event, conference or trade show strategy, you can provide the content your attendees want to hear, but in a way that’s safe for everyone involved. A webcast allows you to stream video to thousands of attendees with global scalability. You might even see attendance increase in comparison to an in-person event thanks to removed barriers.
Rely on the Best Tools
It’s undeniable: new challenges do surface when you replace in-person meetings with virtual ones. However, if you have reliable technology, many of those challenges disappear and become non-issues.
In the first week of March, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon began encouraging employees to work from home for their own health and safety
As far as big tech is concerned, business operations haven’t really changed much. In fact, companies like Apple and Microsoft continue to hire throughout the pandemic.
Most organizations in the country, however, don’t share the same luck. A survey found that only 12% of organizations were ready to manage disruptions caused by COVID-19. Many simply didn’t have the infrastructure, training, or experience to support prolonged remote work, resorting to panic buying and implementing technologies left and right with unprecedented urgency. Businesses simply weren’t prepared for a crisis like this, and they’re paying the price.
As the initial shock wears off and businesses stabilize, leaders have started to re-evaluate their remote work and business continuity plans to avoid future periods of disruption. A survey by PwC found that finance leaders are planning to pivot toward measures that improve business resilience and agility, with 68% of respondents putting work flexibility as their number one priority.
Remote work drives business operations through tough times
Remote work growth increased 159% between 2005 and 2017, with a 78% increase in job listings posted on LinkedIn within two years that offered flexible work perks. The reality on the ground was much different, however. Only 7% of workers had the luxury of regularly working from home, and 94% wanted more flexible work options.
When COVID-19 struck, however, remote work transformed from an employee privilege to business necessity overnight. Employees everywhere suddenly had their traditional in-office work schedules turned upside down.
To many experts’ surprise, the shift to remote work has actually exceeded expectations. Organizations have been able to continue business operations despite being distributed. According to a Deloitte survey, 75% of CFOs say their companies are operating at 80% capacity or higher. While it’s no stretch that businesses are struggling during the crisis, findings show that the mass remote work situation isn’t as bad as leaders anticipated. In fact, leaders are now the true value of remote work, going so far as to announce permanent work from anywhere flexibility.
From the employee perspective, working from home isn’t so bad either. A CNBC survey found that 38% of employees are happier with their jobs now than they were in previous months. Employees with flexible work schedules show less stress and burnout while being happier, more engaged, and more productive. Organizations with highly-engaged employees have 59% less turnover and achieve 21% greater profitability than their competitors.
The intersection between remote work and business continuity
As shelter-at-home restrictions ease across the world, the return to work won’t be sudden. Organizations will have to enact safety measures to prioritize employee health or have employees continue working from home. In many cases, the latter might be a better option. Cubicles and open offices cram as many employees into small spaces as possible, and it’s simply not feasible with the virus still floating around.
Business leaders have realized that, in order to continue operations, remote work is essential to their business continuity plans. A survey on 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19, with nearly a quarter planning to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
The shelter-at-home orders gave managers and executives a first-hand look at the advantages of remote work. Seeing operations continue and employees productive, leaders became much more receptive to work flexibility. In fact, forward-thinking organizations such as Facebook and Twitter announced that employees can work from home until the end of 2020—a monumental step toward the future of work.
Unified communications are vital to the future of employee collaboration
As companies geared up for remote work, demand for cloud communications tools reached a critical mass. Business app downloads increased by 90% in March compared to the previous year, with video conferencing and team messaging tools taking the spotlight. Organizations realized that these tools are essential for employees to effectively collaborate with their teams from home.
The issue, however, is that most organizations were forced to cobble together temporary technology solutions that aren’t optimized to work synergistically or match with long-term IT goals. These disparate solutions might have been solid short-term Band-Aids to survive the pandemic, but don’t make sound solutions down the road.
One of the biggest concerns is the overabundance of technology. Having an app for each mode of communication—team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone—means employees need to manage several different apps at the same time. Studies show that 68% of employees toggle between 10 apps in a single hour, with some even juggling up to 15. Workplace technologies are ripping employees’ attention spans apart, leading to lower productivity, fatigue, and stress.
At the same time, disparate apps can cause major long-term headaches for IT teams. Organizational needs are constantly changing, and scaling several solutions to match one another can be a technical nightmare. IT teams would also have to work with several service providers whose products might not cooperate.
That’s where unified communications come in. Unified communications solutions allow employees to effortlessly switch between team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone with a single click—never having to leave the app. With everything under one roof, IT teams can easily manage compatibility, scalability, and support issues with a single provider.
Businesses with unified communications thrive in the future of work
As organizations look toward recovery and continuity plans, a major priority for leaders is to ensure the continued productivity of their remote workforce. COVID-19 proved that employees can deliver results and drive positive business outcomes even amidst a national health crisis and enforced office shutdowns. Returning to normal will require workers to stay remote and productive, and organizations must do what they can to support them.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many businesses had no choice but to pivot to remote work. They quickly invested in technology that enabled staff to communicate and collaborate more efficiently, wherever they might be located. Work/life balance took on new meaning as “going to the office” became “walking to the kitchen table” and spouses and children became the new office mates overnight. For many workers, it was a dramatic shift.
Now, as businesses begin to reopen, many experts believe remote work will be a permanent part of the business landscape. Twitter and Square, for example, recently announced their employees will have the option to work-from-home (WFH) permanently. Is this a good thing? Are blanket “everyone-work-remotely” policies sustainable, or even desirable?
The Upside—And Downside—Of Working Remotely
For years, working from home was viewed as the ultimate perk. Candidates interviewing for a new job often asked if telecommuting was possible. After all, who doesn’t want to avoid long commutes and distracting workplaces? Or to have the flexibility to work in a way more aligned with their own natural rhythms rather than pigeonholed into a standard 9-to-5 day?
While we rarely talk about the downsides of WFH, they do exist. Examples range from work-related challenges such as limited collaboration and reduced creativity to personal issues, such as loneliness and feelings of isolation. With so many styles of work, it’s no surprise that levels of productivity and work satisfaction can vary greatly from employee to employee.
However, there are tools that managers and organizations can use to mitigate the challenges involved in working from home. Many companies have found creative ways to keep co-workers connected, productive and happy even while they’re dispersed. They’ve learned it’s critical to focus on practices and policies that address emotional and environmental concerns. At the same time, organizations also need to take full advantage of technology that closely mirrors in-person activities.
Here are some of the common downsides of remote work—and a few options for addressing each.
1. Have You Lost Serendipity Along With The Break Room?
Also missing are the casual connections that happen naturally in a physical workspace. Colleagues pass each other in the hallway or chat over a cup of coffee. These chance encounters often spark creativity and innovation. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions,” he said. “You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say “wow”, and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Rediscovering serendipity requires extra effort in the world of remote work. Encourage co-workers to create “thinking time” with each other by picking up the phone or setting up a chat to work through ideas. Some companies have organized morning coffee breaks, just to mirror the kind of interaction that happens in the micro-kitchen. Set up brainstorming video sessions with breakout rooms, so workers can share in more intimate groups, as well as the larger meeting.
2. Has The Boundary Between Work And Home Blurred?
One challenge of working from home is managing the boundaries between home life and work. Among the hardest hit at the start of the pandemic were parents with school-aged children. Juggling home-schooling along with job responsibilities was no easy feat.
Another problem? Too much availability. Due to multiple electronic devices and strong bandwidth, most people are now accessible 24/7—which, many find, isn’t a good thing. According a 2017 United Nations report, the result is more stress for remote workers—41% versus 25% for office workers.
Anecdotally, employees report that their workday has stretched since they started working from home. Research bears this out. In 2019, q cloud infrastructure company conducted a survey of remote tech workers. Over half of respondents reported they worked longer hours than colleagues in the office, and 40% felt they needed to contribute more because of their remote status.
Balancing work and family is often most difficult for employees with children or other caretaking responsibilities. Many workers in this situation feel pulled in too many directions, with not enough time or capacity to properly manage both work and family demands.
Just as employers set expectations for the normal in-office workday, they should lay out parameters for the work-at-home day. Some managers go so far as to only send email during business hours. For employees who are juggling competing priorities, consider working out a more flexible schedule.
3. Technology’s Role In The Future Of Remote Work
Having the right collaboration and communications technology in place is essential. According to the Clutch report, 26% of companies have ramped up their communications technology during COVID-19.
Unified communications allows workers to communicate easily using any device or mode, whether it’s joining a conference call, using the phone, emailing or instant messaging. In addition, the best systems offer a virtual workspace so that team members can share information, assign tasks, schedule meetings and manage projects.
4. Is Your Team Culture Fading?
The lack of in-person—or even virtual—socializing weakens the connections between workers. A recent survey conducted found that companies aren’t doing enough to bridge this gap. One-third (35%) of survey respondents said their company hasn’t hosted any virtual social events since the current wave of remote work began.
Socializing, though, plays a key role in building team cohesive, making it time to move video conference calls beyond meetings with agendas. Instead, foster team spirit by using the technology to bring everyone together in fun ways, for example, virtual coffee breaks, happy hours, meals or games like trivia contests at the end of the workday. Use email or team workspace platforms to share photos, like the “best quarantine snack” or dream vacation spot. Contract with a local yoga studio to provide virtual yoga sessions or midday stretches.
5. Are Your Employees Feeling Exhausted, Lonely And Stressed?
In a global survey of 2,700 employees across over 10 industries conducted during March and April 2020, employees reported higher levels of stress (67%), anxiety (57%) and emotional exhaustion (53%). Of respondents who lacked informal personal contact in their daily lives, 19% reported a decline in their mental health.
Working remotely impacts employees differently. While a parent may feel stressed due to childcare responsibilities, the colleague who lives alone can easily experience depression, loneliness and self-recrimination. Without the reality check of family and friends, it’s easy to misinterpret an email or second guess your every move.
And when communications are only focused on business tasks, remote workers can begin to feel like a mere cog in the machine. The informal personal contact that occurs naturally in a physical workspace takes more effort to replicate in a virtual environment.
Probably those hit hardest are extroverts. They feed on the energy that comes from personal interactions. While an introvert can contentedly sit in front of a computer for most of the day, the extrovert drags under the same circumstances. Depression and a lack of productivity often result.
Many managers schedule check-in calls with employees just to see how things are going, not to discuss work tasks. In a post-pandemic era, companies will have to rethink the types of mental health resources they offer, putting policies and resources in place to help those employees who may struggle with the lack of social contact. To mirror “over the cubicle wall” conversations, some employees may keep a video channel open or use chat to check in with colleagues. After social-distancing mandates end, consider organizing local meetups for those working remotely. Schedule meetings at the office on a quarterly or monthly basis.
Experts predict that the future workplace will be a hybrid, with some work done in the office and some from a remote location.
COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on how work is accomplished. One thing’s for sure: it won’t be the same as before. In the post-pandemic workplace, each company will need to find the right balance of policies and technology for their business and culture.