Beyond making more use of phones and email, organizations need to fully replace internal conversations and meetings — plus external interactions with clients and others — with online tools that enable those same forms of collaboration in natural, easy-to-use ways.
This is very do-able. As businesses and others adopt proven tools such as Teams and Zoom, NPI is offering free documentation, installation, and support for Canopy Managed Network clients, and providing no-charge advice to other organizations.
Internal collaboration (Teams, Slack, etc.)
These platforms integrate your calendar with in/out notification (“presence”) — and they offer video and voice “calls” for one-to-one and team meetings, with screen share, plus instant Chat. Free versions are quite capable. Higher-level functionality is available at low cost, or free for Microsoft 365 clients.
Tip: We find Chat to be more and more useful. With everyone spending more time on the phone and in virtual meetings, Chat functions much like passing a note, or poking one’s head into a colleague’s office.
Tip: In online meetings, you can turn video on or off — but it’s often useful to have it on. Seeing the people you’re talking with promotes engagement, and builds confidence that the work is getting done.
External collaboration (GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc.)
These provide for online multi-person conversations, with video and screen share. (Teams does that too, but it’s a bit clunky on adding external participants.)
Tip: Limitations on free versions of collaboration tools often make it worth upgrading at least some of your people to the paid version, especially for those who do lots of external interactions, such as sales people. And we can help you determine if you are eligible for free upgrades to these or similar tools.
Tip: With the high volume of new users, you may need to dial in more than once to get a conference call going. You may see a bit of video sputter, and participant status may not be updated as often as usual — but in general, we’re finding that service levels are very acceptable.
Tips: Set meetings to start 10 minutes before the hour or half-hour. If you’re responsible for the call, log on 10-15 minutes ahead of the start time. If you haven’t used the “test your equipment” button before, click on it 5-10 minutes before start time. Ask other participants to log in a few minutes early, and to check their equipment, too.
For audio-only conference calling, we recommend FreeConferenceCall, which lets people, including groups of 3 or more, join a meeting from a cell phone. (That requires the paid version of Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Teams.) All these platforms permit headset-based conference calling.
Tip: Test your conference call number, and if it is often busy, text the number provided from your cell phone to receive a new one.
Adapting your phone system
As businesses shift to the remote-user workplace, adopting a Cloud-hosted phone system can offer all the functionality you’ve had in the office:
- Calls received on a cell can be forwarded to a colleague, or picked up by company voicemail.
- It’s easy to set up conference calls, add users to calls, and manage voicemail.
- Your outgoing calls identify the company as the caller. Incoming business calls can have a different ring from personal calls.
- All calls can be made from your computer, using a headset — and if you’re listening to music, that can be muted when a call comes in.
These “soft” phone systems are basically extensions to your current phone setup. They can be set up quickly.
Tip: Cloud-hosted phone systems are so rich in features that, depending on the capacities of your IT department, it’s advisable to have NPI or another phone vendor provide installation, setup, and training.
Finding the right equipment
Along with a well-functioning Internet link — and when that’s an issue, we can help — clients sometimes need equipment that they find is in short supply. Strategies we’re recommending:
- Deploy MFF-based systems instead of laptops. At present, laptop delivery may be six to eight weeks away — but you can equip your people instead with a keyboard, a mouse and a micro form factor (MFF) PC. These powerful mini-PCs do the job, and are currently available in 2-3 days.
- Docking stations can also be tough to find — but while useful, they’re not essential.
- We can help find monitors when needed. We recommend setting each user up with at least two monitors, such as a laptop and an external monitor.
- And we advise clients on printers, scanners and multi-function machines that are available to meet home-user needs.
Contact us to learn more or request a free consultation.
We’ll get in touch quickly.
Resources: Links, documentation & more
- Internal Collaboration
The free version of Teams usually allows meetings for up to 60 minutes with a 100 person cap, but during COVID-19 they are allowing meetings of any length (up to 24 hours) with a maximum of 300 participants. Most Microsoft 365 customers get the even-more-capable “paid” version for free, including centralized management and the option of dial-in phone numbers. For a copy of our two-page NPI cheat sheet on installing and using Teams, please contact us here
- External collaboration
For video collaboration with external participants and for larger internal meetings, we recommend several tools. Initially, we couldn’t include Zoom because of issues with unwanted participants and privacy. Over the past several months, they have fixed the concern with Facebook data sharing and have added two-factor authentication to make a more secure environment. They offer a free version for 100 people for up to 40 minutes and team plans start at $12.50/mo/license. GoToMeeting offers a 14-day free trial and paid accounts start at a reasonable $12/month/presenter. Both WebEx and Hangouts offer free versions with up to 100 participants and paid versions starting at $8.00-$13.50/month/presenter.
– Google Hangouts
What we’re doing to keep our staff, our clients, and the community safe
- We are offering clients a variety of free documentation, installation, and support services not normally included in their agreements.
- We are offering folks who are not clients free advice and consultation.
- We work remotely whenever possible — 95% of our staff are working from home during Vermont’s shelter-in-place period.
- We are prioritizing and expediting all work that relates to clients’ remote operation and self-isolation needs.
- We follow rigorous procedures for work that’s required at critical client sites. These include hand-washing on entry and exit; disinfecting keyboards and mice before and after every use; and careful social distancing, such as not occupying cubicles and offices when they’re in use by client staff.
- On request, we will do required on-site work during off-hours, at no extra cost.
- NPI company vehicles are now dedicated rather than shared.