Companies must ensure that their communications are crisis-ready, says Aastra

As the flu season is getting closer, many businesses are increasingly worried about the effect of such pandemic on their operations. According to an April 28, 2009 press release by Gartner, Inc. entitled “Gartner Says Swine Flu Is a Reason to Act, Not Panic”, their analysts estimate that “a true pandemic could cause absenteeism rates of 40 percent or higher for enterprises and their business partners and suppliers, resulting in severe operational disruptions.” They recommend that businesses develop and implement pandemic response planning.

All too often business continuity plans focus solely on backup, data retrieval and site planning, overlooking how business communications might be impacted by high level of absenteeism and the effect that being out of touch with staff and customers could have on revenue streams. It’s not just pandemics that impact business operations: adverse weather conditions or strikes in public transport can have a dramatic effect on the ability for staff to be present in the office – and thus incur unanticipated costs for small and large businesses.

Aastra, a leading company at the forefront of the enterprise communication market, advises businesses on choosing the right tools to work remotely and maintain an active workforce in exceptional circumstances, as part of their business continuity planning.

1. Facilitate remote working

If members of staff need to work from home, they will require the right tools to work efficiently. Providing staff with laptops so that they can access emails is the most obvious choice. In fact research from Canalys*in 2008 found that the majority of organisations offering flexible working only equip employees with laptop PCs and rarely provide GSM connectivity. Yet equipping staff with the right communications technology, such as IP phone or soft phones, could enable them to make and receive calls on their usual number and benefit from all the features needed for efficient call management, even when working remotely.

2. Consider the right applications for better collaboration

Being away doesn’t have to mean to be out of touch. Simple presence management can ensure that calls are easily and effectively managed by enabling colleagues and customers to connect faster with the right people. By sharing their current status on a presence manager, staff can see whether colleagues are available to talk, helping to reduce “phone-tag” and improve productivity. Other solutions part of the unified communications portfolio (unified messaging, instant messaging) can also help remote collaboration.

3. Ensure that meetings can be held virtually

Previous pandemics have seen a drastic reduction in business travel. If employees are unable to travel to business meetings, videoconferencing can provide a reliable alternative to face-to-face meetings. This can be achieved through dedicated videoconferencing units at the company premises or even software based videoconferencing for home workers. More traditional conference calls can also be enriched with collaboration tools such as document sharing, making these virtual meetings even more effective. Many businesses are already using such tools to reduce costs, cut carbon emissions and boost productivity, so replacing meetings with video and teleconferences in a crisis can be a simple and straightforward solution leveraged all year around.

4. Enable your call centre agents to work remotely

Contact centres are the front line of all organisations, so it is essential they deliver the support expected by customer, facilitate order intake and provide information from public services. It is of utmost importance for companies to consider how call centres may be affected by unexpected events and to implement solutions enabling contact centre agents to work remotely with the same supervision tools as their colleagues in the office, to ensure the business can continue to operate seamlessly.

5. Integrate mobility

By fully integrating mobile phones into their communication systems with Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC), businesses of all sizes can ensure that members of staff can be reached effortlessly on a single number, no matter which device they are using or whatever their location. It can also increase employee efficiency by providing easy access on the move to the most popular features of a desk phone.

“Although a growing number of companies have developed contingency plans, some have not considered the important role that communications has to play. Without the right technology and policies in place, many businesses may be unable to function when disaster strikes,” said Michael Calvert, General Manger at Aastra UK.

“Embracing the right solutions could help companies ensure that they are better positioned to face unexpected situations and maintain an active workforce. Companies adopting such solutions can also use them on a regular basis for wider benefits to ensure employees are fully familiar on how to make best use of them.” added Michael.

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