by Rick Alliss, COO, amshot

It’s a story everyone in Oklahoma City knows, one of those “where were you?” moments for our community: March 11, 2020, Thunder v. Jazz, the night the NBA was canceled.

The NBA was already speculating about having games without fans, and perhaps your employer had talked about the idea of working remotely, but the reality of it all hit fast and escalated quickly. After an NBA player for the Jazz tested positive in Oklahoma City, the NBA not only announced – just a few minutes prior to tipoff – that the Thunder game that evening had been canceled, but that the season was canceled.

Things suddenly felt very real. Speculation about the coronavirus being just another virus like the flu quickly faded, and by the next week, those of us who were able to keep our jobs found ourselves indoors, working from home, for more than two months.

So now it’s the middle of summer, communities like ours are slowly reopening and employees are slowly returning to their offices, even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in most parts of the country. What, if anything, have we learned about technology, infrastructure and communications through all of this?

The traditional customs of the American workplace have changed, likely for the better, likely for a generation. Companies like Paycom and Twitter reported increases in productivity and employee utilization while employees worked from home, and many companies have considered or already approved allowing employees to permanently work from home. We’ve all stopped apologizing for having kids and pets, even when they walk into the background during our Teams and Zoom meetings.

During this period, Microsoft Teams and Zoom saw rapid expansion. Zoom – with its simplicity and free entry point – had millions of adopters and rapidly became the go-to video conferencing solution. However, with a starting price point of $15 per month to host a meeting longer than 40 minutes, and with vulnerability issues that resulted in meetings being “Zoom-bombed,” many adopters paused to reevaluate the right solution for their businesses. In this review, Microsoft Teams has emerged as one long-term solution that not only functions well for video conferencing and as a solution for soft phones, but also as a full collaboration software suite that allows teams to integrate many other applications inside the interface. Probably the biggest hook to Teams’ long-term success is the integration into existing organizations’ Microsoft 365 environment, which allows users to securely chat, share and collaborate on documents, schedule meetings, and log notes and reminders. Sure, some organizations had already adopted Microsoft Teams, but too many businesses were continuing to live the life of email threads and version control stress dreams. Of course, Teams is not void of issues, and if not properly configured for secure and streamlined rollout within an organization, it can quickly turn into a tangled web of unorganized communication and file misplacement.

Other technology lessons of COVID-19? Home Internet became about much more than streaming Netflix or video games (though it certainly came in handy for those things too). Suddenly, Mom and Dad have found themselves meeting with customers and coworkers via Teams, and connecting to the company systems using VPN, Remote Desktop, or even directly in the cloud, all while the kids are taking their classes online from the same Internet connection. Many of us are using Multi-Factor Authentication to secure our systems and forward our work phones to our cell phones, or better yet, using soft phone technology to call and text using our work phone numbers.

As we go forward into whatever awaits us next, there’s one really big theme in the IT sector of our workplaces: Push for progress now, before you need it. Tag all your technology assets so you know who has what when they go home with your employees. Get your team on laptops. Stop worrying so much about seeing and being seen in the office every day. As leaders, plan time for virtual face time: Morning cups of coffee, lunch remote conversations, happy hours for team members, prospects, and clients alike. Culture still matters. Technology provides the way. Spend the money on reliable file storage and communications tools. Make sure your office phones and systems aren’t stuck inside the walls of the brick and mortar location.

We may not see another pandemic in our lifetimes, or perhaps we’ll see another one this year. Let’s make sure we’re ready.