COVID-19: Which IT Systems to Deploy to Assist Employees Working from Home
The now global spread of the coronavirus has triggered the world’s biggest ever work-from-home experiments as businesses consider how to effectively utilize their employees while also minimizing physical contact.
The nature of the infectious outbreak, now classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) has meant the avoidance of gathering in public, which includes staff working in offices or traveling to the workplace using public transit.
Across the world, companies are examining the immediately available alternatives to reduce their over-reliance on corporate infrastructure, which may not easily permit employees access from home or other remote locations.
Popular cloud and hybrid cloud-based solutions
In China, the most popular options, at present, are Microsoft Office365 (for foreign companies with employees abroad), Alibaba’s DingTalk, and Tencent’s WeChat Work (for Chinese companies that need a more “domestic” solution).
Other options, such as Slack have also seen a big surge in popularity. What these services essentially do is provide a set of corporate communication and collaboration tools that directly links to the company’s global directory but that does not rely on data sitting within physical company servers. These cloud-based solutions can be more easily accessed anywhere, anytime by employees.
Taking Office365 as an example, this platform provides a wide range of functionalities to support remote working as a by-product of its overall design. SharePoint Online (SPO) is a cloud-based tool to store and control corporate information, which can be utilized across many other applications.
Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration tool that synchronizes with SPO to deliver a wide range of functionality to users. Teams provides a stable option for conference calling between colleagues based both inside and outside the UK and Russia.
Other tools, such as Flow (now renamed PowerAutomation) allow companies to quickly re-organize and streamline their business processes to meet the challenges of remote-based employees.
More importantly, Office365 enables the company to manage different aspects of their business on one universal platform – email, file sharing and access, and collaboration – are all integrated within the same platform and delivered with a high degree of reliability and security. This platform also guarantees that all the information it contains is controlled under the company’s own security policies and requirements. This is one big advantage for compliance, both, under local laws and regulations and to contractual commitments to clients.
Microsoft has recently introduced a special offer for free trial of certain tools within the O365 “suite” of products. Obviously, their plan is to get potential clients comfortable with collaborating through this platform, and then persuade them to sign up to the paid service (with full functionality) at a later date.
Teams is being offered for free for six months and Office365 E1 package (which includes email, SPO, Flow, Teams) is being offered for free for three months. There are various permutations depending on whether your company wants to utilize the functionality on the special “China” version of O365, or the standard global version.
Telecommuting in China, a new work model
The options mentioned above represent fire-fighting plans for the short-term that can get your employees functioning efficiently again. However, with intelligent planning and implementation, they can also form part of the base for your long-term cloud or hybrid cloud IT infrastructure.
While the COVID-19 outbreak poses a short-term challenge for businesses, in the medium- to long-term it may actually prove to be the catalyst for companies to adopt the remote working concept, supplemented by the wide range of technology tools already available to increase worker efficiency.
Indeed, it may herald the final nail in the coffin for the “traditional industries” – bricks and mortar retail, the leasing of physical office environments, and even offline consumer banking.
If you are a Chief Information Officer at an MNC, opportunities exist for you as well. China can potentially become your “petri dish” for experimentation with appropriate cloud-based tools suitable for remote working, which (if successful) can later be more easily applied to more change-resistant sectors of your organization outside of China.
Last year, China became the fifth country to commercialize 5G (after South Korea, US, Switzerland, and UK), granting 5G licenses for commercial use to four telecom operators in the country. This is going to further accelerate the adoption of digital tools and platforms that enable remote working in a secure environment.
This article was adapted from the current issue of China Briefing magazine, entitled “Operating Your Business During A Contagious Disease Outbreak”. It may be downloaded, free of charge, here.
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China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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