February 1, 2013 Mobility, Network Security, Phone Systems The ability to support a remote workforce is becoming increasingly important to small- and medium-sized businesses across industries. Why? Because the practice of having some employees work “virtually” can be cost-effective, provide employers and employees with enhanced flexibility, and, in some cases, enable businesses to employ workers in different geographical areas without having to commit to multiple expensive office spaces. However, in order to maximize the benefits of a remote workforce, companies must first set up a telecommuter-friendly technology infrastructure that allows virtual employees to effectively access your network and interact with coworkers while still keeping company data secure. To help you get started, here are a few valuable technologies that can enable a virtual workforce to operate successfully. Virtual Private Network – A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is critical if your business plans to support a remote workforce. It provides company-issued devices with a truly secure connection that fully encrypts traffic from end-to-end over the Internet. Your offsite employees can log into the VPN, access company drives, and work with files without worry of risk. IP Telephony – Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) enables phone calls to be carried over the Internet instead of through ordinary telephone system lines, and it makes working remotely very easy. An IP phone can simply be programmed to a worker’s settings and brought home to be plugged into an existing Internet connection. By using a device that’s part of the office phone system, workers can maintain both their work phone number and all the functionality of an in-office phone, including the ability to transfer a call, mute a call, use the internal directory listing, access company voicemail and more. And because the phone calls go in and out over the Internet, there’s no interference with an employee’s home or mobile phone, and no complicated “who pays for what” cost structure for you. (Even if your company isn’t planning on supporting a remote workforce, VoIP is something every business should look into using if they aren’t utilizing it already. Both Cloud-based and on-premise VoIP are cost-effective voice options that are easy to use, enormously flexible, and customizable. Click here for more on VoIP.) Collaborative Communication Tools – Even though they aren’t technically in the office, remote employees need to be able to communicate with everyone as if they’re in the cubicle next to you. This means collaborative communication tools, such as unified communications. Unified communications technologies, like Unified Communicator Advanced (the one ETA uses), provide employees with more than just coworkers’ contact information. They enable employees to: See the “status” of their fellow workers in terms of whether one is working from home, in the office, on vacation, in a meeting, at a customer site, and so on. Sync a calendar to the communications tool so incoming calls are automatically sent to the correct destination depending on your status. Participate in instant messaging, video chatting, document sharing, conferencing and more. To top it all off, your history within instant messages, call logs, and more on your user account remains the same as you move from laptop to desktop, from work phone to mobile. This way, you’re not confused about what you and “Joe from accounting” discussed via chat yesterday while you worked from home. You can log into your unified communications tool and revisit the chat from yesterday, even if you’re on a different device in the office. These are just a few of the basics that can help your business support a remote workforce. For more, or information on anything we’ve discussed, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.