Working from home has been an option for some companies in recent years, as the infrastructures and business technology needed for it has advanced to meet the demands. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic crisis hit earlier this year, and lockdowns started to deploy throughout Canada, most companies found themselves needing to deploy, or expand, their work-from-home technology infrastructure to ensure continued operations for their businesses. These technological deployments and expansions ranged from voice and text applications, to remote training through digital software or immersive technology, as well as file security methods.
Speaking with Taj Gill, director, marketing & growth at Edmonton based Stash, he explains how their company already had infrastructure in place for the work-from-home transition. “Our team was already using laptops and instant-messaging tools so the transition to working remotely was relatively easy. Instant messaging has been a great tool for us as communication is the key to any successful business. Nothing can replace in-person interactions, but instant-messaging gave us the ability to connect with each other every day while providing the ability for us to immediately communicate when needed.”
Gill continues. “We also implemented video calls to get visual interactions with each other. We use video calls for work-related meetings and we also use it in a way that could be compared to coffee breaks to see how everyone is doing on a personal level (how everyone’s families are doing, how the weekend was, etc.).”
Jason Suriano, founder & CEO of TIQ Software, was also already prepared for the work-from-home transition, having made that an option for employees several years ago, and describes their implemented infrastructure. “Since we transitioned to a work from home setup five years ago, we were already using technologies like Dropbox for file sharing, Slack for internal communications, LastPass to secure our passwords, and our own TIQ Software to onboard and train new staff.”
Explaining, Suriano details how TIQ Software assists in remote training. “TIQ Software is a sales, marketing, and education tool that delivers targeted online learning. Companies like Canadian Western Bank and Paris Jewellers use TIQ to deliver in-context training along with their product materials to boost employee knowledge and help drive sales.”
Immersive technology stepped to the forefront to create a method for extensive hands-on training, and detailed marketing. Laura Bohnert, director of public relations and marketing at Halifax-based Modest Tree, with clients across Canada and in Europe and the US, gives insight on what their company gleaned from the COVID-19 situation. “Modest Tree was fortunate to have been set up prior to COVID-19 for remote working, so we didn’t notice any significant disruption in our workflow as a result. What we did notice was that a significant number of other businesses were struggling with the new working conditions.”
Noticing a gap in the marketplace, Bohnert explains how Modest Tree’s immersive technology assists businesses. “Immersive technologies, which include virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and extended reality, along with virtual communication and B2B engagement platforms, can play an important role in helping companies resume normal operations remotely, whether those operations involve training, marketing, sales, or even internal communication.
“A secure communications platform can facilitate stronger remote communications internally with team members and externally with clients, enabling the collaboration necessary to move forward with projects.
“For training, allowing training experts to quickly and easily develop lessons where lesson content is demonstrated on a realistic, animatable 3D model that learners can interact with as they progress through their training is critical. Allowing those trainees to access the lesson remotely and in real-time with their instructors, as well as on-demand for practice after the lesson using whatever device they have available (PC, VR headset, mobile) is even more beneficial.
“For sales and marketing, hosting events, B2B meetings and sales presentations in a virtual environment where sales associates can fully engage their prospects can make all the difference. Creating a 3D environment for this interaction so their prospects can interact with realistic 3D representations of products can allow that B2B engagement to resume the critical features of an in-person sales presentation or meeting. Being able to offer this securely and remotely over any device can actually allow virtual B2B engagement to move beyond the limitations of in-person meetings in a positive way.”
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to transitioning to work-from-home is security of company documents, especially sensitive mission critical files. Suriano describes how they manage remote files and security. “We manage our files using Dropbox for Business which provides granular access to different folders and files. LastPass has been great for password management by allowing our employees access to our 30 online work applications/ tools, but only senior level management can see account specific usernames and passwords.”
Gill emphasizes the importance of password management and strong passwords when it comes to file security from home, and on-the-go. “There are a few things we implement for security purposes but one of the most important is we ensure we are using strong, unique passwords for any accounts/services we use. Since our product is a password manager, this is always top of mind for us and we all use StashPass to help us to manage our passwords and build a strong first line of security to protect ourselves. We believe this is very important for individuals and businesses.”
At Modest Tree, security is at the forefront of the work they do with clients. Bohnert elaborates, “Achieving a high security standing is all about controlling data – who owns it, where it is stored, and who can access it. We maintain our own secure servers, set up secure internal or external servers for our clients, and work with companies like Microsoft Azure to ensure any data that is stored in online servers is 100 per cent secure.
“This need to ensure all data security is actually why Modest Tree developed our own internal communications platform. We needed an efficient internal means of communication to enable our teams to collaborate on projects, and we, like a lot of companies, became aware of the security gaps in many of the remote communications platforms on the market. This wasn’t adequate for our own needs, so we built Leaf, a secure communications platform that uses complete end-to-end encryption (using the OLM and Megolm cryptographic ratchets) to make sure any information or data that is communicated between team members remains under the full ownership and control of Modest Tree.
“Once Leaf was set up internally, we made it available to our clients as well, so they can have their own internal platform for remote communication and file sharing where all of their information and data remains fully encrypted, fully controlled, and fully owned by them.”
While for many companies the work-from-home demands of COVID-19 caused temporary halts and setbacks, the advancement of technology available for remote work quickly expanded to fill the void. How this changes businesses as a whole going forward is yet to be seen, but we should expect work-from-home to become the normal for a lot more businesses in the future.