Today’s organizations are expected to grow (and adapt!) quickly. If they don’t operate on a global scale, they risk falling by the wayside. Distributed workers have become a primary remedy for this state of affairs. For today’s organization to operate cost effectively, internationally, and around the clock, their employees must be constantly available, working from home, on the road, and in global satellite offices. A distributed workforce also saves companies money on office space, computer equipment, and travel, among other expenses.
Sadly, many companies cobble together communications systems for their remote and mobile workers that leave much to be desired. A March 2011 GigaOm Pro research report on the future of workplaces found that workers use real-time communications technologies such as IM/chat, videoconferencing, and texting, but often outside the bounds of a company’s IT department. Only after workers adopt these tools for personal reasons do companies agree to accept them as an addition to existing on-site tools.
As a result, a company’s distributed workforce ends up using a consumerized system for communicating, rather than the centralized system within the organization. When distributed workers cannot access the same company resources on-site and off-site, their productivity dips, according to the September 2011 Nature of Mobility in SMB Workforces report by Webtorials. Workers spend hours per week figuring out communications tasks as basic as routing and escalating calls. Without access to important tools such as calendaring, skills-based routing, customer escalation, queue management, and collaborative document sharing, mobile work becomes a time-consuming proposition.
Unified communications (UC) is a good way to integrate communications across a common interface, regardless of device or OS, while giving the company IT department complete oversight. With UC, workers communicate with the speed and clarity of in-office interaction, while taking advantage of the support and expertise of their IT resources. All mobile devices, including tablets, phones, and laptops, are folded into the same high-performance, central communications system that workers at HQ use. Internal and external calls are routed via the company’s data network, so everyone in the company can dial extensions and chat as well as see the real-time availability, or presence, of each team member, regardless of their location.
In the current economic environment, companies must also pay the utmost attention to staying cost effective and lean. One way to avoid expenses associated with traditional telephone lines is to deploy Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based products, which enable a wide range of interactive user sessions, including multimedia elements such as video, voice, and chat, to take place on a single platform. Businesses can use SIP trunks to route their voice calls to any device anywhere in the world over their data network, without integrating additional hardware. Costly operating expenses, including fixed telephone lines, long-distance calling, and local phone service gateways, are eliminated.
Organizations considering a communications system for today’s distributed workforce should look for a UC solution that allows employees to access a company-grade phone anywhere and at any time. With such a standardized UC system, workers can engage in true collaboration and an uninterrupted workflow, regardless of device or media type. SIP, meanwhile, saves money while providing key applications.
When remote and mobile workers leverage the same communications system as their on-site counterparts, businesses don’t distribute or die anymore. They distribute and win.
NEIL LICHTMAN is chairman and CEO of Zultys Inc., a provider of all-in-one unified communications solutions.