As an IT leader who supports remote workforce collaboration across multiple offices, you will have to grapple with complexity.
When it comes to enabling meaningful collaboration for a multi-office organization with a remote workforce, IT and facilities leaders have their work cut out for them. Not only must they select the right collaboration technology for the organization's needs but they must also make sure they have the right skills and vendor resources necessary to ensure successful implementation across all locations.
IT leaders who are responsible for enabling collaboration among multiple offices and remote workers have to grapple with much more complexity than their colleagues who oversee a single location. Tackling this complexity involves the right skills and staffing, support processes, and vendor relationships.
IT leaders should objectively assess whether their teams have the skills required to support the collaboration needs of an organization with multiple office locations and a remote workforce. What worked well for a single location will not necessarily be appropriate for a multi-location scenario. For example, if an organization's IT team does not yet have strong in-house network administration skills, it will be essential to bring these skills on board either through hiring, training, or a vendor partnership.
Videoconferencing technology is resource-intensive from a network bandwidth perspective, and both video and audio connections can suffer if latency or lag arise, particularly across wide area network (WAN) connections linking two or more locations. When that happens, collaboration grinds to a halt. If the IT team is not able to quickly determine the root cause of network performance issues affecting a video or audio conference, it will be that much harder to ensure productive meetings and collaboration sessions for the organization.
The IT and facilities teams must also be right-sized to properly handle the collaborative support needs that come with a geographically distributed workforce. Colleagues working in other traditional offices, as well as home offices, will need useful answers to their questions about how to run a productive virtual or hybrid meeting or how to adjust the audio in large meeting rooms for optimal clarity and intelligibility. For this reason, IT and facilities leaders must design their teams to provide the right level of support.
Remote work can feel isolating and, at times, lonely. Collaboration tools are essential for bridging this gap and helping employees in multiple locations feel connected to the life of the organization. At the same time, IT and facilities teams might initially struggle to manage the increased volume of requests coming from multiple locations.
If a colleague in a regional or home office in a different time zone needs help setting up an important Zoom meeting with external stakeholders, they need to know when their query will be answered. It's wise to manage expectations for staff at all locations by clarifying in writing how IT and facilities will prioritize and address these requests, so they can reference this information quickly and easily. In addition, by providing self-help resources and training the staff on how to use conferencing technology, IT and facilities professionals can empower their remote colleagues to confidently use collaboration tools. This, in turn, reduces the need for technical and facilities support.
IT and facilities teams sometimes rely on strong vendor relationships to enable multi-location collaboration. This often means having a good relationship with a telecommunication service provider (or providers, depending on the internet services available in the various locations), complete with a service level agreement that specifies the exact network performance standards to be met.
Likewise, it's essential to have excellent relationships with and trust in all of the vendors that deliver the organization's collaboration technology, including cloud-based unified communication software and conferencing solutions. IT and facilities teams may also rely on local managed service providers to provide on-site support on their behalf.
Often, organizations with multiple locations use unified communication software to support internal collaboration. These solutions often include features like voice and videoconferencing, messaging, and webinars. They may integrate with an office productivity suite or customer relationship management software, enhancing productivity and communication with colleagues, clients, or prospective customers even further. With access to these tools via desktop and mobile apps, employees at all locations can effectively collaborate in the office or on the go.
Then there are conferencing solutions designed for specific office spaces. Fully integrated meeting room systems help employees in offices collaborate more effectively with their colleagues in larger meetings, while huddle space solutions connect smaller teams working on specific projects. Workers in open office spaces can benefit from noise canceling headphones that comfortably switch between voice or video calls, where collaboration takes place, and music, which enables focused work.
These conferencing solutions can also integrate with popular platforms that employees may use to engage external business partners and clients, such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. With flexible access to a variety of collaboration tools, the organization can be responsive and available on the platform that is ideal.
Connecting multiple locations is more challenging than it first appears. What was a relatively straightforward task in a single location becomes a complicated undertaking when bridging multiple locations across the WAN. IT leaders should define in advance how they will guarantee the network performance necessary to support collaboration across the entire organization. This includes implementing quality of service (QoS) settings that dictate how various types of network traffic will be prioritized relative to one another.
Video and audio conferencing traffic, for example, are bandwidth-intensive and sensitive to latency. They require a higher priority than email, which is asynchronous and doesn't suffer the same kinds of performance challenges. Many IT leaders use software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology to create a private WAN and implement QoS across multiple locations. SD-WAN also offers some other attractive remote administration and business continuity features.
Network monitoring and analytics tools are also essential for ensuring that network performance supports conferencing and collaboration. They're also helpful for verifying whether telecommunication providers are adhering to their SLAs. IT leaders should proactively consider how they will independently monitor network performance across all of the organization's locations.
Effective collaboration has never been more important than it is now, but it's also complicated for organizations with multiple locations. With this in mind, IT and facilities leaders should perform due diligence before implementing a collaboration solution. With the right combination of technology, skills, and vendor relationships in place, they can make sure their organizations have everything they need to collaborate successfully and effectively across multiple locations and virtual environments.