Unified communications technology is helping many companies hit by absenteeism because of the snow-related travel chaos as suppliers report a surge in queries from businesses, according to IT consultancy NCC Group.
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Suppliers of unified communications technology are reporting a 20% increase in interest from small and medium sized business seeking to cushion the blow by allowing staff to work from home.
Business groups have widely predicted that lost productivity cold cost the UK economy up to £2bn as workers across the UK are unable to get to work. More than 2,000 companies could face bankruptcy as a result of the cold snap, the Centre for Economics and Business research has predicted.
The worst winter weather to hit the UK in 30 years has seen a 50% increase in remote log-ins to corporate IT systems, according to authentication firm Signify.
Unified communications technology allows staff to access data remotely, collaborate on shared documents and conduct meetings over the internet using video conferencing and IP telephony.
The business case for remote working is strong, but businesses face a number of challenges before implementing remote working, said Roger Rawlinson, managing director of the assurance division at NCC Group.
"In lauding the benefits of unified communications, suppliers fail to mention the challenges that many businesses face," he said.
Many companies find considerable resistance to this using technology which requires a dramatic shift in business culture and working practices, including security policies, said Rawlinson.
Implementing new technologies often involves the hidden costs of planning, training, integration and upgrades of existing hardware and software to make it work, he said.
NCC Group has compiled five tips for businesses on implementing remote working technology:
1. Cost-benefit analysis
Businesses must consider the tangible benefits that remote working will provide based against cost. While for many companies this technology could prove invaluable, businesses should not look to unified communications unless there is a clear business case.
2. Staff consultation
Remote working can represent a shift in working practices. Workshops should be carried out to better understand the needs and concerns of management and staff to ensure that the new technology will be used effectively, minimising staff resistance.
3. Remote working security policy
While most companies have a security policy document in place, this should be revised with the introduction of remote working to ensure that data and information remain secure outside business premises. The encryption of portable devices, and secure internet connections and wireless networks should be considered.
4. Flexible working policy
Employers must clarify when it is appropriate for employees to work remotely by introducing a flexible working policy. This will help to avoid staff misuse of this technology, and allow the business to operate as efficiently as possible.
As with the introduction of any new technology, training is essential. A clear training programme should be designed to ensure employees at all levels can use this technology and are aware of their responsibilities when working remotely.