By Holly Whisler

Only one year ago, unless your job was deemed essential, you were working from home and doing the best you could with the technology you had on hand. On the flip side, employers were doing their best to support their remote workforces, often scrambling to put additional technology in place to allow staff to better communicate with management and each other.

Now that 47% of Illinois’ population is vaccinated against COVID-19, many companies are prepared to repopulate their offices. However, the world of work has been radically transformed by the pandemic – office space has been redesigned for safety and the workforce has been reimagined. As a recent Forbes headline announced, “Hybrid is the future,” and companies need to have the technology necessary to support the digital workforce as they communicate with customers, collaborate with colleagues and securely access company information.

Companies want to be prepared and have been shopping for technologies that best support their dispersed workforce. Gene Dinardo, president of AmeriCall, 447 N. Walnut St., said people want the ability to leave the office and not miss a call. As long as there is internet access and unified communications (UC), this is possible. UC is a business concept that integrates a multitude of communication services such as instant messaging, presence information, talk, text, data sharing and a host of other features.

Dinardo explained the versatility of unified communications: “Basically, you can have a phone in the office, an app on your cellphone and an app on the computer or laptop, and when you receive a call, all devices ring.” He said you can receive calls on your cellphone or you can “unplug the office phone and take it with you. It’s as if you have the office with you, as long as you have access to the internet.”

Jacob Dinardo, technician and IT specialist with AmeriCall, said, “People want the flexibility to move between the office and home, and the cloud makes this possible.” With advancements in cloud-based solutions, UC also makes it possible for people to share files during a video call, explain their files and see their colleagues, just as if they were all in the same location.

“Although COVID has changed the landscape as to how people work, the web-based solutions have become more reliable. With so many added features, it’s no longer a phone – it’s a collaboration tool,” said Nicki Baptist, senior project manager with AmeriCall. She said another added benefit for companies is that internet pricing is becoming more affordable. Cloud-based solutions could eventually replace landline phones in offices across America.

Sheila Feipel, Springfield branch manager for Heart Technologies, 1831 S. 11th St., said, “Unified communications has streamlined business and helped employees be more effective, and it can even save on monthly phone bills. When you can get all of this technology and save money, it’s a win-win.”

She noted that UC can allow a person to send and receive calls, texts and even conduct video conferencing from anywhere in the world. When a call is placed, the office number appears, not the cell number. “We learned from the last year that people can work effectively from home,” Feipel said.

In addition to staying connected, it’s important for employees to be able to securely access company information. “When a company decides to enable remote access of data, they need to also consider security. The need for cybersecurity is ever increasing,” said Joshua Ditto, chief information officer for CDS Office Technologies, 612 S. Dirksen Parkway. “Businesses of all sizes are becoming more aware about cybersecurity and they should be concerned – you don’t have to have a target on your roof to be at risk.” Ditto recommends companies request a cybersecurity consultation from the telecommunications provider to make certain they are protected from skillful hackers.

Feipel concurred, “Being able to access the company’s database without having to be in the office is convenient and boosts productivity.” However, having the necessary cybersecurity protection is essential.

“Years ago, in the IT world we would say, ‘If you get hacked,’ and now we say, ‘When you get hacked,’” Feipel noted. She recommends that all employees be educated about cybersecurity. “It is usually human failure that is the chink in the armor; when one person clicks on an attachment, that may be all that is needed to lock a company into a ransomware situation.”
Now that there is more time to plan and prepare, companies would be wise to invest in technology to support a remote or hybrid workforce.