Home is Where the Work Is

Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Winston Churchill

This morning, I held my first virtual open office and although I nearly always hold myself to impossible standards, I was pleased with how it turned out.  The topic was the many aspects of enabling an at-home workforce.  The participants and I approached it from the standpoint of technology and culture.

Prior to the meeting, I shared a list of concerns.  As the discussion progressed, it was added to and refined.

SBC vs. VPN

SIP vs. H.323

Video

Mobility

Legacy Systems

Licenses

Work at Home Culture

Extend to Cell

Lighting and Ambient Noise

Work at Home Equipment

Network Bandwidth Enterprise

Network Bandwidth Home

Application Prioritization

Legal Issues

Physical vs. Soft Phone

CPaaS

Born-in-the-cloud Communications

9-1-1

Mobile Device Management

Contact Center

Mass Notification

Remote Desktop Concerns

Virtual Agents

To expand on each one would require far more words than I want to tackle in a single article, so allow me to combine and dig into a few of the more important aspects.

Legacy Systems

Let’s start with the ugliest one first.

One of the core aspects of the traditional communications system is its robustness.  These beasts were built for reliability.  Back at Nortel, we used to say that the mean time between failure of a Meridian 1 system was 40 years.  While that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, those babies took a licking and kept on ticking.

That reliability has now proven to be a liability.  Far too many enterprises didn’t invest in upgrades and are now living with systems years past their prime (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).  These are not classic cars, though, where their value increases over time.  Failure to stay current leaves you with a relic that cannot respond quickly (or at all) to modern day problems.

This is especially apparent when it comes to mobility.  The chances that your six-year-old software will reliably support a remote workforce at scale falls between slim to none.  What seemed cost effective in the past now looks completely foolish as businesses scramble to quickly update ancient hardware, software, and infrastructures.

SBC vs. VPN / SIP vs. H.323 / Mobility

For me, this all boils down to SIP rules and all other communications protocols drool.

Seriously, SIP is the hands down choice for voice communications and I have been saying that for years.  To prove my point, I still stand by the article I wrote way back in 2013:  SIP vs. H.323.  Additionally, SIP supports forking, embraces mobility, handles firewalls far better than H.323, can be secured in terms of signaling and media, is supported by every traditional phone carrier, is available on-demand by many cloud providers, supports far more than voice and video, etc.

In terms of SBC vs. VPN, I laid out my thoughts in early 2014 in The Death of the VPN.  Again, my opinions haven’t changed one iota.

Lastly, I am a huge fan of a mobility first strategy.  With SIP and SBCs, there is no reason why enabling a workforce with mobile SIP clients should be an afterthought.  It should be top-of-mind whether you are upgrading an old system or moving to a state-of-the-art cloud platform.

Work at home Equipment / Application Prioritization / Network Access Home

It’s not enough to simply send your employees home and tell them they are on their own.  They will need software, hardware, and policies.  They will need soft clients and they will need headsets.  They will need video cameras and workstations with enough horsepower to handle the load.  They will need a network that is fast enough to reliably support all these new protocols.

They will also need rules of engagement.  For instance, your work-at-home employees may not be able to successfully participate in video calls if their kids are streaming Netflix at the same time.  In the same way we prioritize voice over file transfer, home networks must prioritize the applications that use them.

9-1-1

The reason why the topic of work-at-home users is on everybody’s mind today is safety.  The entire world is attempting to “flatten the Covid-19 curve” and the best way to do that is to keep people away from other people.

However, sending people home with their remote hard phones, soft phones, and mobile SIP clients without putting together a 9-1-1 plan is downright dangerous.  Like mobility, 9-1-1 should never be an afterthought.  Whether it’s through training, or better yet, technology, it is essential that every remote worker understands what happens when 9-1-1 is dialed from their work-at-home device.  No business wants to be responsible for emergency vehicles arriving at an office building in Dallas when help is needed in Saint Paul.

Video / Lighting and Ambient Noise

For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of video calls.  I hated seeing myself on camera and went out of the way to make sure my face never popped up on a web call.

Well, I was wrong.  I have recently compelled myself to turn on my camera and am finally realizing how video enhances a conversation.  Not only does it allow me to feel more fully invested in discussions, it forces me to pay better attention.  It’s hard to hide the fact that I am doing something other than listening to the other participants when my face is front and center.

Of course, creating a rewarding video experience doesn’t happen by accident.  Bad lighting can make the prettiest of faces look like Frankenstein’s monster.  It’s absolutely essential that where light is coming from and how bright/dim it is be taken into account when setting up a remote workstation.

While not strictly a video issue, it’s also important to pay attention to background and foreground noise.  Invest in a good headset.  Pay attention to PC fans and other noise producers that can wreck the audio for all participants.  And for heaven’s sake, learn how to use the mute button.  My simple rule is this.  If you aren’t talking, you need to be muted.  No one wants to hear you shuffling papers or typing.

Born-in-the-Cloud Communications

If Covid-19 doesn’t put the move towards cloud communications into hyper-drive, I don’t know what will.  By its very nature, cloud communications is mobile, scalable, and up-to-date.

This does not mean cloud is without problems of its own.  As we have recently seen, Microsoft Teams and WebEx Conferencing have had serious hiccups.  While they were designed to be scalable, they are being pushed well beyond anything anyone has ever imagined.  That’s not to say that the architectures are bad.  They simply need to face the new realities of usage.  What may have once sat unused on an employee’s PC desktop has become an all-day-long productivity tool.

In the end, though, cloud communications may well be the best remote worker strategy.  Personally, I use a hybrid of on-premise and cloud.  And of course, all of my on-premise is driven by SIP.

Mischief Managed

We are sailing on uncharted waters and I am afraid that things will get worse before they get better.  No matter what, we have to push forward and create a new sense of normal.  What we thought was business as usual has been tossed out the window.  People will move home to work and after Covid-19 has been tamed (and it will be), many will stay there.  What we do now will need to be effective for years and most likely decades to come.

There is so much I have yet to address when it comes to remote workers.  In a future article, I want to talk about the cultural aspects, managerial challenges, and legal issues that arise from a remote workforce.  More will follow after that.

Until then, let’s all work together to come out of this crisis stronger, smarter, and ready to tackle the next worldwide challenge.  If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that we cannot be over-prepared.

If you like what you read here, be sure check out its sister article:  Home is Where the Work Is — The Social Aspects

One comment

  1. […] aid a reader’s understanding and comprehension of these complex topics. In one post, Prokop discusses how to enable remote workforces and resolve specific pain points while doing so, such as SBCs vs. […]

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