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Sajad Nori photo via Unsplash

In the current work-from-home moment, providers of integrated communications services are having a moment of their own.

These businesses provide an all-inclusive service, so a company’s videoconferencing, messaging, phone — and all the hardware and software required — are connected in a secure system.

Exactly what remote workers need.

As organizations began to move forward into an era of hybrid work, NWN Corp., a  Massachusetts-based provider of these services, sees this moment as a golden opportunity for companies to update their legacy systems and make them compatible with new cloud technology.

After all, NWN’s own survey, conducted at the beginning of the year, found that 67 percent of companies plan to allow employees to work remotely full time or offer a hybrid-work option even after the pandemic subsides.

Andrew Gilman, head of marketing and alliances for NWN,  argues that a company such as his, which provides soup-to-nuts service, is a better choice than “swiping a credit card” and “getting a bunch of cloud apps,” as he puts it. If you have a problem with the Zoom app, he asks, “Are you going to Zoom Zoom? Are you going to tweet Twitter?”

Still, other experts make the case that companies must survey what they need and how they operate.

Small companies with simple demands may do fine by adding a few cellphones and laptops, and yes, a bunch of cloud apps. But if you need an omnichannel contact center for customer service, which includes a seamless connection between messaging, phone and website, an outside expert’s advice could be recommended, computer consultants say.

NWN’s Gilman cites an example:

When the pandemic hit, NWN’s long-time client Hartford HealthCare, which provides healthcare services in Connecticut, needed to quickly move nonclinical staff to a remote-work environment, while offering virtual health appointments with the more than 1,300 care providers.

Then, as the Covid-19 virus spread, the healthcare provider needed to launch mobile testing sites, field hospitals and vaccine mega-sites. NWN was able to provide the necessary networks quickly because of their longstanding relationship with both their client and companies in the supply chain.

“As a national provider … we were able to proactively position assets,” explained Gilman. “We’re considered an essential service provider so were able to have people on site. … In some cases, we didn’t wait for [purchase orders] — we couldn’t. It was the difference between life and death — literally.”

Gilman provided more insight and suggestions on how and why companies should consider rebooting their legacy computer systems in this era of remote work:

Remote Report: What is a legacy system? Is it one that is x number of years old?

Andrew Gilman: Some legacy mainframes are great, they’ll work forever. So it’s not that they’re old. For me, “legacy” is inflexible, cost-inefficient, potentially less secure and operationally expensive.

RR: How do you know if you have a legacy system?

AG: You know if your employees are complaining about it. … Your employees or customers are used to technology [being] one way in their personal lives, but then they come to work or they interact with you and it’s not up to that level. … [Sometimes] interactions with companies are not as tech-evolved as in our personal lives.

RR: What are some of the major areas companies should look to update to accommodate remote work?

AG: Starting from the customer is the most important thing. And the customer could be your employees — your internal customers — or it could be your external customers. What is standing in the way of their having the absolute best experience? Internally — in this global workplace, employee experience is a major focus — how do you take friction out of how they work? How can you support the work styles that they’re coming to expect now, with more flexibility and agility?

As an employer, you have to think about that. Do my team members need mobile devices, need to have mobile connectivity? Do they have access to our cloud-based, SaaS [software as a service] tools without going through too many forms of authentication?

From a customer perspective, it’s everything that me and you go through every day when we interact with organizations: When I call in, can I get an answer fast? When I buy or use a service is the quality [up to my expectations]? When I use this service or company or buy their product, is it a great experience to do business with them or is it painful?

Are there things that small business owners can do on their own?

There’s always the option to do things on your own. … I call it DIYCC — do-it-yourself cloud communications. Depending on what you’re looking to do and how you’re looking to do it, it can work. … [However,] for many small business owners who are looking to transform how they deliver a great employee and customer experience in today’s mobile, distributed world, … the best bet is to find a great partner that can provide you with the flexibility, the agility, the cost, the unit economics that you obviously need to run your business and make a profit. But the ultimate focus should be on how to absolutely delight your customers and your employees.

RR: What, then, should businesses look for in a partner going forward?

AG: Our customers are thinking about four key areas:

  1. How do I make sure we can supply a distributed, agile workforce. What does that mean?
  2. If I do choose to come back [to the office], what upgrades do I need to make the office experience more efficient? Maybe a smaller office footprint or ways to enable collaboration, SMART Boards, upgrading networks to enable new workstyles, 5G, security.
  3. Contact centers are a huge opportunity for even small businesses to serve customers more efficiently, leveraging AI and being able to programmatically support customers with less agents.
  4. Many organizations’ IT teams were already stretched to the max before, just supporting an office environment. Now you add in this mobile, distributed work style. … That’s where a holistic provider [can help].

What else should businesses think about in the post-pandemic, hybrid-work era?

Now is really a generational opportunity for businesses of all sizes to reimagine what work can and will look like for their employees and customers. In 2007-2009, a similar opportunity in the business cloud area occurred. When the financial crisis happened, there was a similar compelling event, where many organizations went to the cloud for their core business applications because of the efficiency and agility. That’s when our salesforce went to the cloud big time. We are seeing the same thing now, these past 12 months, with cloud communications.

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