Policy and Capacity – the two-pronged approach to a successfully mobile workplace.
As organizations (and even court systems) progress toward remote-friendly environments, understanding how to achieve leadership’s support and internally equip staff with the means to sustain (dare we say, increase?) productivity is the foundational first step. Thanks to our forward-thinking and innovative Tech Support team, ImageSoft continues to operate remotely amidst mandated stay-at-home orders, even with staff located from coast-to-coast. Join Tom Hansel, ImageSoft’s Director of Customer Care (affectionately referred to as “Tom’s Teams”) and Bill Lussenheide, Senior Systems Business Administrator, for the inside scoop on their emergency plan and how they successfully flipped the switch to ImageSoft-wide remote working operations.
|Kevin Ledgister:||Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast where we have experts give you the insights, knowhow, and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital and making your work life better at the same time.
Thanks for joining us today. My name is Kevin Ledgister, your host, and today we’re going to be talking about how companies or how an organization can prepare for a mobile workforce. In light of the recent events that have been going on, a lot of companies have had to make the transition from employees being in the office to employees working outside of the office. That comes with a lot of technical challenges, that comes with some challenges in terms of business policies and how that works. For a lot of organizations, they’ve been caught flat footed with that. Today, I have with me Tom Hansel, who is our Director of Customer Care at ImageSoft. Welcome, Tom.
|Tom Hansel:||Thanks for having me, Kevin.|
|Kevin:||Yeah, and we also have Bill Lussenheide as well that works with Tom who takes care of all of our host of technologies. Both of these gentlemen have been really key people with ImageSoft in terms of our strategy and approach to how did we become so mobile?
For those of you who are listening, we recently, because of the COVID-19, everything that’s been going on. We’ve had to go through the self-quarantine just like everybody else. Because of that, we had to transition from having all the employees in the office to our employees working remotely.
Tom, I’m just going to start off with you because I know that this didn’t just happened yesterday or last week, that this has been a longer process. Maybe you can just share with our listeners in terms of, what is it that you did? How did you set this up? How did you plan to prepare us for a mobile workplace even long before we even knew that there would be anything like what we’re experiencing today?
|Tom:||Yeah, absolutely. There are really two sides to approaching having a mobile workforce. One is the political side of it, making sure that your teams and your leadership are bought into the idea of having employees work remotely. Whether it be at their house or anywhere else. Then the other side of it is do we have the technology to enable our users to be successful and be productive while they’re working remotely?
There are challenges and different challenges to both sides. We had to tackle them both tangentially to make this work. From the political side, it’s a matter of getting managers comfortable with the idea of not having the ability to watch their employees and monitor them while they’re in their desks doing their work. They have to have some level of metrics and capabilities to make sure that their employees are still being productive and get them beyond the mindset of if you’re not in the office, you’re not working.
It’s really no longer a 9 to 5 world. We need to give our employees the ability to work when they have the time to work. A lot of times we’ll have employees that would like to catch up on work on a weeknight or over the weekend or something, and we wouldn’t want our policies or our technology to stand in the way of giving them the ability to do that.
Then the other side of it is the technical side. Do we have the security in place, the systems in place, the systems accessible to our employees? Do our employees have things they need to be successful? Meaning the hardware, maybe additional monitors or laptops as opposed to desktops? And do they have a place where they can work efficiently? Do they have a quiet, remote place in their house where they don’t have distractions from the dog or kids or anything else like that, where they can stay heads down and work?
We had to tackle both of those a long time ago. This isn’t something that as we find ourselves in a position where we need this, we can’t start the process. We had to start this process years ago to get ourselves in a position to where we were ready to work fully remotely in a situation like we find ourselves in now.
It’s a process we started a long time ago. It evolved over time to, we would allow some employees occasionally to work remotely if they had a need to. Such as, if they had a handyman coming to the house or they had to sign for a package delivery, for whatever reason they needed to work from home. That allowed them to get their feet wet into the idea of working remotely. It also allowed our IT team to understand where are our hang-ups and what problems do we have that we need to work through to make them successful working remotely?
We tackled both of those. There were a lot of hiccups along the way, and as we come across those, we worked through them and eventually we got ourselves to the spot that we’re in now.
|Kevin:||That’s awesome. Since you mentioned that you had some hurdles that you had to jump over or hiccups that were along the way, perhaps, Tom, you or Bill could maybe talk about what were some of those big challenges that you guys had to overcome from a technology standpoint, in terms of how do we make this work? How do we make this efficient for that employee that’s working from home?|
|Tom:||I can let Bill speak to that.|
|Bill Lussenheide:||Sure. We started this adventure probably a little over two years ago. There were a whole bunch of challenges, both business as well as technological challenges. It started to present itself in the markets. Just talking about with regards to shifting demographics, we had basically millennials in 2017 became the largest workforce in America as a whole. They have certainly different compensation values than a lot of other generations before them.
In our particular field, and our products and customers supported across the nation, we had to invest very heavily years ago. Luckily, it’s coming to fruition now about finding the talent no matter where it’s at. Employees that we have in California, we have in Michigan, we have in Florida, we have from coast to coast basically, more and more talent. We recognize the right people, the right fits. We needed a system that can adapt to that particular requirement.
As we were moving through in this adapting process, we had to make systems universally available and universally compatible. The idea being that someone working from Florida can have the same consistency as someone working from Washington. There are too many variables available too there. We always adopted a remote first policy. The idea that all systems can be accessed at all times on all devices. Very lofty goal, and there’s been obviously some ebbs and flows, changes in technology, changes in platforms and of course business processes change over such a protracted period. But by adopting those core tenants when reviewing systems has allowed us to basically been almost bullet proof when a disastrous event, like what’s occurred over the past month, it allowed us to just go without a single hitch. Because we practiced that in the scenario that something could happen like this or a building, force majeure events, or even, you know what? We have a new employee that’s working from Saskatchewan type of thing.
By having our platforms and our mindset on that, we’ve been able to adapt both from a workforce perspective, finding the right people, as well as massive disasters, problems or idiosyncrasies.
|Kevin:||Yeah, I am a senior business analyst and part of my responsibility is being the OnBase admin here at Clark, and I’ve been here for just over two years now.|
|Kevin:||I know that with the home office being in the Detroit area, Southfield specifically, I know that even from a year to year basis, when you have a bad snowstorm or an ice storm, that that forces you into a situation where you have to keep going, keep functioning, even though people can’t get into the office.
I love that comment that you made, Bill, about the fact that when you’re looking at new technologies, you have to look at it as a mobile first type of approach as opposed to mobile last. Because if it’s mobile last, then you’re probably going to end up with this technology that maybe works great if you’re in the office or a desktop, but if you’re on a mobile phone, it’s probably going to be a lackluster experience or it’s not going to work at all.
One of the big questions that comes up with this in terms of you don’t have somebody… A supervisor looking over somebody’s shoulder, they’re working from home, we have to have a high level of trust, but you still have data governance, you still have security that’s a big concern. How have you guys maybe addressed some of those concerns so that employees can work securely with that information and you know that systems are being protected and we’re not having somebody that isn’t… Somebody from some Island somewhere is logging into the system and trying to access what we’re doing? Maybe just give an idea to some of the things that the businesses can do to help protect that data.
Sure. Speaking from the technology side, the idea of keeping the bad guys out is really the nomenclature that can apply to both employees as well as external parties. State players is a topic in the news lately. The idea on being able to have everything encrypted is your number one. That is reaching first base type of style. You’re trying to get by on when the pitcher’s trying to throw. The idea is that all of your data when both in motion from device to device, end-to-end encryption, all of that data is using all of the industrial standards that you would expect from government agencies. NIST, 140-2 FIPS, there’s any number of initialisms we can throw behind that.
You have to ensure that all of your data when it’s in motion, when it’s at rest, is always, always encrypted. Most of the time, anytime someone sees encrypted data it’s not even looked at it, it’s impossible to crack basically. The heat depth of the universe actually get through. By protecting the channels of communication, not in a dedicated, secure fashion, things like your legacy VPN type of technology, those kinds of wrapped encryption around an unencrypted stream, you’re still vulnerable from an insight attack. From employees sniffing, stealing data, everything to that effect. But then you also move into the other aspect outside of VPNs, certificate and authentication.
I’m getting a little technical on this side, but it’s very difficult to break down. But the idea is that having everything over the line on the public internet encrypted so your workers can be productive without having to worry about technological overhead.
Those are always massive concerns. When you talk about compliance, luckily there has been a huge push from all of the major players in the market. Anywhere from Google to Amazon to Microsoft with Azure, they’ve invested billions of dollars with regards to data compliance. They want their platform to be the forefront and we’ve been able to leverage that investment to make sure that we’re covered from our side, GPDR, any of the amounts of NIST compliance, all of that data, all of the rules and regulations that are wrapped around them, we were able to leverage some of the machine learning to identify things like, here’s a credit card number in a public document. We should probably take that out.
There is a massive, massive amount of tool sets for those willing to learn and want to apply best practices. That’s what we invested in years ago and it’s paid off in spades today.
|Tom:||I would even add to that, Bill, there’s obviously that side of the security concern. Another side of the concern as well, is when you have a remote or a mobile workforce, now you have a workforce that are taking devices out into the wild with potentially sensitive data stored on them. Bill mentioned there are storage at rest encryption capabilities that will allow you to protect a device in case it was compromised in any way.
Then it goes beyond that. There are solutions out there such as mobile device management that would allow an IT department to remotely manage an employee’s device. If it was, say stolen or lost, the IT department could still have some level of control over destroying that data before it gets to the wrong hands.
|Kevin:||That’s certainly is key just because when you do have a… You’re absolute right, Tom, when you do have a team of people or employees that are traveling around, that are going different places, a device gets lost, it gets stolen, that’s always a big concern. I used to be an on the road traveler myself, and I remember there was one situation where somebody got their laptop stolen from a trunk of a car and it was simply because they were in an area where there’s a lot of business travelers and the things there knew how to pick them out from anybody else. They were able to target their car and their laptops were in their trunk, and that’s exactly what they did. They broke in, opened up the trunk and stole their laptops.
That’s critically, critically important. You guys also mentioned machine intelligence was actually interesting as well too. About how that plays a part in terms of being able to identify different information inside of the stream and being able to hide that or remove that or protect against that. How has cloud technologies played into your strategies in terms of making this all work?
|Bill:||Cloud has definitely been the old way to go. It’s basically the tools that’s being a SMB business, 140 folks, it’s not as though we have machine AI individuals on staff 24/7. Being able to leverage vendors and use their best practices has been an absolute windfall for us, from the idea of, like I had mentioned before, the billions of dollars behind that. Everyday users, if you want to see machine intelligence, looking no further than Microsoft Word, or even Gmail with regards to how it knows what you want to write before you’re even writing it, you’re mid-sentence and it’s literally suggesting what to fill your sentence in with.
We’re seeing over the next couple of years, more and more that creep into every day technologies that we use even in our homes. Two years ago, who would have ever guessed that there would have been a constantly live microphone in over 80% of the homes in America waiting for you to ask to play music? It’s a rapidly, rapidly evolving field that’s just barely touching with regards to financial records, security, small business security and the recommendations that come along with that.
|Tom:||I think really, with that has been a user enablement as well. When you take a cloud-first approach, it allows you to… It gives your users the ability to access the information they need from anywhere. For example, there’s a lot of times when I may be out and about running errands or maybe I’m in line at Starbucks waiting for something and somebody needs a piece of data. I can just pull up say the Office app on my phone and grab the data that I need and get it to them even before I place an order for coffee. I’m no longer tethered to my laptop or my desktop. I’m able to access the information anywhere I’m at with any device.|
|Kevin:||I know that we have another platform that’s in our office, the OnBase platform as well. That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about on this particular podcast channel and people have heard a lot about that, and a lot of people may not be aware in terms of the fact that we do use it quite a bit in our office. I know our HR department has used it a lot and we’ve talked about that a little bit, but we may not have mentioned some of the other applications in terms of how we use that and how that has enabled us to be remote, but still tie people together.
Do you guys have any experiences in that perspective in terms of how some of the OnBase applications are enabling our staff to work remotely and keep that information flowing?
|Tom:||Sure. OnBase actually has a few options for remote accessibility. They have one as a web client, and it can be an HTML based web client. You can access it from any browser, or any device. They also have mobile applications as well. If you’re running an Android or iOS device, you can download the mobile application and OnBase has been pre-configured to allow and render itself well on that mobile application.
You can pull back any data that you would be able to pull back from a desktop application, the Unity client, for anybody who’s familiar with OnBase. It is a little bit more limiting on the, you don’t have the full functionality suite available to you, but typically when users are on the go, like I said, standing in line of Starbucks, they don’t need the full functionality, they just need the quick access or a quick reference to a particular piece of information. That’s what you get and more with OnBase, from the mobile standpoint.
|Kevin:||I can recall a situation where I was actually traveling. I was actually on vacation, so I shouldn’t have been on my phone anyways. I remember going through a drive through and I got a notification that somebody on my team needed a purchase requisition approved. I was able, while I was in line through the drive through to be able to pull it up on my mobile phone, view the actual submittal and approve it right there and then before I had a chance to even pay for my food.
It’s that kind of technology that really allows people to be mobile and flexible and in a sense, socially distance but still very much engage personally, in terms of what’s going on with the office. Is there anything else that you guys can think of that really has made a big difference? Maybe there’s something down the pipeline that you guys are thinking of in terms of, is there anything else that the organizations can be thinking of that might help them to take that step, or take that leap board, or what’s next gen that you guys are hearing about in the CIO Magazines or the different worlds that are out there that are talking about what’s going to be available for businesses to take them to the next level?
|Bill:||You touched on something in your comments there, Kevin, that highlights this particular bit as well. Being platform agnostic with regards to your technology, a lot of times with vendors or technologies, this has to be Windows only, this has to be iOS only, et cetera, et cetera. Having the design be completely open with regards to platform has really allowed a multiple mix of people to access those systems and really help user adoption over time.
If I say that you can only have an iPhone, unfortunately half the staff has droid phones, back and forth. Or I want a Macintosh or I want a MacBook Air, or anything in that effect to do my work. Being able to empower employees to choose the platforms they’re most comfortable with while still providing the same service is an absolute huge, huge step. Users are able to deal with the problems that they have from a business level, not from a technology level. Really creates IT to be engaged as a business process partner versus the department of no as they’re typically known in a lot of companies.
|Kevin:||If I can say this shameless plug, just having worked with you guys and your team, I definitely have never felt that you guys had a department of no, that you guys have really worked hard. Just as a user, you can tell when you have that platform agnostic, mobile first type of approach, it really, really makes a huge difference because I am a remote worker, so it affects me personally as well, which you guys do.
I can just say, over the years, it’s been a huge, huge, huge transformation just in terms of the effectiveness of someone being able to work remotely. I think that those two principles in terms of being mobile first, platform agnostic and being highly secure cloud first, those types of things are all based principles that really leads you to a successful type of approach where employees can work remotely.
Before we close off, guys, this has been a great conversation. Is there anything else that you want to share with us or any other thoughts that are on your mind? Just open up the floor to anything you might think of.
|Tom:||The only other thing from my side, Kevin is ensuring that your managers are comfortable with the idea of having a, a mobile workforce. A lot of managers struggle to get beyond the idea of allowing their users to be off somewhere else and still feel like they’re being productive employees. With that, it’s critical to get them on board and give them tools to be able to measure their users’ productivity and efficiency in ways that don’t require them to be physically in the office watching them.
There are a lot of KPIs and other types of metrics out there that managers can use to feel comfortable knowing that the work is still getting done even when the employees aren’t there. Our conversation focused a lot on the technical side of it, but there is the political side of it as well. That’s something that if you don’t bring that side up along with the technical side, you’re going to have a very tough time to get this initiative off the ground.
|Kevin:||That’s a great point. How about you, Bill?|
|Bill:||I was going to talk to the financial side. Actually did some of my research this morning with regards to your typical company overhead when you’re looking at remote types of policies. Even in the Detroit area, for business space, just normal commercial office space, you’re looking at a buck 50 per square foot per month. An average employee is something like 10 square feet for their workspace as it were.
Overall, the idea of being with allowing people to work from anywhere, you can ultimately minimize your business overhead in the end. You’re looking at thousands of thousands a month. The average median and high metroplexes like Los Angeles or New York, you’re looking at upwards of $80 for a square foot. Having dedicated space for an individual that could be remotes or even flex with things like hot-desking or anything in that effect has huge financial repercussions over time.
Overall you’re able to minimize your footprint for things like headquarters or for collaboration spaces by just massive, massive amounts. Right now we have, I believe 13 fully remote folks. Add those numbers up, multiply with whichever locale you want and you’re looking at thousands upon thousands of dollars that you’re saving. That really helps justify when someone’s looking at a T-chart of debits and credits that remote-first does have the potential to have great investments and then great return on that investment over time.
|Tom:||You make a great point, Bill, and the other side of that coin as well is, as a hiring manager, now I’m no longer restricted to the candidates that are within driving distance of my office. I don’t care if I find an employee for fill a role that’s down the street or across the country anymore, I’m able to open the gates and find the best possible candidate to fill the role. It’s really helped us find a higher quality employee as well.|
|Bill:||When you started talking about bottom line too, we had talked about demographics shortly. I guess with regards to the millennial demographic that’s coming up, you’re looking anywhere from 10% to 30% cost save, when you start talking about compensation that they’d be willing to forgo for remote capabilities. That type of latitude in their work schedule, their work life balance is highly, highly valued and is going to be a great, great recruiting tool in the future. That again brings that ROI. You’re looking more and more in the green every time that you’re looking at remote work.|
|Kevin:||That’s absolutely true in terms of what you were just saying. As a matter of fact, one of the people on my team just shared with me this week that she comes to the office four days a week and works one day a week from home. But because of the enforced quarantine that’s going on right now, being home for two weeks, she said, just even for her personally how much money that she saved just in terms of getting up, spending all that money on just getting ready for the office, the gasoline that comes in, the wear and tear on your vehicle, those are all different green initiatives that also helps too in terms of having a mobile workforce that you don’t have to have in your office all the time.
Gentlemen, I just want to thank you guys both so much for joining us today. I think this was a really great discussion just in terms of the thought process, the technology and the benefits in terms of just preparing in your organization to be able to work in a mobile world. Not only so that it can help you the next time we run into something like COVID-19 or a snow storm or some natural catastrophe, but it’s also a way forward for organizations as well.
I really think, I really agree with both of their points that it really is a future. The younger generations that are coming up, they are used to technology being an extension of their bodies. It’s like their third hand or their second brain or whatever it is, and being able to work that into how we work and how we solve challenges for our customers and serve our customers is going to be a great deal. Thank you guys for joining us and hopefully that we can get you guys on another podcast soon.
|Tom:||Thanks, Kevin. Looking forward to it.|
|Bill:||Thank you so much for having me.|
|Kevin:||Thanks again for joining us on this podcast, and if you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.|