Posts tagged COVID-19

Evaluate Your Disaster Collaboration Plan

COVID-19 has highlighted that many of us were ill-prepared for a prolonged global disaster.  Better accustomed to hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, we had (fortunately) never experienced a crisis like this in our lifetimes. Now that we have had to learn these lessons the hard way, how can we use this knowledge and experience to ensure we are better prepared in the future?

We can all agree that business continuity is the most important aspect in any crisis.  As the world begins to return to “normal”, we should take advantage of this opportunity to evaluate how we have managed the current challenge and think about how we can better prepare ourselves for the next crisis.

When evaluating how well your systems functioned during the crisis, here are a few questions with which to begin:

With many cloud services’ free offers expiring shortly, are you prepared to pay the bill for continued service?  Will this service improve your disaster response in the future, or can alternatives meet this need?

Now is the time to evaluate your options and anticipate how these will assist you in maintaining business continuity in a second wave of lockdowns, or a more traditional disaster.

While most applications have seen a spike in utilization, are there any applications with suspiciously low usage?

This may be pointing out your workforce has developed their own solutions or workarounds for your systems, causing security and intellectual property concerns.

Who are your most crucial users?  Who should belong to Phase 2 or 3?

Rolling out emergency procedures can be time consuming, and you should prioritize when possible to ensure your business continues to be as capable as possible during interruption. While executives are a natural answer, your front-line client support should not be overlooked. New product development, marketing, and even accounting should be considered for lower priority in your disaster collaboration plan.

Are your offices ready to handle users who have increased their adoption of video services?

Social distancing requirements may require a sustained uptick in video meeting adoption as some team members are in the office while others are at home.  Additionally, some employees may be uncomfortable being in an enclosed space with others.  Evaluate your office to include any conference rooms or huddle spaces that could be equipped with video to keep up with increased demand. It is becoming much cheaper to outfit rooms with basic video conferencing and content sharing technology.  Defined corporate standards should provide easy templates to quickly outfit these spaces.

When evaluating your current response and working to refine future plans, there are a few other areas to consider that also impact business continuity:

 

Redundancy and Resilience

Luckily, the world has been moving to many cloud-based platforms in the past few years: between file storage and sharing, cloud video, and shared productivity apps, we are already in a much better place than we would have been even 10 years ago.  However, there are strings attached to that cloud: licensing, security, and the ability for end user devices to access these technologies are all limiting factors. Some areas to ensure you have covered:

  • Securing video meetings against intruders, with a passcode or other method
  • Your device must be secure – but it must also connect to a secure platform. Are the management platforms, manufacturer portals, and individual device logins secure against attack? (For a more in-depth look, listen to our recent webinar with Crestron on AV and cybersecurity.)

 

Enabling Working from Anywhere

In the past, we have joked about working from our backyard hammock, the beach, or a boat.  For these uncommon occurrences, the low-res webcam built into laptops, or those headphones you got with your phone, are perfectly adequate. The recent scramble to acquire webcams, headsets, and other remote work enablement devices has proven the need for quality hardware.  Luckily, these items will not just sit in dusty boxes – they can be utilized in-office as well, improving the user experience and promoting the adoption of video meetings.

Consider purchasing employees basic hardware, such as those provided in AVI-SPL’s work from home bundles, as a hedge against potential second-wave quarantines and future disasters.  AVI-SPL has expanded its offerings to provide solutions specific to COVID-19 office space needs:

  • Temperature checks with the Aurora Temperature Check Tablet
  • Touchless hand sanitizer stations such as the Liberty Cable NOVI-AHS
  • Additional wireless demand will require a more durable network. Consider adding more WAP’s like the Luxul WS-80
  • Improve the videoconferencing experience with webcams, such as the Logitech C925E and audio solutions such as the Yamaha YVC-330
  • Wireless content sharing to enable social distancing while working in a group, using tools like the Barco ClickShare

 

Manage It Remotely

Are there elements of your collaboration technology environment that you cannot manage remotely? How will you handle a situation where a fire, tornado, or other natural disaster compromises your server or office access?  While we have been relatively lucky lately that we can access our offices when required, this will not always be the case.

If you work in a corporate HQ that oversees and supports a company-wide technology environment, how will your satellite offices cope if HQ is gone? 

Is your company planning on equipping multiple smaller offices, rather than one large office, to gain social distancing space?

Once again, a plan for redundancy and resiliency is needed.  Systems such as AVI-SPL Symphony will allow you to monitor and control remote office technologies while enabling remote troubleshooting and meeting monitoring.  This cloud-based application enables you to run a support desk from home and promotes social distancing: minimizing the number of on-site trips required and the number of staff required in-office. 

 

Utilize Your Trusted Advisor

One of the most important life skills – in AV, UCC, or any situation – is to know when we have reached the limits of our knowledge.  Even experts consult with other experts, and it is always a good practice to check in with others to get a second opinion.

AVI-SPL’s teams are at your convenience for that expert opinion. Beyond your account manager or service manager, AVI-SPL’s talented design teams can develop corporate standards that account for increased social distancing, remove touch elements from your conference rooms, and improve the reliability and scalability of your collaboration environment.  Let us know you need help, and we will provide the service and support you require.

6 Ways to Keep Experience Environment Staff and Visitors Safe Post COVID-19

While businesses are reopening amid the post-COVID-19 reality, keeping staff, visitors, and customers safe in offices and collaboration spaces is essential. Experience environment and briefing center managers face an additional challenge — how to support social distancing and safety in areas designed to encourage people to explore, touch, and interact with exhibits and demos.

Briefing center managers must protect the well-being of visitors and employees while still providing a compelling user experience. Explore these six ways to promote health and safety in your customer experience centers.

Update Your Reception and Welcome Practices

You can show your commitment to safety and put visitors at ease as soon as they arrive in your experience center by adding layers of precautions.

mobile phone with chat to welcome experience environment visitor

  • Have virtual or video-enabled greeters and live chat options to limit direct contact with guests.
  • Provide hands-free check-in via mobile app or a kiosk with a QR code scanner. Avoid the use of touch screens or tablets, if possible.
  • Use thermal imaging to detect at-risk guests.
  • Post your updated cleaning and sanitizing procedures on your digital signage screens and mobile app notifications.
  • Prepare staff to answer visitor and employee questions regarding enhanced health and safety measures.

Implement digital wayfinding and automated scheduling

Once a guest completes your welcome process, deliver wayfinding instructions to a mobile device or via digital signage. Recorded audio tours must be delivered via mobile app as well. Eliminate the use of paper maps and schedules, and headphones, and other shared devices.

For 3D or other exhibits that require gear such as glasses or visors, consider single-use disposable options. Alternatively, use equipment once daily to allow for deep cleaning during off-hours.

Social distancing may be a prolonged or permanent way of life in experience environments. Automate staff schedules to limit how many people will work each shift. This will help ensure your employees can comply with social distancing requirements. Communicate guidelines to all employees and identify which managers will monitor compliance among employees and visitors.

Leverage intelligence from IoT applications

If your center hasn’t fully adopted IoT applications, now is the time to put this technology to work for you. Automated tasks that promote health and safety among staff and guests include:

  • Employing sensors to monitor visitor density and alert staff if areas are approaching capacity
  • Adjusting the experience center environment based on occupancy patterns (lighting, HVAC, on/off of technology)
  • Wrapping virtual concierge services into one workflow – invite, schedule, greet, preset experience content and technology, assign seating, deliver catering, etc.

Strengthen your cleaning regimen

Keeping public spaces “clean” has taken on new meaning amid COVID-19. Clean and sanitize your shared technology devices, demonstration areas, communal areas, and restrooms before you open your doors and several times each day. Pay extra attention to touch screens, and other devices visitors handle multiple times a day. You may need to alter your business hours to allow ample time for deep cleaning as needed.

Communicate with staff regularly

Maintain an open dialog with your teams to answer questions and listen to feedback and ideas. They are your eyes and ears on the floor and can identify potential problems or confirm that your new guidelines are working as expected. Offering anonymous employee surveys online can encourage open responses from your team.

Offer Virtual Experiences and Events

Consider if you can offer meaningful experiences to visitors in the comfort of their homes to keep staff and visitors safe. Ways to deliver virtual events include:

  • Deliver virtual reality simulations and exhibits for users online
  • Create virtual conferences, 360 tours, or product demonstrations

If you need assistance getting your experience environments and briefing centers ready to promote health and safety for employees and guests, the AVI-SPL team is here to help. We can also produce your virtual tours and conferences. Contact us online now or call your local office.

Higher Ed Collaboration Tech: Positive Effects of the COVID-19 Response

Now that educators and students have worked from home for a few months, the focus is shifting to planning for summer and fall semesters. Some colleges like Boston, Purdue, and Brown Universities, discussed plans to carefully reopen this fall, while others have delayed welcoming students back to campus until 2021. Many organizations are also taking a “wait and see” approach until at least June 2020 before choosing a back-to-campus date.

Regardless of the opening date, social distancing and full-time online learning will be long-term, if not permanent, solutions that began as responses to COVID-19. After making the best of a sudden, fully-remote learning experience, administrators can now reassess their digital classroom needs. You can evaluate technology for continued use to deliver effective online education. Here’s a look at how new and upgraded collaboration solutions launched during the COVID-19 response can produce positive long-term effects.

Summer bridging

Schools and students that had a learning curve, or still need to deliver interactive classes such as labs, may need to play catch-up. The summer semester could be used to bridge this gap to prepare students for the fall semester. Educators may return to campus over the summer months, using collaboration technology solutions such as lecture capture carts to deliver digital classes to remote students. Helping online learners stay current with coursework can help retain students into the fall semester. 

Remote collaboration solutions move on campus

The time spent learning to use new collaboration software at home can produce a return when your students are back on campus as well. Implemented solutions such as Microsoft Teams can:

  • Augment in-person classes by facilitating communication, group projects, and class assignments
  • Increase student participation beyond classroom hours
  • Save time for teachers and students with online delivery of assignments, class notes, and research papers
  • Allow students to work together anytime, anywhere, even when social distancing requirements keep them from gathering in groups

Here’s a video that shares Microsoft Teams best practices for educators:

Upgraded Collaboration Tech Cleaning and Sanitizing Processes

COVID-19 made us aware of how much we touch things like our phones, remote controls, and touch screens. Part of the pandemic response was for everyone to upgrade their cleaning habits. Deep cleaning and sanitizing routines should extend to shared collaboration tech in classrooms and conference spaces too. Check out detailed cleaning tips from AVI-SPL and device manufacturers in this blog.

Communicating your new cleaning regimen to new and returning students can help them feel more at ease when visiting or moving into dorms.

Enhance Existing Online Learning Programs

Many schools offered online learning programs before COVID-19. Lessons learned from suddenly delivering every class online can be used to enhance legacy virtual programs. Several solutions and apps may have been used to deliver courses immediately. Take the time now to review feedback from educators and students.

Discuss what worked well, and which solutions posed the most challenges. Create a list of technology best practices and roll them out across your online learning curriculum.

Boost fiscal recovery

COVID-19’s financial toll on higher ed organizations is estimated in millions of dollars per school. Consider that leveraging collaboration tech to offer additional virtual classes could play a role in colleges’ economic recovery. If your school hasn’t explored offering full-time online degree programs, consider doing it now. Online classes expand enrollment options for more students since:

  • Geography is no longer a barrier to attend classes
  • Online learning is often a more affordable option than living on campus
  • Virtual courses offer scheduling flexibility, which helps working students, and those with families, attend more classes

Accept international students now

International students can benefit from your virtual classrooms too. Students traveling from abroad to move on campuses this fall could face challenges if embassies and consulates remain closed for an extended period, or your school will not reopen this year.

Instead of losing these students and tuition revenue, open your virtual classrooms as a temporary solution. Online courses could bridge the gap between the start of the semester, and the point when students from other countries can safely join school populations.

Next Steps

While the financial toll is extensive, and students lost the intimate experience of living and attending classes on campus, online learning solutions have allowed colleges to deliver quality education during these unprecedented times. Leverage the investment your school made in online learning. Review ongoing virtual classroom opportunities to drive additional enrollment and revenue now.

Don’t forget, the AVI-SPL team is here to help if you need assistance evaluating or upgrading your online learning collaboration tech. Contact us online or call your local office.

Time-Saving Tips for Online Teaching

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Almost overnight, our teachers and professors became the students, many learning how to teach, connect, and collaborate online while working from home for the first time. Instead of carefully orchestrated schedules, educators now have much more freedom at their disposal. And a lot less structure.

Of course, online learning has been around for a while, but never delivered at scale, to every learner, with so little lead time. Pivoting from the classroom to the home office can result in poor time management, procrastination, and the overwhelming feeling of needing to be available 24/7.

If you – or a teacher friend – are still struggling to adjust to remote teaching, you might benefit from some time management lessons of your own.

Below are some tips that can help make your new online school environment a little more productive.

Set your space up for success

If you don’t already have one, create a quiet place where you can work with no distractions. Just like you tell your students, the more focused you can be, the less time it will take to get your work done. Organize your home office like your work environment – familiarity breeds efficiency. And make sure you have all the tech you need to be an effective remote instructor.

Do less

You’ll get a lot of cheers from your students for this one. Our world is changing, and our expectations need to change too. Off campus, your students may not have all the technology they need to engage in online learning. They may be responsible for taking care of siblings while their parents work. And they’re most likely dealing with feelings of shock, fear, and disappointment and cannot concentrate – or don’t care. So give everyone a break, including yourself, and lighten the load.

A little structure helps

Students still need a reliable weekly schedule as much as you do, just with lower expectations and fewer time commitments. They were used to regular class times, and you all will be more successful if you stick with a consistent flow and rhythm for the week. If you leave the schedule up to them, you probably won’t see positive results.

In uncertain times, predictability and structure help us all maintain some semblance of normalcy. With regular assignments, they’ll know when tasks are due and can plan their week accordingly. Of course, we’re also dealing with the emotional shock of a global pandemic, so empathy and flexibility are just as important as deadlines.

Manage your inbox

If you received a lot of emails before, your inbox is probably overflowing now. While email is a great way to stay connected with your students, it can quickly take over your waking hours. Establish email boundaries and communicate the specific times you’ll be checking and responding to emails each day.

Students also tend to email the same questions over and over. Instead of answering each email individually, send out group emails, or post Q&As to your online class discussion and chat boards. If it’s a complex question, answer it in your next video lesson.

Use the tools

Fortunately, we have technology and platform choices designed for this moment, making it easier for you to deliver quality online learning experiences while effectively managing your time. Learn and use the tools at your disposal. Get creative. In addition to live sessions, pre-record video lessons, share high-quality blogs, articles, and videos, or narrate your presentations and post those in advance. Our Online Learning Best Practices for Educators and Keeping Students Engaged in Online Learning blogs share tips and advice that can help make your online learning courses more successful.

Be a good host

Hosting regular and consistent virtual office hours adds more structure to your day and can lessen the number of emails you receive. You can also use this scheduled time to respond to emails and grade assignments or discussions if you have time before or after meeting with students.

Just say no

Don’t assign too much busywork. Your students don’t want to do it, and you don’t want to grade it.

Need more ideas?

We’re all struggling with this adjustment and the challenges, feelings, and limitations that come with it. Our Time Management Tips for Remote Workers blog has other ideas to help bring a little more balance to your day.

And finally…

Consider this a first draft

COVID-19 instantly created a paradigm shift for many industries, and it certainly illustrates the need for our education system to build new infrastructures and systems that can withstand the ebbs and flows of our changing world. As schools and universities adapt and develop their own digital competencies for the short-term response to the current crisis, we’re most likely witnessing an enduring digital transformation. So jump in head first, and while you are practicing the art of teaching, go easy on yourself and remember you are still learning, too.

We’d love to hear how you’re dealing with the transition, what tech tools are working best for you, and your thoughts about the fall semester, so share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Time Management Tips For Remote Workers

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Remember the good old days when working from home meant quiet, solitude, no interruptions, and serious focus time? When we could plow through what seemed like a week’s worth of work in a day? And get the house vacuumed, dinner made, and take a walk before the kids got home from school? Bliss.

It’s crazy that it was only a month ago. Now, working from home has taken on an entirely new dynamic. Lack of focus, plenty of distractions, the Groundhog Day effect, and general worry and anxiety. Many of us also now have little colleagues at home. Bored, antsy colleagues who need our attention and invade our workspace. All of a sudden, we’ve added in chef, teacher, art director, therapist, and negotiator to our regular jobs.

There are plenty of tips about good planning, structure, creativity, and flexibility that help us better manage our time and create environments that improve productivity and maintain family harmony. We share some helpful ideas below, and they all work well. Under normal circumstances.

But in our current new norm, following any one of these tips consistently is a challenge. Managing time is difficult right now because time itself is different right now. It’s like we’re slogging our way through quicksand, each day the same as yesterday. And sharing space with other family members is frustrating, perhaps even chaotic, when we’re mostly stuck in the house.

So, the best advice? Don’t aim for perfection. Or normalcy. It may not feel like it when you look at your Instagram feed, but we’re all struggling. We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have not so good days. Every situation is unique, so pick one or two time management tips that will fit your current lifestyle. Take advantage of those moments of high productivity and when you just can’t focus, walk away. Like literally take a walk. Clean something. Play a game with your kids. Do push-ups. Just breathe and clear your head. It’s okay, we’ll get through this together.

Below are some ideas that may help you better manage your time and share your space while working from home.

Have a Conversation

If you haven’t already had a candid conversation with your manager, have one. Talk about your personal challenges and current work expectations, and then discuss creative and realistic solutions that will allow you to remain productive. This may mean some compromise on both your parts, including working non-traditional evening and weekend hours so you can spend time with your children during the day.

Be an early bird

Avoid the urge to sleep in. Set the alarm an hour or two earlier and get a jump on the day while the house is still quiet and before ‘school hours’ begin. If possible, let your kids sleep later than normal. Getting your most pressing projects completed in the early hours will make it easier for you to take a mid-morning break to help with schoolwork.

Commute to work

Start your day by walking around the block. It forces you out the front door, signaling to your brain that you are heading off to work. At the end of your workday, walk around the block again, but in the opposite direction. When you re-enter your home, you’ll feel like it’s the end of the day and time to ease into your normal evening routine. The fresh air and exercise is a bonus.

Create a schedule and a routine

Seems obvious, right? But setting and sticking to a schedule while working from home full time might be harder than you expected. Keep at it.  Just like your “commute,” a routine creates a start and stop time for your day, allows for breaks, and helps you reduce distractions and stress. It also helps with balancing work time and school time, as you may need to set aside complete blocks of time throughout the day to help with school work. And although they’ll deny it, your kids need routine too.

Make a list

Fight the urge to multi-task, which actually decreases productivity. Instead, at the end of each day, write down your five most important tasks for the next day and prioritize them. Then, when you start work in the morning, focus on the first task, and start crossing off your items. Try to stick to this and move any unfinished items to your next day’s list. This practice helps you to stop thinking about them, which will help you relax at the end of the day.

Set a timer

It’s easy to jump from task to task or stare mindlessly at the screen without accomplishing anything. It’s just as easy to walk away from your desk and get caught up in a personal project. Set a timer for 45 minutes for heads-down work and then reward yourself with a 15-minute break (or whatever schedule works best for you). Your focus will increase, you’ll feel less overwhelmed, and you’ll get a chance to rejuvenate. Our blog on Apps for Remote Work Productivity has some great suggestions for tools that will help you stay organized and on-task.

Turn off Wi-Fi. Hide your phone.

Seriously. It’s too easy to get distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook, and Instagram Posts, the latest COVID article, or your friend’s text messages. Obviously, you’ll need to get back online periodically to check in and connect, but if you manage your online time, your productivity will go through the roof.

Socialize

When you’re at the office, chatting with people happens naturally. When you’re working remotely, interactions with colleagues may be all work. Downtime is important, and social bonds improve productivity and well-being. So, it’s important to find the time – even if you have to schedule it – to keep personal relationships alive. Go for a walk and call a work friend, schedule a virtual lunch while your kids meet up over Minecraft. The quality and quantity of your work will improve if you make time to stay connected and have a little fun in the day.

Divide and conquer

If there are two adults in your home, divide the day into blocks so that each person has time to concentrate on work and time to help with schoolwork or play with the kids. If it’s just you at home and you need to oversee your children throughout the day, conquer your most critical projects when there is quiet time. Save tasks like answering emails for times when your children are playing or you’re watching TV and distractions are okay.

Define your workspace

Set up a dedicated workspace in your home to reduce distractions and maintain a work-life balance. Try to make this space off-limits to your kids unless there is an emergency or it’s a scheduled break time. Likewise, set up dedicated ‘school’ spaces and play spaces for your children. If they have a space of their own, they may be less likely to come into yours.

If you have to share a space, keep your area tidy and organized to maximize your effectiveness. Plan ahead and find ways to keep kids happily occupied when you are virtual meetings, allowing you to maintain a professional appearance – and your sanity.

Get with your manager asap if you still need tech to improve your remote work experience. Noise-canceling headphones are a great option to help you zone in, stay focused, and tune out playtime. Read our Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive blog for more inspiration on how to create an effective workspace.

And finally…

Resist the urge

Just because your computer is in the next room doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s 8:00 pm. Relax. Watch TV. Hang out with your family. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments for the day.