Changing with the Times

Changing with the Times

How technology has helped businesses of all sizes survive, and even thrive, during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, the concept of working from home was not mainstream. Companies were slowly testing the waters and employees saw it as a nice perk that boosted morale and loyalty. According to a survey of 835 U.S. employers by XpertHR, 12 percent had their employees working remotely at least part of the time before the pandemic. Those same companies say they expect it to be more like 30 percent even after the pandemic, a clear sign that remote work may be here to stay.
 
Technology has been and will continue to be crucial for the continued success of businesses in this new landscape. However, it was a scramble for some in the early days of the pandemic.
 
“South Jersey was hit hard and fast,” says David Suleski, founder and president of #TechStarters, an IT and web services provider. “Businesses prep for seasonal adjustments, business disruptions and the emergency unforeseen; but COVID hit South Jersey businesses with a long-term business disruption unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Although some industries benefited, no business was truly prepared.”
 
Maintaining Daily Operations
Businesses immediately had to figure out how to continue the day-to-day operations while the workforce was scattered in different locations.
 
One of the most crucial pieces of technology that came to the forefront was VoIP (voice over internet phone) service. Andrew Kazelis, vice president of operations at USA Phone, says, “Our hosted IP phones can be relocated at any time from the office to an off-premise location, allowing the user to have the same in-office calling experience. … For companies that had not already converted to VoIP service, they were not prepared for the reality of working remotely in a business-as-usual manner.”
 
This type of service maintains a centralized form of communication and can even be used via mobile app on employees’ cell phones. “The outbound caller ID will be the company name and main number, providing a unified business communication while protecting the private cell phone number of the caller,” Kazelis says.
 
For someone who has been in this industry for several decades, this seamless transition would not have been possible 10 years ago.
 
Suleski says, in addition to VoIP migrations, requests for secure remote access setups (VPNs), virtual meetings, email and file migrations, and issuance of monitored and secured corporate-owned laptops were the most common.
 
“Organizations should have the ability to operate from anywhere, at any time; yet the majority are still told that is not an option. With the security and flexibility of software platforms, like Microsoft’s Azure and MS 365, businesses have options to reduce costs, increase security and provide the ability to work remotely,” he says.
 
Although Zoom was the easy route for video meetings, Suleski says it lacks collaborative workflow, making Microsoft 365 or G Suite the better option for long-term business collaboration. “Microsoft 365 is a reference to a suite of over 30-plus very affordable and scalable business applications and services, hosted in the cloud (i.e. hosted on Microsoft’s servers),” he says. “Microsoft’s most popular new 365 application is Microsoft Teams. Teams is a secure unified communication platform for businesses; which combines file sharing, phone calls, chats, customer interactions, projects, office suite and video conferencing under a single provider, to simplify operational workflow and communication for all employees.”
 
Health care was one industry that could not afford a disruption. Dr. Monica Jain, a physician at Jain Primary Care Associates in Turnersville, a member of Consensus Health, says there was never another option other than getting telehealth up and running fluidly.
 
“As an industry as a whole, I believe health care providers responded rapidly and efficiently to the transition to telehealth appointments for our patients,” she says. “Obviously, our goal has been to continue to deliver the highest quality of care possible and be accessible to our patients throughout the pandemic. Certainly, there have been hiccups along the way as with any adjustments to a new technology, but with the help of our management team at Consensus Health, we were able to vet and roll out a telehealth platform in less than five business days. Their ability to pivot and adjust quickly allowed us to stay on top of our patients’ care without missing a beat.”
 
Health care is a business after all, and this technology for virtual appointments had a significant economic impact. “If telehealth was not available, I believe we would have seen a large percentage of physician offices laying off staff and eventually closing,” Jain says. “The reduction of income and financial impact would not have allowed for most offices to remain open. Even though a virtual climate allows for a reduction in operational costs for us, we still need to have income to sustain our office space and pay our staff.”
 
All across this field, providers are reporting the benefits of telehealth not just on their end, but patients’ behalf as well. Providers can see more patients in a day, patients don’t have to deal with transportation issues or waiting room time and can make appointments to fit their schedule.
 
Jain says she believes telemedicine will continue to play a role in delivering care in this hybrid world. “It is changing the face of health care and has the capacity to revolutionize its delivery. With more consistent, ongoing connectivity, we can work even more closely with our patients to reach therapeutic goals—and that is key.”
 
Online Activity
With physical locations closed to customers in many cases, businesses had to rely on the web to remain relevant, whether it meant online ordering or social media engagement.
 
Carol Harkins, founder of South Jersey SEO by CyberGnarus, says the pandemic made it all the more clear that a web presence is essential to survive.
 
“When people need to limit their physical exposure to the world, most of us are not self-sufficient. The internet has already replaced the phone book, encyclopedia and almanac as the place we go first for information on demand. It is already our backbone, and that has been reinforced in this ‘new normal,’” she says. “If a business isn’t readily visible online, it will lose out to its competition. Before the pandemic, those businesses could do well with in-person buyers. If they had a good location in the physical world—in a mall, across the street from a sports venue, on a town’s walkable main street—they could get away without a great online presence. Today, first they need to be found online; then they need to close their sales.”
 
Working with clients on search engine optimization and Google rankings, Harkins says maintaining online traffic was important. When one client’s online traffic dropped by 60 percent in the first three weeks of the pandemic, they instituted a twice-weekly Facebook live event, fielding questions from customers who were stuck at home. “Their web traffic returned to normal immediately and has grown an additional 30 percent over that. My client assured the customers that they cared about them by providing a free resource and keeping them engaged, avoiding the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ scenario,” she says.
 
Your online presence should also be user-friendly. “Visitors need to be able to intuitively find what they are looking for on the website. It should be effortless. With our world becoming more mobile—depending on your industry, visitors are as, or more, likely to come to your site on a mobile device than a desktop PC—a slow-loading webpage could be disastrous,” Harkins advises.
 
“Future success will be based even more on having a good internet presence and visibility,” she concludes.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 10, Issue 9 (September 2020).

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Author: Liz Hunter

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