Corporate Telecommuting: The H1N1 Virus Edition

1180561_28843136News of a possible H1N1 virus, or “Swine Flu,” pandemic is causing many commercial firms and government agencies to examine their Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans so business can soldier on during the crisis. The threat of an H1N1 outbreak is even prompting the United States Centers for Disease Control to recommend that small businesses have telework and business continuity plans in place.

This could place even organizations with well developed telecommuting programs in a challenging position, because a major virus outbreak may mean that their remote worker needs exceed their current capacity.

On the flip side, there are organizations that are far from telecommuting-friendly, which face even more challenges because they aren’t set up for remote working. In order to keep their business running in such a crisis they are going to need to buy or build an infrastructure to meet a new model of working.

At WebWorkerDaily, we get a chance to review some of the best office productivity, social media, online collaboration, project management, and Web 2.0 tools that in a worst case scenario — like a pandemic outbreak — can help an organization maintain some semblance of operations and communications, even though its employees and contractors are working from home during the crisis.

Perhaps your organization already has a well-honed telecommuting policy, however it is prudent to look for chinks in your telecommuting plans before the worst case scenario happens. Here is a look at some tools and services you can use to keep business operations running.

Office Suites

While Microsoft Office (s msft) is probably your corporate standard, an extreme scenario like a pandemic outbreak could place your newly minted web workers on their home PCs or on a limited number of organization owned notebook PCs — there might not be enough Office licenses to cope with this scenario. This means you may need to consider web office solutions to make up the shortfall. Good choices include:

  • Google Apps is a good choice for augmenting your corporate standard Office suite, even though it is not as feature-rich. There are fee-based and free versions available.
  • Zoho Business is another ready solution, with a wider variety of applications that Google Apps.
  • Simon and I recently covered the impending rollout of  Office Web Apps. While it isn’t available yet, the model it promises is ideal for a scenario like this, because it can offer users remote access to their important Microsoft Office files with a familiar interface.

Web office suites can help you keep your work accessible online, which is especially handy if all your workers don’t have remote access to your corporate network.

H1N1_Zoho Social Media
Whether or not your organization has embraced social media behind the firewall, suddenly becoming a home-based organization means that employees are largely cut off from each other. Social networking tools can help them stay in touch with each other and the organization as a whole.

Some corporate-grade social media tools that might fit the bill include:

Each solution has fee-based and free versions.

Project Management

Putting your project management tools online is a prudent move, even before a crisis — but it could become a necessity in light of maintaining corporate operations in the midst of an H1N1 outbreak. However, Microsoft Project maintains its crown as the most popular — albeit mostly desktop-bound — corporate project management solution. Here are some good online project management tools:

  • Basecamp is a the most well-known of all of the online PM tools  — we’ve written about it many times previously.
  • Zoho Projects is an economical and innovative project management solution that Doriano previously covered for WWD.
  • Charles reviewed Team Effect which garnered some mixed comments but is worthy a trial.
  • PBWorks (formerly PBWiki) is another online project management option and according to Simon’s review it is definitely worth considering

Each of these solutions have fee-based and free versions.

Instant Messaging

Keeping your team in touch with each other even if they are all stuck at home is vital. If your organization isn’t already using instant messaging, then you need to consider it as part of your contingency plan.

Some instant messaging solutions you should consider include:

  • Open source clients like Pidgin and Adium which let you encrypt chat sessions over commercial IM networks including AIM, GTalk, Windows Live, and Yahoo (s yhoo).
  • Microsoft Office Communications Server also offers web-based access to its IM client. If your organization is running it, take steps to ensure your staff has access to it from home.

Web Conferencing & Collaboration
Today’s web conferencing and collaboration tools are ideal for keeping your team working together even though they’re not all working from the same office. Here are some options for web conferencing:

  • includes ConnectNow. Thursday covered coming out of beta. It has free and fee-based versions and includes online collaboration features.
  • Dimdim, which we’ve covered before, is an excellent low-cost teleconferencing tool
  • Simon covered the beta launch of Team Apart, a free online collaboration tool that offers white board, video conferencing, and file sharing. Depending on the progress of the beta, it might be worth considering.


Crises and Web Working
Whether you are building out or just augmenting your communications infrastructure in light of the H1N1 threat, I recommend checking out these  applications now and not on the eve of a crisis. You should also make sure that employees know how to use these applications and how to access them well in advance of having to actually implement your crisis plan..

How is your organization preparing to continue operations during an H1N1 virus outbreak?

Image by mzacha from stock.xchng.