Beat the Winter Weather with Office 365

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    Extreme weather can severely affect an organization’s ability to meet deadlines and function as offices may be forced to close and employees must leave the workplace. With anywhere access to Office 365 on a wide variety of devices, severe weather conditions can be mitigated. 

    Severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, and tropical storms can cripple an organization’s production for the duration of the bad weather. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January and February have the largest spike in workers missing days due to the winter weather. Through examining the average absence rate of employees during the year, most absences occurred in January since it is the coldest month of the year and prone to the worst snow and ice storms.

    Offices on the East coast that experience severe weather more than the West coast can cause slow production, missed deadlines, and potential profit losses if they must close due to a storm. Not only does production come to a halt but employers may have to pay their employees for time missed due to winter storms because of sick leave, personal leave, and snow days. This may feel like a double hit to employers if sales and business is lost due to the closure on top of paying employees for that time.

    One way to combat this loss is to switch to Office 365 because of its Cloud based functions. Because Office 365 can be used almost anywhere, businesses that switch to Office 365 can cut down on the number of days missed due to employees not being able to physically make it into the office. Organizations can create policies specifically designed for office closures due to severe winter weather or other natural disasters. These policies can redirect production from the office to the employee’s home provided the proper equipment is provided or available.

    Over the past few years Microsoft has placed several of its roots into Cloud based computing. Several applications and products are now available as a direct download or as strictly web-based operations. As Microsoft’s competition continues to move forward and attract a growing number of Cloud based workers, many business needs point toward the ability to work online to ensure a continual wok flow that is not constricted to working in a set physical location. Microsoft’s vision includes a combination of a hybrid work environment along with the best experience available across various devices.

    Microsoft is continually making it easier for users to use their products such as improving Outlook Web Access connections through Chrome and Firefox. Whereas previous versions had the best viewing in Internet Explorer, users can now select their favorite browser. This improvement enhances the experience of web-based computing and reduces the amount of complaints from employees who must work from home due to inclement winter weather. Employees who favor other browsers can connect to Outlook Web Access at home even if they don’t have Internet Explorer installed on their home machine.

    Snowed in employees also have the benefit of Office 365’s mobile device management (MDM). The latest updates in MDM are compatible with iPhones, Android phones, and BlackBerries through a universal policy toolbox. So if they do not have a work issued laptop or smartphone they can use their personal mobile devices. Some employees who have access and are eligible for bring your own device (BYOD) work will have no problem using MDM.

    In Office 365, desktop office is not needed in order to create Office Web App documents. You no longer need Office 2010 for Office Web Apps. This also reduces the moans and groans from employees who have to forfeit their paid “snow days” for paid work at home days during winter storms.

    Despite bad weather production must continue and communications are a must. Organizations must maintain and manage the growing demands for business communication to remain constant and continue production outside the physical office when bad weather rolls in. Office 365 makes it possible to continue business as seamlessly as possible to current and potential clients through remote and mobile accessibility across all organizational departments.

    Working at homeWith this mobility there may not be a need for “snow days”, which now may coin a new term such as “snow-home days” or “snowed in days”. Not only does the mobility offer assistance to those snowed in for winter weather but it may also offer an alternative to sick days. Employees may often elect to use a sick day in conjunction with vacation time and when an actual illness becomes an issue they no longer have sick days saved up. Many employers may not have an issue with employees who use sick time for personal use as long as it does not become repetitive. The option of staying in also reduces the number of sick employees coming in to work.

    Office 365 may create a trend in virtual offices and open the doors for remote and telecommute work as well. Depending on the nature and sensitivity of the work, many employees may be able to work from home full time. This option also opens employers up to hiring qualified employees who may be out of state but may have superior knowledge than local job applicants.

    The use of Cloud based computing and applications is one of the best strategies to deal with bad weather closures. The option for employees to work from home provides the security and assurance that they will not be forced to take time off without pay. Important meetings can still be scheduled and conducted by streaming a PowerPoint presentation on the Cloud and using web based video chat.

    With well managed IT staff and employees who can instantly connect to their company’s networks outside the physical office, communications will continue as well as production and deliverables. Workers who must miss going into the office because of bad weather can reduce disruptions in service to their clients through VoIP phone calls and virtual conferences. Documents can be shared via the Cloud in Office 365 which enables for version control and continuity. As long as an employee has access to a computer or smartphone they will be able to connect to their company’s Office 365 suite of software and applications even if they do not have a work laptop or smartphone.

    Data saved in Office 365’s Cloud Services are backed up every couple of hours so there is no worry in losing data that hasn’t been saved for a couple of days. This is another concern when having to switch between a physical building and Cloud servers. If the data was created in the Cloud to begin with, no worry since it is constantly backed up. Managers and leaders won’t have to worry if the team is working with the most recent data due to a snow day as they will be able to rely on the latest edited version.

    Security is always a huge concern especially when it comes to Cloud computing. Microsoft implements controls and policies designed to safeguard their customer’s data in the Cloud with unique controls that can be customized within their organization’s network. This level of security comes after several years of experience in building enterprise software and management of several services online with several billion invested in security. Several built in security features are discussed below which offer peace of mind when conducting business in the Cloud.

    Some of the security features provided by Microsoft in the Cloud are physical security, best security practices, secure network layer, data encryption, and automated security operations. Data centers are monitored around the clock with procedures in place to protect data from natural disasters and unauthorized access attempts. Back end servers are physically segmented from public interfaces to prevent intrusions. BitLocker Advanced Standard (AES) encryption is used for every customer email account to provide secure data encryption which protects against email hacking and takeover.

    Not only does such mobility and security provide continuity during winter storms in the U.S. but in other countries as well. The United Kingdom and Germany also experience shutdowns and closures in the winter months which may have an affect on U.S. business. Global operations will no longer have to shut down or slow down if work can be performed out of an employee’s home. By deploying Office 365, companies and their employees will save time and money during the severe winter months. Business can continue as normal and production will increase during this time based on the history reports.

    Through today’s business communications of email schedules it is very easy to change a meeting from in person to virtual. In the case of bad winter weather a meeting can be changed up to the last minute and can proceed virtually with very little time and scheduling issues rather than be postponed or canceled at the last minute. This type of transition saves time, frustration, and money and can avoid delays in schedules and production.

    The overall value of using Office 365 is exponential to an organization. Businesses are not limited to production at a physical location and with the growing trend of BYOD several employees are already working away from the office. Potential growth and increased production during severe winter months is possible through Office 365’s web based capabilities and security.