As the H1N1 flu virus continues to surface in cities and towns across the United States, officials are encouraging businesses to examine their operations and construct a strategy for maintaining business continuity in the face of a potentially absent workforce. Bolstering telecommunications infrastructure with a hosted IP telephony solution like the 8x8
Virtual Office business phone service is one way a company can maintain its day to day operations even when employees are forced to remain home due to office closings or school shutdowns.
On September 18, 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released "It's Not Flu as Usual," an H1N1 preparedness guide written to provide businesses of all sizes with suggestions on how to keep employees healthy and maintain business operations during the upcoming flu season. "Absenteeism would be the central issue for businesses to wrestle with during a pandemic," said Ann Beauchesne, the Chamber's vice president of National Security and Emergency Preparedness. "Business leaders and managers should focus on reducing the transmission of the H1N1 flu in the workplace -- including encouraging sick employees to stay home -- and maintaining business continuity."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce guide encourages businesses to establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts) to increase the physical distance between employees and others if local public health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies. The Chamber also advises companies to ensure they have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple workers who may be able to work from home.
According to IP communications service provider 8x8, Inc., one way to facilitate a work from home, business continuity strategy is to put a flexible, Internet-based phone system in place that has the capability to, on the drop of a dime, accommodate a mobile, geographically dispersed workforce.
"Deploying a hosted IP telephony solution like 8x8 Virtual Office is one very simple, but significant, step a business can take to ensure business continuity within their telecommunications architecture," said 8x8 Chairman & CEO Bryan Martin. "Many of our customers have built their business continuity procedures around the plug and play capabilities of our service, and the capability and low cost of deploying backup phones and services to a contingent workforce at locations remote to their primary operations. These phones and the contingent workforce would be deployed in the event that primary operations are unable to continue due to the number of absent employees during an H1N1 outbreak at the workplace."
Hosted IP telephony solutions incorporate VoIP technology and use ordinary broadband Internet connections, instead of old-fashioned PSTN copper wire alternatives tied to premise-based PBX hardware, to transmit phone calls and enable business class calling features. Because these Internet connections are ubiquitous and not limited to a specific physical or geographic location, employees can access their company's phone network from any broadband-enabled location, whether it's a home office or regional office located anywhere in the world. IP telephony users can simply unplug their IP desktop phone from one Ethernet jack and plug it into another without losing any of the features or functionality of the service.
"Businesses today are relatively uneducated about the choices they have when it comes to telecommunications services and the associated costs," Martin continued. "Advancements in IP technology now allow companies to function in ways they never imagined possible for less than half the cost of their existing legacy solution. Given the potential effects of an H1N1 outbreak and the subsequent need for a nimble and timely response, now might be the best time for companies to examine the capabilities, effectiveness and cost of their current business phone solution."