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Keeping Your Company Healthy Despite H1N1

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Written by Jim Kanir

M5 Networks: Baked-In Business Continuity

One of the more prominent, quantifiable benefits of the M5 System is Business Continuity. Weather events or other disasters can knock out conventional phone service and customers calling the company get a busy signal or some message indicating phone service is unavailable. That "disconnect" is unacceptable as current customers can't get the service they require and new prospects assume the worst and move on to another vendor.

M5 customers are immune to that kind of business interruption. They all have a customized disaster recovery plan where M5 immediately re-routes calls to other offices or staff so that callers always reach a live person to assist them. Whether it's a hurricane or a fender bender that takes out a light pole around the corner, business disruptions are inevitable. But keeping the business running and maintaining contact with customers doesn't have to come to a screeching halt.

The Business Vulnerability of H1N1

Now there's a different angle on business continuity that a year ago might have sounded like a good idea, but today is a do-or-die imperative.

During the recent economic slowdown, almost every business, both large and small, has had to make adjustments. Unfortunately, for many companies that means trimming the work force and asking remaining staff to take on even more responsibilities. That "lean and mean" strategy will allow organizations to survive the crisis and be prepared to thrive as the economy recovers. But a refined business model that assigns each employee a more crucial role is 100% dependent on that employee being available to perform that role.

The H1N1 (Swine flu) virus could throw a wrench into the best laid plans of even the smartest companies. The estimate we have seen in the news of a 40% infection rate sounds incredible. But I know people, both adults and children, who have already been diagnosed with H1N1 and entire school districts have already been closed. And this is just October.  

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people will recover from H1N1. And the flu is a rather common ailment almost all of us has had to suffer through at one time or another. We're told by experts that one of the problems with H1N1 is that it is more contagious than other strains and requires people to stay home while sick so they don't infect other people.

Because of the risk of spreading the flu, some employers may suggest that staff work from home if there is a significant outbreak in the office. And for parents who must stay home with a sick child, even an occasional trip to the office might be ill-advised.

Assessing Personal Risk

In my job, I often fly and take subways daily. With the thousands of people I come in contact with every month, I will not be shocked if I have to become a bulk consumer of my wife's chicken soup. But to help limit that exposure, many of us are going to work from home much more than we have in the past. With the magic of hosted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) my M5 phone is connected to the office so that I can "telework" with the same efficiency as if I was 10 feet away from my co-workers in the next office.

When I plug my phone into an Internet connection at home and connect to the M5 hosted VoIP system, (1) I have all the same features I have at the office, (2) I'm accessible to outside callers at the same phone number without forwarding or receptionist intervention, (3) colleagues can still reach me by tapping my "5006" extension, and (4) my phone (or my profile) is connected to the "company network". Everyone knows when I'm on a call, available, logged out, or in a Do Not Disturb mode. For my part, I have the same visibility into what my team is doing, who they are calling and for what duration, in real-time.

Immunizing Your Business

M5 didn't predict the H1N1 would hit in 2009/2010. We did however; design a hosted system from the very beginning that enabled workers to have a plug-and-play option that took the virtual office to a whole new level. We made the system EASY, no dragging someone in from IT to forward calls to a sick employee's cell phone.

H1N1 is real. Unlike other flu strains, H1N1 victims really can't just "fight through it" and go to work. Consider what an infection rate of 40, 30, 20 or even 10% would do to your employees with sick kids, spouses, or parents. Think about how many may have to be home-bound caregivers. When the role of every worker is critical to the organization, what company can afford to be without 10-20% of their team? In a company of 50 employees, that could be ten who must stay home until someone they are caring for is healthy enough to return to normal activities.

A good portion of the employees of M5 customers are teleworkers by design. With a computer and the M5 hosted VoIP system , they are just as connected with their customers and colleagues as they would be in a cubicle at headquarters. By simply plugging the phone into an Internet connection, users are connected to the organization with their 4-digit extension and visible via the Web portal. Their activities can be documented and since they can be reached at their regular company phone number, their status and location are not relevant factors to callers.

Companies that are already M5 customers have the assurance that they can deal with employee quarantine situations in the same way they already do with their remote workers. It's simply a matter of taking the phone home and plugging it in. We're reminding all M5 customers they have this flexible capability to work remotely. No one wants to be sick with the flu. But it is a comfort to know personal productivity and the overall business won't have to screech to a halt.