How cloud communications are connecting workers

Cloud-based communications have given five different companies a lifeline during lockdown, here’s how

Reaching out with cloud classes

Every Thursday, 20 or so people gather inside a Hackney yoga studio. It’s a balmy 37 degrees, and the walls pulse with light, and a soothing soundscape can be heard.

It’s a formula that has made Hotpod Yoga one of the UK’s most successful yoga companies with more than 80 franchises. But how to deliver that when a lockdown closes all your studios?  The answer lies in the rapid deployment of cloud services, says Max Henderson, the company’s CEO.

When the government lockdown was announced, Hot Yoga staff all started working from home. Within 48 hours, the company had rolled out a Zoom video conference yoga schedule. “Obviously we can’t replicate the full experience online, but we can offer customers a high-quality class with a teacher they know and trust,” says Henderson.

More than 800 customers signed up for the first Zoom classes, suggesting that Hotpod Yoga made the right choice. Meanwhile, employees are using a combination of cloud communications services to continue to manage operations. “We are using Slack and Zoom to communicate with franchisees, along with Xero to help collaborate with financial staff who are working from home,” Henderson says.

Staff uptake has been enthusiastic, but Henderson is aware that it may tail off over time. “I think in the early weeks there’s an adrenaline rush, almost like people are in shock and will pull together to achieve tremendous things. But we’re starting to now settle into a new normal, and those cloud communications are just becoming embedded.”

Even if people are furloughed… we want to make sure they’re OK. Good communication is vital in helping to reduce that anxiety

Cloud communications a perfect fit

When interior fit-out specialist Portview closed all its sites on March 24th, managing director Simon Campbell knew that “business as usual” wasn’t an option.

The company works across the world designing and fitting interior spaces for stadiums, retail spaces and hotels. Overnight, the company furloughed 40% of its employees, and moved the remainder to home working. All employees have access to cloud-based video calls with the company’s occupational nurse, in case they are in need of support.

While most clients have paused projects, the company is focusing on future potential projects and employee development, says Campbell. To achieve this, Portview is using Microsoft Teams for collaborative working and meetings, alongside a cloud-based project management tool that allows complex CAD documents to be shared across teams, and CGI “walk throughs” can still be shown to clients.

Meanwhile, employees can also access a cloud-based social intranet that offers a platform for informal communication and virtual coffee breaks. The hub has quizzes and games, with a host of cloud resources including guitar lessons and worksheets for children who are currently learning at home.

The hub helps employees feel they’re not just “punching the clock”, says Campbell. It also helps all employees to feel supported, and part of a team. “Even if people are furloughed, they’ve having the same problems as the rest of us, and we want to make sure they’re okay. Good communication is vital in helping to reduce that anxiety.”

Relying on unified comms for support

The Covid-19 outbreak arrived as the Motor Neurone Disease Association had completed a project to adopt more agile working practices. It meant the small charity was ready to support its 190 employees working from home, thanks to a cloud-based telephony system from NFON and Microsoft Teams.

The cloud communications platform, which was completed in January 2020, reduces the cost of home working, and improves flexibility. “Workers can have calls and messages diverted to any device, and the integration between Teams and NFON means there’s just one interface for all call management and messaging,” says Simon Cooper, head of ICT at the MND Association.

Calls to the charity’s helpline have exploded in recent weeks, with people concerned about how to get support for themselves or family members who are quarantined while living with MND. Using cloud telephony means the helpline has remained open, with staff taking calls from home.

Volunteers are using the platform to proactively contact 1,500 people the charity has helped in the past, ensuring they have the support they need. “The fundraising team are trying to keep supporters engaged on Zoom, and we’ve had some success with virtual quizzes,” adds Cooper. “It’s also about encouraging people to have a virtual coffee break and a bit of banter with colleagues. The platform is critical in making people feel connected.”

Cooking up culture

This Friday, the team at Promo Veritas will be cooking up tartlets as part of a companywide Zoom cooking competition.

It’s probably not what you’d expect from a consulting firm that helps brands to run promotions, but in lockdown, being creative can help build team spirit. “My wife is a chef so she’ll be doing a demonstration, then people will submit photos of their tartlets and we’ll pick a winner,” says Jeremy Stern, CEO of Promo Veritas.

The weekly “Friday Fun” challenge is just one way that Promo Veritas is using cloud services to keep its employees engaged and productive during the lockdown. The company is also using cloud communications to support more “typical” business communication. Around 150 employees are currently working from home, using a VPN to access cloud-based email, along with Microsoft Teams and Dropbox.

With cloud-based email people can drop messages relating to a specific brand into a shared Dropbox folder, that all team members can see. This means someone coming into work can easily catch up with anything they might have missed, says Stern. This is vital because some of the team are working reduced hours, so not everyone is working on the same days.

Each week there is a team talk on Microsoft Teams. Everyone is expected to attend, and invited to share their good news, current projects and other updates. Stern likes that issues tend to be quickly “done and dusted” on Teams, rather than sitting in email being bounced from person to person.

Efficiency, productivity and creativity

Moleskine has been hit harder and longer than many companies by the arrival of Covid-19. With products sourced from China, manufacturing in Northern Italy and a corporate office in the US, it has managed to be at the heart of three pandemic epicentres so far. As a result, some employees have already been working from home since February.

Cloud communications are critical to the company’s ability to continue doing business, says Peter Jensen, SVP, chief brand and innovation officer at the stationery company. “It has been hard, but we have been using Slack, Dropbox and Zoom for some time, simply because of the highly distributed nature of our company,” he says.

Slack is used almost exclusively in place of email, because it tends to encourage faster, briefer messaging. Workers can post shared files into Slack and have visibility of whether the recipient is online and has seen the document. Dropbox is used to share important documents and agendas ahead of meetings. This is important in reducing the risk of “Zoom scope”, where meetings last too long, says Jensen.

Jensen thinks the pandemic has changed how Moleskine will approach remote working and business continuity in future. “The business case used to be very much around efficiency and productivity, but it’s now also about giving people time to think and space to be creative. I think we will also be focusing on mindfulness and having a more balanced culture.”