For years, experts have been saying that telecommuting—otherwise known as working from home—would be the “wave of the future.” However, few predicted the wave would rapidly crash into the real world so quickly to become the “new normal.”
A recent study showed about 20% of people said they worked from home prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. As of late 2021, 71% of workers were reportedly working from home. Another 54% said they would prefer to continue to work remotely after the pandemic recedes to an endemic. For most companies, this paradigm shift represents a challenge in terms of building a new tech infrastructure that evenly facilitates at least three modes of work—in-office, hybrid, and remote.
Of key importance is the role of information management platforms that leverage a new-normal sense of collaboration and communication—especially in companies with workers spread across far-flung nations and time zones. Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” But, to do “great things,” an organization requires “greater” communication and collaboration tools.
Facing the “anywhere/anytime” challenge
As American workers continue to spread out into remote teams, the importance and value of project collaboration can’t be overstated. Knowledge workers must be able to work together anywhere, anytime, and from virtually any device. A 2021 Gartner study estimated nearly 80% of workers used collaboration tools—an increase of more than 40% since Q1, 2020.
Along with this shift came new and daunting challenges. For example, workers reported being unable to access key documents due to a lack of collaborative, accessible document management systems. Not only were workers scattered, so were their documents and data. Or worse, workers were using the wrong versions of documents that could often be lost in a swamp of email attachments.
Addressing collaboration frustration
So, how do forward-facing companies address these challenges and get the best out of their remote and in-office workers? The answer begins with a superior information management platform.
Workers must be empowered to share information easily and securely, as well as to work together more productively. They can’t do that if crucial information is still trapped in data silos or sitting on a hard drive in an office somewhere.
The good news? Document management solutions like M-Files face and defeats new-normal challenges for remote workers. No matter where or what your team focuses their resources and time, all crucial data is stored in one centralized repository, so everyone has access to exactly what they need. The result? Improved communication with clients and each other.
Keeping clients in the know
The digital-first experience has long presented an opportunity for organizations to create more personalized client experiences. For example, if a client needs a document, your team must have a streamlined system in place to make retrieval simple and secure. Solutions like M-Files mitigate issues in these areas by making content available internally and externally—but only to those who need access. Advances like these are ultimately why collaboration has continued to rise over the previous two years, despite the massive disruption brought on by COVID-19. When you give people the resources they need to perform at their best, they will.
It’s no secret that telecommuting or working from home has been on the rise over the last ten years, particularly as high-speed Internet connections have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Everyone knew that this was the way of the future – thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, “the future” arrived quite a bit faster than most people probably expected.
According to one recent study, at the highest point of the pandemic in May of 2020 roughly 35% of people found themselves working from home indefinitely. A significant percentage of them are expected to continue to do so long after the pandemic has passed us by.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Another study estimated that working from home has the potential to increase productivity by as much as 13%. About 77% of respondents to one Stanford study said that working from home at least a few times per month increased their productivity, allowing them to do more work in less time. It also improved employee satisfaction, while cutting attrition rates by as much as 50%.
Working from home does bring with it its fair share of challenges, too – especially for organizations dealing with inherently sensitive information like accounting firms. All the productivity and performance benefits in the world ultimately won’t mean a thing if employees are suddenly sharing and working with confidential information in an insecure environment.
Recently, the team at M-Files did a survey with Accountancy Age on data security-related issues that accounting firms in particular face when having employees work remotely. The survey’s findings paint a vivid and important picture about how far telecommuting has come, where it all might be headed, and the challenges we’ll need to face along the way.
The Issue With the “Old School” Methods of Communication and Collaboration
Obviously, it’s critically important that accounting professionals have the ability to create, share and collaborate on data with one another – regardless of where they happen to be. When everything shut down and people suddenly found themselves working from home indefinitely during the onset of the pandemic, firms turned to a number of “solutions” to help make this possible – with mixed results along the way.
According to the aforementioned study, some firms took to sending important documents and other pieces of information through the postal service to get it all into the hands of the people who needed it the most. The issue here is that it simply takes too long to get items to employees who depend on it to do their jobs – to say nothing of how this method makes collaboration essentially impossible.
Not only that, but a sudden delay in postal deliveries – like the ones experienced during the last half of 2020 – could grind productivity to a stop. Early on in 2020, three-day USPS mail service was already taking an additional four or five days to reach 99% of recipients. Flash forward to the end of the year, and it was taking an extra 14 days. This, coupled with the potential that a sensitive item could always be lost in the mail with no way to recover it, make this method essentially a non-starter.
Other firms turned to email – a tool that they’ve used successfully in the past. This, too, brings with it a number of issues – chief among them being confidentiality. It’s simply far too easy to click one wrong button or mistype a character and send sensitive client information to the wrong person.
If you’re trying to collaborate on a project with other employees, this too is less than ideal because it creates too many unnecessary steps. If three people need to sign off on a document before it can be approved, Person A has to send it to Person B – at which point the waiting begins. Maybe Person B gets to it today, maybe they don’t. Regardless, Person C literally can’t do anything because they’re waiting on someone to act on an item that this individual may or may not have even seen yet.
On top of it all, emails are inherently insecure. Unless you can guarantee that all remote employees are using advanced security methods like two-factor authentication – which you can’t – there is always the potential for an email account to be compromised, exposing all of the proprietary and sensitive information that has ever passed through it at the same time.
Finally, the working from home revolution has exposed a major issue at the very core of many accounting firms – namely that they’re using far too many applications or systems to manage and share business and client documents to begin with. According to the M-Files study, 23% of firms use at least three such systems on a daily basis. This can include things like email folders, files and folders across shared network drives, CRM and ERP systems, a dedicated accounting solution, file sharing applications like Dropbox and more.
At that point, simply knowing where to find an essential document becomes a uphill battle. Likewise, if something important is stored on a local shared network drive and you’re now working from home, how do you access it? The answer is clear:
Tearing Down the Old School to Build the New One
Thankfully, there are modern solutions built with this type of data security – not to mention communication and collaboration – in mind. It’s simply up for accounting firms to embrace them.
A document management solution like M-Files, for example, can consolidate all data across an enterprise into a single, easy-to-use system. It allows accounting firms to organize information based not on where it is, but on what it is – all while giving people the chance to access it through a single view without needing any expensive or time-consuming data migration.
Keep in mind that if information is being shared among employees with a private tool like Dropbox, firm leadership suddenly has no control over what it is and what is being done to it. It can easily be lost or compromised in some way and this is actually a major source of duplication and version issues. But with M-Files, you can leverage features like dynamic organizational permissions and permissions-based content and context to secure documents and folders based on who needs access to them to do their jobs. For the right person, that information is easier to find than ever. For the “wrong” person, they’re totally cut off from it – exactly as it should be.
In the end, working from home isn’t going away anytime soon – and that can very much be a good thing under the right conditions. Trying to manage sensitive accounting firm information using methods that were designed for a time when everyone was still in the office is only inviting disaster. Instead, true document and content management is needed and tools like M-Files can help bring it to accounting firms everywhere in the easiest and most cost-effective way possible.
Social distancing measures taken by responsible employers have greatly increased the number of employees working remotely. Even in the midst of this crisis, some companies and their employees can enjoy the objective benefits of not having to waste time and money on long commutes. At the same time, plenty of businesses really didn’t have the structure in place to support a vast, full-time work-at-home workforce with the security of business processes they needed.
Remote Workforce Security Challenges During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Because employees or departments scrambled for ad-hoc solutions to remote working, they sometimes sacrificed robust security to get up and running as quickly as possible. Sadly, cybercriminals can also work from home or other remote locations, and many saw the rise in remote workers as an opportunity.
For example, one survey of security professionals found:
A majority of security employees struggled to offer strong security solutions to remote employees.
At the same time, almost half of the respondents reported seeing an increase in phishing attempts.
Most of these corporate security pros had concerns about their ability to scale security, respond to abrupt environmental changes, and the difficultly of controlling employee use of unknown and untested software.
Five Best Security Practices for Remote Employees
With the increase in cyberthreats and the concerns of security professionals in mind, it’s a good idea to consider some best practices to help keep business systems free of threats and just as important, to ensure compliance with rules that govern privacy and security in different industries.
1. Two-Factor Authentication
With two-factor authentication, sometimes called 2FA, users have to finish their login with a code that gets sent to another device, typically a cell phone. It takes a few seconds longer to access the system, but it provides better protection against phishing attacks. One CTO found that this simple measure reduced security problems in his company by almost 40 percent.
2. Use Secure Connections
Obviously, most of these home workers will rely upon their home Wi-Fi connections. Without any other protections, your security will only be as good as whatever the employee’s home internet company, router, and password can provide. To boost security, you might have employees log in through a VPN or other method of encrypting communication between their home device and your corporate systems.
3. Endpoint Security and Monitoring
No matter how well you protect logins and communication, you still can’t always avoid the threat of malicious code entering your system. On your server end, you can employ software to block threats and monitor system usages.
Even though most threats may stem from accidental vulnerabilities, it’s impossible to ignore the rise of inside jobs as a source of risks. Not only will these systems provide a firewall against malicious software, they can also send automatic alerts for unusual data use and provide a clear audit trail just in case something does happen.
4. Develop and Create Clear Security Policies
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, companies grappled with security issues that stemmed from remote workers and the rising use of personal devices.
In some cases, you may allow personal devices, so long as employees adhere to other security policies. For instance, you may require installation of approved security software and only let employees login to your network through your corporate VPN.
In other cases, you may ask employees in sensitive areas to only use the laptops or other devices that you have issued to them and to only use them in approved ways. For example, you may restrict these company-issued devices to work and not allow employees to use them to watch videos or browse social sites.
In any case, it’s important to develop clear policies. In addition to communicating these rules, you should also ensure that employees understand why they’re important and that they can incur consequences for ignoring them.
5. Deploy Secure Information Systems
Deploying intelligent and robust document and data management systems may not take as much of an effort as you think it will. These systems come designed and built to offer robust security and rule-based access for both in-house and remote workers. They also provide audit trails and guarantee recoverability, so if something suspicious happens, it’s easy to trace the issue to its source and remediate it.
How M-Files Offers the Best Solution for Remote and In-House Employees
Companies that already employed a smart data management system like M-Files didn’t have to worry about an abrupt change from working in a corporate office to a home office.
Access to documents could already have been set by role, so the people who needed information would have an easy time accessing it, according to their security levels. To others, that same information would be invisible. The right people could view, change, add, or delete information, and others would not even see it exists.
With built-in encrypted access and simple rollbacks for recoveribility, M-Files also has already been certifed as an ISO-27001 Certified Provider. This standard meets the requirements for the most sensitive data and systems.
Besides security, the intelligent features of M-Files can help improve your business processes. To learn how M-Files can help protect your business, employees, and information, schedule a custom demo today.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenge for us all — but few know this better than the dedicated HR employees who now have to figure out how to effectively do their jobs while working remotely.
Thankfully, M-Files has proven itself to be more than invaluable to that end, offering a wide array of different benefits to human resources officials both during and after the pandemic has finally left us behind.
Offering Superior Remote Access
Obviously, everyone needs “anytime, anywhere” access to key information while working from home and M-Files make this easier than ever before. Everything is all in one place, making sure that the HR employees who need a document always have it, no matter what. Not only is everything inherently searchable based on what is INSIDE the document (not just what it’s called), but this is also a way to keep information safe and secure as well.
Automation, Automation, Automation
Everyone knows that collecting “wet signatures” when updating HR policies and procedures is time-consuming on the best of days… to say nothing of how problematic this has become during the new era when everyone is working remotely.
Thankfully, M-Files can make this process easier by allowing you to send out a copy of new policies to all staff members, have them acknowledge it via a web browser, then instantly file it away in the appropriate folder — all via automated workflows that don’t require HR employees to send out so much as a single email.
Support for a New Era of Leave Management
Thanks to the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on us all, many companies are (understandably) seeing an increase in leave requests. With M-Files, it’s now possible to create customized workflows that can be started by a manage to make sure that everyone who needs to be informed of such a request — like those in payroll, those dealing with benefits, and others) are an organic part of the process in a way that also makes it easy to track actions as they’re being taken.
Even though people aren’t physically in the same place at the same time any longer, the need for collaboration is still paramount. Still, sending documents via email can not only create a confusing process that is prone to errors, but it can also cause even the most straightforward tasks to take up far too much time as well.
With M-Files, on the other hand, employees can now effortlessly share information with one another from the devices they’re already comfortable using. Custom workflows can even be created to make sure that documents are always correctly routed from one person to the next as needed, thus empowering collaboration at a time when it is desperately needed.
Employee Lifecycle Paperwork
In the COVID-19 era, remote employee onboarding is a pressing need for many organizations. Thankfully, M-Files enables this by allowing employees to complete all of their onboarding forms at home through a simple and easy-to-use web-based interface.
Once finished, those forms can then automatically be routed to the right HR professionals who can then file them away as needed. This same process can be leveraged whenever an employee exits the business, too — automating notices for everyone involved in this level of exit paperwork.
Better Employee Management Documentation
Even though more people are working from home than ever, there are still certain needs that must be met. HR officials still need to manage and document employee performance, for example, along with all relevant certifications, licenses, and training materials.
Thankfully, M-Files enables this by making sure that all insight ends up exactly where it needs to be: in that employee’s file. This breaks down yet another potential data silo for information to get lost in, fueling better and more informed decisions moving forward.
It’s All About That Return on Investment
Finally, perhaps the most important way in which M-Files supports your human resources efforts in the new era of working remotely comes down to how it can help you recoup as much money as possible from your initial investment.
Keep in mind that moving from the paper-based world into the digital realm can not only bring with it significant cost savings in terms of square footage for your business but also with regards to time saved as well.
You’ll spend so much less time and money because you’re no longer wading through reams of paper — allowing you to funnel more of those funds back into the business in areas where they can do the most good. Plus, you’ll have more time in a day to focus on those matters that truly need you, which may very well be the most important benefit of all.
It’s safe to say that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all of us — especially for organizations that were in the process of undergoing their own digital transformations as the lockdowns started in March 2020. The need to use technology to support a fast-paced and agile workplace was always paramount — but somehow, it’s become even more so in an era where most of your employees are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future.
But at the same time, a silver lining is on the horizon. A COVID-19 vaccine rollout has already begun in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Soon, if everything goes according to plan, those lockdowns will be lifted and we’ll all slowly but surely start to return to normal. What that new normal looks like is anyone’s guess.
But the situation demands the question: what, then, becomes of your digital transformation efforts?
Now more than ever before, it’s crucial to make sure that the time and money you’re investing in your digital transformation strategy are focused on the right areas. Getting to that point isn’t necessarily difficult, but it will require you to keep a few key things in mind.
It’s All in the Plan
Especially given all the changes that have happened to the way we do business thanks to the ongoing pandemic, the best way to make sure you’re spending your time (and money) in the right places on digital transformation involves making sure that you have a plan at the heart of it all to begin with.
Yes, you want to be able to enjoy benefits like saving time, digitizing critical information, and opening up access to both documents and processes to anyone, anytime, anywhere. But to really make sure your strategy makes sense given your long-term goals; you need to go into as much detail as possible about what those goals actually are.
For example, are you trying to meaningfully improve the customer experience (or the perception those customers have) of your business? Is your number one priority to improve employee efficiency by automating a lot of time-consuming and menial processes. Do you want to implement some type of new system that will empower greater sales than prior to COVID?
For the best results, pick one or even two key objectives and build your plan (and your budget) around those needs. You can always return to the plan and make strategic adjustments later if things change.
If There Was Any Time to Embrace the Cloud, It’s Now
Along the same lines, at this point, it should be clear that whenever you’re implementing a large-scale project like a new CRM system or an intelligent information management platform, you want to make sure that system is as flexible as possible. This means that in the vast majority of situations, you’ll want to go with some type of cloud-based “software as a service” option unless you can think of a very, very good reason not to.
Sure, you may have (legitimate) concerns in terms of areas like security and data governance. But rather than shying away from the cloud because of them, work on finding out what you need to do to address them while still enjoying the massive amount of agility that the cloud brings with it.
Never forget that to make sure that your business is always at the very least aligned with (and in a best-case scenario ahead of) your competitors, you need to make sure the playing field is leveled. This means that you need to have the same level of agility that they do, and that’s something you’re not really going to get unless you embrace the cloud with open arms.
Engagement, Engagement, Engagement
Finally, you need to understand that even the most perfectly executed digital transformation in the world ultimately won’t mean much if your new systems aren’t realizing close to full utilization. If key staff members and stakeholders don’t want to use the new system because they think it’s “too complex” or “less effective” than what they’re coming from, they probably won’t use it — end of story.
Change management is vital to digital transformation. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re using a portion of your budget to train people on the new solution. Engage all key parties to make sure they understand the exact benefits of this change at this particular time. Don’t forget to budget for either ongoing or even future consultancy costs if that’s what it takes because your new tool may be powerful, but it won’t generate anywhere near the results that you’re after if people aren’t willing to use it.
The following article is a guest post by Wendy Seykens, Marketing and Communications Coordinator with M-Files partner BMconsultants.
This year has become the year of virtual meetings — where we all convene together to discuss business. An hour here, half an hour there. Sounds familiar, right? These meetings are a source of the occasional funny moment…
“Oh wait, my microphone was still muted.”
“I’m having connection problems.” (Sounding like a garbled, drive-through speaker.)
“Please excuse my 5-year-old’s temper tantrum.”
But put all of these light moments aside, the advent of remote work (and how that carries into an abundance of virtual meetings) has led to many inefficiencies and, frankly, unnecessary stress in working with business documents.
The following document mismanagement moments are all too common sources of stress for knowledge workers — and they’re avoidable, too. Check out these situations that many have surely found themselves in.
1 | It’s Challenging to Search and Find the Right Documents
During a strategy meeting on Microsoft Teams, you’re looking for the latest version of an agenda made by a colleague.
“Wait a minute, I think this is it! Do you see it? Oh. This is not the latest version? Okay, what about this one?”
It’s so frustrating and time-consuming to constantly search for the right information.
2 | Sharing Documents and Comments in the Chat Window can Prove Troublesome
You send the link to a document in the chat window. Later, multiple links are shared back and forth, and multiple comments are made in the chat.
Note to self: Don’t forget which is the link to the latest version and don’t miss those comments that pertain to your work.
Two days and three projects later… You’ve forgotten which chat the links were in, which link is the most current and which comments you need to pay attention to. So, you reread the whole chat log all over again, like a bad novel.
3 | It’s a Secure Work Environment, Right?
“Hello, everyone. This meeting is being recorded. Did you adjust the cost breakdown? And did you also make sure that the associated contracts are changed? Oh. You’ve already sent the documents in the chat? Thank you very much.”
Just before a meeting, you look for a document, so that you can discuss it.
“It really should be on my laptop.” Searching, searching, searching. No luck.
“Didn’t I have it on the desktop in my home office?” Nope.
“Wait, no. It was on my iPad. Let me email it to myself.” Still waiting. Ah, there it is.
Fifteen minutes later than planned, you finally join the online meeting with the right document.
A Simple Solution: M-Files Intelligent Information Management
Have these situations happened to you? And now that you’re aware of these situations, think about how much time is wasted searching and, above all, finding the right documents. Five minutes here. Ten minutes there. All of it adds up. In fact, Gartner says that professionals spend 50% of their time searching for information, and on average, take 18 minutes to locate each document.
How nice would it be if you could search and find all of your work files in one central system? What if it no longer mattered where a file is? What if you could you search across the entire information ecosystem with the help of metadata? What if that central system was integrated with, for example, Microsoft Office 365 and Teams?
There must be an easy solution for that. Yes, there is. With M-Files, these stressful, annoying moments are forever a thing of the past. M-Files is a unique intelligent information management solution that enriches the way businesses secure, process and manage data and content — documents, images, emails, customer information, or other information objects.
M-Files offers connections to network drives, Microsoft and Google apps, as well as major business applications and other document management systems. Ultimately, M-Files lets you fast-track digital business transformation by breaking down silos in separate applications, systems and repositories.