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Snowpocalypse – Another Reason for Organizations to Have a Telework Plan That Includes Video Conferencing

Snowpocalypse costing millions in lost productivity

Snowpocalypse costing millions in lost productivity

Officials estimate that closing the federal government for a day costs roughly $100 million in lost productivity and opportunity costs. That means that this month’s “snowpocalypse” has already potentially cost tax payers at least $350 million for the recent closures. The untold costs of business closings due to the snow storm are bound to be far greater.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As we continue to experience natural disasters like snowpocalypse, earthquakes and hurricanes, or health disasters like H1N1, the need for a strong teleworking infrastructure in business and government is becoming more and more apparent. No company or agency wants to be accused of risking employees’ lives or health to improve the bottom line. Telework is a simple solution to help ensure workers stay safe and productivity stays high.

Integrating video conferencing into telework can yield even greater results because workers can interact face to face regardless of where they are located. This helps to increase collaboration and reduce confusion that can occur over email and conference calls. Video conferencing also helps keeps employees engaged in virtual meetings because they are speaking “in person” and don’t experience as many distractions. And, perhaps most importantly, managers who are often leery of teleworking have immediate visual access to employees so they can rest assured that their staff is maintaining business as usual, and not calling in from the beach.

While disasters like snowpocalypse are often what drive the discussion about telework, the fact is telework has long been recognized to be an effective way for businesses and government to not only maintain business continuity, but to also help reduce their carbon footprint and increase employee work/life balance and loyalty.

For example, at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which manages the Defense Department’s expansive telecommunications network, most employees are outfitted with agency-issued laptops with secure linkups and a suite of collaboration software — including video conferencing — to enable teleworking. This has allowed approximately 45 percent of DISA’s headquarters staff to telework on a normal day, “so in circumstances like [snowpocalypse], its not a big deal,” said John Garing, the agency’s strategic planning and information director, in an interview with Federal Times from his home in Northern Virginia. Rather than a challenge, teleworking en masse is an opportunity to test continuity of operations plans, he said.

According to Garing, so far, DISA employees have been as productive and effective as they would have been if they were all in the office. “The fact we have an ingrained teleworking policy does make a difference,” Garing said. “It makes it easier for us to adapt and continue to operate.” Despite impassable roads and a government shutdown, DISA is “pretty much business as usual,” said Garing.

Does your company have a telework policy to help deal with business continuity in situations like snowpocalypse? Do you use video conferencing?

Surviving the snowpocalypse — how VTC can help the federal government weather the weather

February 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm PST

The Washington, D.C., area is predictably filled with federal government employees. Hill staffers, agency careerists, appointed officials, uniformed servicemen; they all call our nation’s capital home. With so many of the people relied upon to keep America’s government working all centered in one metro area, there’s a tremendous possibility that a major weather event could grind the gears of democracy to a halt.

Call it #snowpocalypse, #snowmaggedon or #snOMG. Regardless of the funny handle you’ve assigned the recent snow storms, by dumping multiple feet of cold, white powder across the region they have had a significant impact on every aspect of government.

The incredible amount of snowfall that the Washington metro area has experienced, and will continue to experience with additional snow forecasted this week, has left many neighborhoods unplowed and unable to be traveled via car. In addition, the region’s mass transit systems have seen multiple service interruptions. This has led the federal government to close outright for the safety of their commuting employees.

Luckily, the Obama administration and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are taking steps to ensure that weather phenomena and other events can no longer bog down the federal government. One of theses steps is to increase the government’s number of teleworking employees. By enabling telework, government employees can continue to function in their jobs and accomplish mission-critical tasks regardless of their ability to make it into the office.

According to a recent NextGov article, OPM is working to increase the number of teleworking government employees by 50% by 2011. Also, the agency is designing a 500 employee pilot program that will enable them to gauge the effectiveness and productivity of teleworking employees.

Concerns about productivity while working from home remain some of the largest roadblocks to widespread adoption of telework among government agencies. Many managers fear that employees who are unsupervised outside of the office will see a decrease in productivity, collaboration and communication. This is also where the rapidly increasing adoption of video teleconferencing (VTC) can help.

VTC systems enable people to have face-to-face conversations, regardless of the distance separating them. By embracing VTC, government agencies can more comfortably embrace telework.

VTC is breaking down the huge, white snow drifts separating government employees and helping to usher in a new way of working for federal agencies. How is VTC helping your agency weather the snowpocalypse? Drop a comment and let us know!

State of the Union — education promises best delivered via video

February 4, 2010 at 6:34 pm PST

President Obama’s first State of the Union address focused on the expected hot topics of today, from job creation to healthcare reform. In addition, it also featured some aggressive thoughts about the current state of America’s education system, and ways it can be improved.

It’s no secret that America has slowly been losing its global edge in innovation, science, mathematics, engineering and technology over the years (STEM, which we’ve written about previously). Graduation rates have been much lower than expected in many regions of the country and schools have struggled to meet academic standards. According to his State of the Union address, President Obama is looking to stem this tide and turn around America’s schools by investing in reform and rewarding successful schools that embrace innovation.

The President is looking to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and bring Race to the Top, a competitive grant program, to all 50 states. This program rewards schools that embrace innovation and work to increase student achievement and education in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM subjects).

For schools looking to be a part of this exciting competition, embrace innovation in the way they teach students and create excitement around STEM subjects, there are new technologies that can help get them there. A great example is video teleconferencing (VTC).

VTC technologies allow teachers to bring professionals, scientists, doctors and other experts directly to students to discuss how the lessons they are learning apply outside of the classroom. VTC also enables students to be virtually transported to far off places to see their lessons in action.

The economic benefits of VTC solutions are so important today. Schools can continue to provide a quality, rich educational experience to students even when additional funding and resources are unavailable.

By breaking down the walls between students, teachers and experts, VTC is bringing a richer educational experience to America’s children and STEM’ing the recessionary tide.

Interoperability is the key

February 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm PST

Multiple recent events, from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, have led government pundits and officials to call for better communication between government agencies. This increased collaboration is necessary to keep citizens safe, respond to disaster and emergency, and operate more effectively and efficiently.

Unfortunately, there’s a significant roadblock for increasing collaboration within and among agencies. As a rising number of agencies turn to video teleconferencing (VTC), instant messaging and other advanced and rapid forms of communication, converged voice and data networks are relied upon more than ever. This creates a problem for disparate agencies each relying on a different vendor for their network and communications infrastructure.

The key to enabling interagency collaboration and communication across these varied, disparate networks is interoperability. At TANDBERG, interoperability and firewall traversal are some of the most important features of our VTC solutions.

In fact, TANDBERG was first to deliver a telepresence solution that could interoperate with third-party systems, the first to enable high-definition video between Microsoft Office Communicator and multi-screen telepresence, and the first to deliver HD telepresence and video conferencing solutions that can interoperate with any other standards compliant systems. Interoperability is at the core of our VTC products.

The ability to enable face-to-face communication regardless of distance gives VTC solutions the ability to truly bring government agencies together and increase inter-agency communication and collaboration. When agencies are looking for VTC systems that will help them work more closely with other government organizations, the most important feature should always be true interoperability.

Helping the government better serve it’s constituents through collaboration and teamwork -- now that’s a new way of governing.

Giving a big apple to teachers in the Big Apple

January 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm PST

With America’s school systems seeing decreases in gradation rates and the country losing its edge in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject knowledge to other countries, it’s evident change is needed.

The call to reform education has led to some very drastic measures being taken in cities across America. In New York, the Education Department has begun closing schools that are failing to meet standards. This move is going to cost a significant number of jobs and create hardships for students and parents whose schools are being affected.

Although the shuttering of large, failing schools in favor of smaller educational establishments has proven positive for graduation rates and other standards of evaluating academic performance, it’s not without negatives.

New York State is currently under significant budget constraints and cuts to New York City’s budget are already expected to cost 8,500 teachers and scores of other city employees their jobs. With the closing and reorganization of 19 schools, in conjunction with the other cuts being made to city personnel, the increase in unemployed citizens will invariably cause considerable strain on New York’s social services.

Video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions help improve underperforming schools VTC delivers not only experts, professionals and educational content, but allows high performing teachers and administrators to extend their reach to students across campus, across the state or around the world. With VTC, students access classes on other campuses, talk to experts about how everyday lessons relate to real life professions and occurrences, tour places they could previously not visit and see their lessons come to life.

With the ability to share resources through VTC, schools are able to offer the highest quality staff and a wide array of lessons and subjects to students in multiple locations. This allows schools to share the best teachers and even offer subjects that may have been cut for budget purposes such as the arts and foreign languages.

Closing schools may help to increase graduation rates and improve academic standards when looking at statistics, but there are significant costs to the community. Using VTC to break down the walls between students and a better education is a better way of teaching…and learning.