With swine flu in the news, it's time to make arrangements that we hope will never be needed. With a little advance planning, many organizations can operate well, even if employees can't be in an office together. I've written before about web-based tools that can help; here are some further thoughts. You may already have some of these tools, and many are free or inexpensive.
Connecting with Customers
By Phone and Fax: If you don't already have a system that allows you to forward your incoming phone calls to other locations, try Accessline, which is available at reduced rates to Costco members. (GrandCentral, mentioned in my earlier post, is being revamped as Google Voice, and is not accepting new users at the moment.)
On Your Web Site: Feedback forms and bulletin boards are good ways of communicating with clients. Make sure that your site can be updated easily, though a content management system (CMS) like the CHCS CMS.
On the Social Networks: If you haven't already, now is the time to create company pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Yelp, and other such sites. These can be a useful way of letting your clients know what's happening with your organization.
Through Online Conferences: There are a number of systems for audio and video conferences. We're still experimenting, but so far, we've been impressed with Dimdim.
Through Email Lists: We don't really recommend email lists any more, as so many email messages get marked as spam. But if you feel that such lists are appropriate to your customer base, we'll be happy to help.
Connecting with Colleagues
By Phone: Make sure that you have everyone's contact numbers -- landline, cell phone, text messaging, voice mail. In an emergency, it's likely that the phone network and the internet will be stressed. Options that require less bandwidth will tend to work better; for instance, text messages often go through when voice networks are over capacity.
Through Email: Most CHCS clients have email through Google Apps. You may access your mail on the web at http://mail.YOUR_DOMAIN_NAME. For instance, if your domain name is acmewidgets.com, you can access your email at http://mail.acmewidgets.com. If you generally use an email client program like Outlook or Thunderbird, past emails will be accessible through the web if you have set up your account to use IMAP. Ask us if you need help.
Through Instant Messaging: Google Apps users can communicate directly with colleagues through the webmail interface. For people with computers equipped with cameras and microphones, the Google Talk system even supports audio and video. See Google Talk help.
Through Online Meetings: See "Online Conferences," above.
Accessing Company Information
Electronic Copies: Plan what data (like customer lists, address books, and financial records) you'll need to have access to, and put copies on the web, so that you can access them remotely (with appropriate security, of course). Google Apps users can take advantage of their Contacts, Docs, and Calendar, all of which can be edited via the web, and on mobile phones with web access. Alternatively, you might like to try Zoho or Glide.
Carry Files: Once you know what files you need, you can easily copy them to a USB key.
Automatic Backup and Synchronization: We like Dropbox, which is a system that automatically makes copies of critical files to the internet, and to other computers.
Remote Access: There are a number of systems that allow you to log into a computer remotely. They all take some setting up, but one we like is called Hamachi. Contact us for help with a remote access system.
Now is the time to make contingency plans. Please feel free to contact me if you would like assistance.