During the pandemic, many families have been juggling working from home while making sure their kids are on track with virtual learning. Meanwhile, healthcare providers and patients have been relying more on telemedicine.
In recent years, technology has enabled employees to telework, teachers to assign online homework, and doctors to offer telemedicine opportunities to patients who were unable to leave home. But COVID-19 has accelerated the virtual shift in the world of work, education and healthcare, and it’s sure to be more of the norm in the years to come. In fact, a recent Gartner poll showed that 48 percent of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30 percent before the pandemic. This will no doubt impact companies and employees alike as they will need to effectively collaborate digitally while maintaining productivity and wellness. For education, the situation is even trickier, with some students not having the resources they need to keep up. Hospitals and clinics are also looking for solutions to help handle the meteoric rise in virtual visits, which have proven to be, in some cases, very challenging for both doctors and patients.
One company in Orange County, Cox Business, is helping to ease these challenges while driving innovative technologies for the current and future world of work, healthcare and education as we all continue to move into a more robust virtual world.
Below, Jodi Duva, Vice President of Cox Business for Orange County, Palos Verdes, and Santa Barbara, takes a deep dive into what’s needed to help support the accelerated virtualization of the new workforce, education, and healthcare.
The Future of Work: The commercial division of Cox Communications, Cox Business provides technology services for every industry, from small businesses, school districts, and government agencies to large corporations, wireless carriers and healthcare providers. As more business-critical functions for every industry have moved online, these organizations will need even stronger IT storage solutions and cybersecurity tools.
“There has been a lot more attention being paid to technology that will allow businesses to stay remote long-term or even permanently,” Duva said. “And now that many people are working from home, it’s even more important to have all of a company’s information in one secure location.”
Even before the pandemic, Duva said cloud services and information security were the fastest-growing areas of need for businesses. She added that Cox Business has also seen a big increase in demand for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, which allow workers to manage outgoing and incoming calls online, instead of being dependent on onsite, physical analog phones. VoIP eliminates the need for employees to forward work calls to their mobile phones, and allows businesses to cut the costs of phone hardware sooner.
To help companies and organizations transition their operations virtually during the pandemic, in March, the company debuted Cox Business Work-at-Home, which includes an enterprise-grade, separate internet connection direct to employees’ homes.
“Having a separate ‘work’ broadband connection keeps employees from overburdening their home network at a time when they may have many other family members at home working remotely, or kids who are doing distance learning,” Duva explained.
Cox Business has also been investing more in video conference and connectivity solutions to meet the high demands during COVID-19 and beyond.
Top Five Tech Trends: During this transformation of the new workforce, Duva suggests five technologies businesses should consider, especially if they’re thinking of going fully virtual and giving up their physical office space.
- Strong IT cloud storage solutions. Because people are no longer onsite, you need a good cloud storage system and infrastructure to store documents and information.
- Stronger cybersecurity tools and education. At the office, the company network and equipment provide a high level of protection, but when an employee works from home, he or she might not be taking enough security precautions when using their home modem or network.
- VoIP phone systems, which enable your employees to answer calls online, eliminating the need for physical phone systems or forwarding calls to a personal cell phone).
- UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service), cloud services that centralize all your workflow, productivity, storage and communications tools, including phone and internet. Basically, they help employees manage everything in one central place online.
- Digital services for physical and mental well-being. Duva said companies should consider adding access to subscription-based meditation and workout apps to their benefits packages, or making sure virtual mental health services are in their medical plan. With more employees working remotely — and likely putting in longer hours as a result — there is the potential for technology fatigue. Looking after their physical and mental well-being is more important than ever.
Work-from-Home Movement: Duva believes that even after the pandemic subsides and some offices reopen, a significant number of employees will want to continue working remotely. Virtual work isn’t just beneficial for employees, but also for employers. Studies have shown that companies save an average of $11,000 a year for every employee working from home, even just part-time.
Duva added that remote employees are generally more productive, better for the environment (less travel time), and boost competition for talent.
“You can compete for talent with companies who have opened up their flexible/work-from-home policies to all employees instead of a select few,” she said. “Businesses of all sizes have done it, from Facebook to smaller local employers.”
Cox Connection: Speaking of shifting, Cox Business has also had to transition its employees to working from home during the pandemic. Since its parent company, Cox Enterprises, operates in 18 states nationwide, getting virtual teams together was already the norm. However, having everyone working from home due to COVID-19 created a new challenge, Duva said.
“The nice thing about working in business technology is that your employees are already pretty familiar with the tools they need to work from home successfully. We’re ahead of the curve there,” she said.
“That’s not to say it wasn’t an adjustment. All of our customer support teams were fielding calls at home from business clients who themselves were scrambling to get their entire workforces online. We also really had to strengthen cybersecurity education for our own employees, far beyond the standard ‘Don’t respond to spear phishing emails’ lecture.”
Telemedicine: COVID-19 has also led to a change in the way everyday healthcare is delivered in order to reduce staff exposure to patients who test positive for the coronavirus , preserve personal protective equipment (PPE), and minimize the impact of patient surges in facilities. Healthcare systems have had to adjust the way they triage, evaluate, and care for patients using methods that do not rely on in-person services.
As healthcare providers are challenged with streamlining this explosive telehealth boom, companies like Cox Business are providing solutions to ease bottlenecks while helping communities stay connected. For instance, Cox has worked with Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) to expand its critical psychiatric services for children while enabling all its medical practice to quickly provide high-quality telehealth visits.
In 2018, Cox provided a $200,000 grant through the James M. Cox Foundation to CHOC to support the region’s first pediatric psychiatric consultation access line. More recently, CHOC updated its Wide Area Network (WAN) so that all its facilities could have uniform, high-speed internet connectivity.
“At the time, we had no idea just how crucial this would be to their operations, but this upgrade is what helped them quickly provide high-quality telemedicine visits to their patients,” Duva said. “Inthe month of April alone, their doctors conducted over 10,000 telemedicine appointments.”
Distance Learning: During this unprecedented time, the Cox Business team is making sure local schools, as well as students and families, have the technology they need for distance learning. In Orange County, the company has been working with the Capistrano, Saddleback and Irvine Unified school districts to make sure teachers and students are on track for virtual classes.
Cox has also donated 300 computers to Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) to enable low-income families to connect with educators and resources during the current emergency distance learning situation. Cox partnered with San Diego-based nonprofit Computers2Kids to deliver these devices to the South Orange County school district.
Cox has also announced that, to help low-income students without internet access at home transition back to school virtually, it’s providing two free months of high speed internet to new participants of its Connect2Compete program. Connect2Compete is a residential internet program available to K-12 families that receive free or reduced school lunch or participate in another food or housing subsidy program. Families that have signed up between July 21 and September 30 will receive the free two months which also includes in-home Wi-Fi and free technical support.
“More and more students are in need of computers and the internet for distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Duva said. “Our company’s Connect2Compete program is one way we can help bridge the digital divide and level the educational playing field.”
Cox continues to partner with local, regional and national organizations, including The Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, to provide discounted, refurbished laptops and accessories to families that qualify for the Connect2Compete program. In May, Cox donated $250,000 to Computers2Kids to help the nonprofit refurbish and distribute 20,000 devices this year to low-income students and families throughout Cox’s Southern California service areas.
Cox offers several tips and resources available on the company’s content hub Converge to assist parents in helping their children learn from home.
Community First: In an effort to further support the community during the pandemic, Cox is helping feed families in Orange County through Second Harvest Food Bank with a $25,000 donation from The James M. Cox Foundation. The grant will support local families in need during the pandemic.
“By providing critical services to those in need, our company hopes to not only help our communities thrive, especially during the pandemic, but also foster the growing regional tech ecosystem,” Duva said. “Our goal is to build a more level playing field for all families and invest in long-term community success.”