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AARNet News - Dark Blue
31 March, 2020

Remote working: here’s what you need to know about unified communications & collaboration

With universities across the country currently transitioning to remote working en masse, unified communications and collaboration are some of the hottest topics out there; topics that AARNet is receiving a lot of questions about.

This article aims to provide useful information to help answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these topics and we encourage you to contact us via your Customer Relations representative if you need more assistance and help.

Team communications and collaboration capabilities span from basic and traditional asynchronous messaging (email, forums, team chat) through to real-time synchronous capabilities, including voice, video conferencing, video broadcasting (think webinars) and screen sharing. There are numerous apps out there that provide components for team collaboration or all-in-one solutions, and your organization (much like ours), may actually leverage several of these.

Consider publishing short guides on the tools your organization does have, and the recommendations on which of these to use in different scenarios. For example, do you suggest users stick with Microsoft Teams, Zoom or something else for team-to-team communications, versus external conferencing?


Does your current telephony system allow for remote working?

  • For example, does your IP telephony solution already provide access for users that are not connected via corporate remote access (e.g. Cisco Jabber using Expressway, etc.). If not, it may be time to consider deploying this capability.
  • Some video conferencing platforms are now offering telephony access, including Microsoft Telephony integrated with teams, Zoom telephony, etc.
  • If you don’t already supply headsets, speakerphones or other hardware for softphone capabilities, it can be useful again to recommend to users which types of headsets work well, or are already supported by your organization. Can these headsets be supplied/sent out to users from existing unused stock at your workplace? Can they leverage their existing home Bluetooth speakers as reasonable speakerphones? (Many have this capability inbuilt).
  • If you’re not already using IP telephony, your users may be reliant on their mobile services. Much as per the post regarding mobile broadband, if your organization doesn’t directly provide mobile services to users, there are a number of other ways that you may be able to help users toward good outcomes.

Video conferencing

By now, you have likely already advised your users which video conferencing platform your organization should be using, and how to connect to it, use it, schedule, etc. But can you provide any advanced guidance on good practice for video conferencing, that new users might not yet be across (e.g. mic and camera usage/placement, mute when not speaking, etc.)? I’ve linked to some good articles on this in the Useful Links and Resources section below to get you started.

  • Can you provide users on any tech tips for improving performance/reliability if they’re having issues? For example, disabling video or screen share when not in use, closing other applications if possible, dialling in via mobile if they are having PC audio issues, etc.?
  • Do you have any hardware (particularly webcams) that you can recommend for users if they don’t have laptops or good inbuilt webcams? Can they can source these from anywhere or is there a way for your support teams to gather unused stock at the office and send this out to users that need and request this?
  • Is there guidance you can provide users on how to join video session’s they’ve been invited to, on different platforms, ones that your organization doesn’t use?
  • Are there tweaks to the systems you support that will allow others to easily join video sessions your users host? (e.g. configuring bridging and telephone join links if you don’t already provide these). Incidentally, one of the reasons I personally recommend Zoom to people is that I’ve found it natively provides plenty of options for people to join from non-Zoom endpoints when required.
  • What about video conference security? Zoom and others now support adding PIN or Password requirements for securing who can join your sessions – user guidance for this would be helpful.

Team collaboration

Now may be a good time to look beyond email for team collaboration, and into some of the tools providing real time and asynchronous team communication capabilities (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, etc.). These can prove more efficient for certain types of communications supporting remote working.

Is there other guidance you or your organization can provide users on effective communications and team collaboration during this time, e.g. advising users how to best leverage these tools, how to avoid email or multi-communications overload, managing expectations for the organization and teams on the need for patience during moving to remote working?

Other remote communication and collaboration considerations

For Communications and Collaboration, Cloud is key: Whilst remote corporate connectivity is under stress (e.g. RA VPN, as discussed in a previous post), you do not want to be forcing high bandwidth or critical communications traffic through a thin, encrypted tunnel. Wherever possible, preference cloud-based solutions in this domain for business continuity, and/or start moving toward this. g. Office365, Zoom, Slack etc., are all cloud based and allow users to continue to communicate and collaborate when and if corporate remote connectivity is strained or unavailable.

Similarly, if you have heavy ‘source based’ IP addressing rules restricting access to UCC platforms to on-campus wired, wireless or remote access VPN, now is the time to consider relaxing these restrictions (whilst balancing other security requirements of course). Can these still be restricted to known good port ranges, whilst relaxing source IPs, rather than free-for-all access?

Useful links and resources

Author: Paul Italiano, AARNet Enterprise Services Technical Consultant – Networks

Disclaimer: This is general advice only and is not intended to be address individual circumstances. Each person should conduct their own evaluation of using any product or service.