Flexible working tools for flexible working people

How secure, effective file sharing and content management can give businesses a crucial advantage in the post-COVID hybrid working world

Sponsored Feature The recent global COVID pandemic dramatically accelerated the transition to remote working and hybrid working models and profoundly reshaped the ways in which businesses provision technology systems to support secure and effective collaboration.

The scale of this sudden change is highlighted by the August 2023 report 'Working location trends in Great Britain 2020-2023', published by D. Clark. It reveals that as of May 2023, 39 percent of workers in Great Britain indicated they had worked from home at some point in the previous seven days. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, in April 2020, almost half of UK workers were working from home, and just 31 percent of people were traveling to work.

Similar data can be seen with home working trends in the US, according to the August 2023 Harvard Business Review Study. The report states: "Remote work spiked during the pandemic, from about 6 percent of full workdays in the US to more than 50 percent in the spring of 2020. Since then, it's steadily decreased and since early 2023 has hovered around 28 percent.

Vijaykumar Rajendran is product head at Zoho - a company that offers a comprehensive range of integrated cloud-based products designed to help support business functions across the commercial spectrum including collaboration/communication, CRM, HR, sales, marketing, admin, project management and security. He agrees that the abrupt transition to remote working forced by the pandemic caused both widespread technical and cultural upheaval.

"Businesses and companies of all sizes across all verticals had to move online and had to adopt and implement collaboration and communication platforms rapidly because staff needed to work remotely during COVID. Most organisations had to move online very suddenly," Vijaykumar said.

Organisational and technical challenges involved

While there are compelling and well-documented advantages associated with this new hybrid working model, making the transition to remote working and deploying technology to allow geographically dispersed staff to work together effectively and securely certainly creates organisational and technical challenges.

The British Parliament subcommittee report 'Addressing problems resulting from transition to remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic', warned: "The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown resulted in many people in the UK working remotely for an extended period. This has led not only to a range of problems typically associated with remote work, but also new problems associated with having to move online without significant warning or preparation and without a clear plan for the future."

In this context, Zoho's Vijaykumar said: "We saw a huge surge in the deployment and use of cloud-based collaboration tools including Zoho WorkDrive. WorkDrive can transform the way your team works together - by giving them a secure, shared workspace."

He went on to explain how WorkDrive features components to streamline collaboration such as the ability to create custom Team Folders shared by specific team members and synchronisation of the latest content across multiple devices, including smartphones. The solution also offers offline backups and tiered pricing structures which are customised to help enterprises scale operations and expansion. Such features, according to Vijaykumar, are invaluable for business which increasingly need to facilitate secure collaboration across multiple types of unstructured content.

"A lot of business content today consists of unstructured content such as Word documents or presentations. How do you collaborate over this content? How do you manage that? This has become a huge problem for organisation to focus on, and has prompted investment in platforms such as WorkDrive that enable content creation, editing and real-time collaboration over such unstructured content," he pointed out.

Importance of maintaining security

Additional challenges posed by the transition to hybrid working centre on maintaining secure information content flow, together with managing access and permission security. Issues include how business must maintain security when everybody is working remotely outside of corporate firewalls and central security systems.

"Security is absolutely fundamental. It became a huge issue to focus on deploying solutions and process to ensure data security and compliance with legislation such as the GDPR and HIPAA;" Vijaykumar said. "Remote working means security has become a huge challenge for organisations. You need secure encryption at rest and in transit when your content is stored on the cloud platform. Is all data encrypted? Is it audited fully so you can track every action that your employees make on your content? Do you have comprehensive admin rights to control data usage and implement best-practice policies? Do you have multifactor authentication and preferably smart-sign to prevent unauthorised logins to remote-working staff members' systems? WorkDrive provides all these features."

Businesses setting up hybrid working environments also need to focus on provisioning protection against viruses, spam and cyber-attacks. In the event of an attack or infection it's important to have robust anti-spam and virus detection engines that offer automatic protection for example, so if one laptop gets affected, malware cannot percolate to and infect other users. The ability to remotely wipe business-critical data from workers' laptops or other devices if they are lost or stolen is also vital for securing decentralised working environments.

Integration with third party platforms is key

When selecting a collaboration and communication solutions to underpin company remote/hybrid working initiatives Zoho's Vijaykumar stresses the advantages of specifying an optimised and integrated platform.

"Having multiple apps creates real issue when your business-critical data – much of which is unstructured – is scattered across multiple platforms. Does it exist in Dropbox? Or does it exist in Slack, in one of the channels? How do you search for it? But when you go to a platform like Zoho, you'll get all of the benefits of, all of the features that exist in products like Dropbox or Slack, but you also get the benefit of integrating tightly with core Zoho business apps such as CRM, HR or campaign management," he said.

"With Zoho WorkDrive your business content resides in one place. And then you pick and choose whatever you want in all of these apps, which means the content flow is better and access permissions are properly handled. WorkDrive sits at the centre of all of the business apps and acts as a central file/content collaboration platform. This really reduces the headache of managing licences, and not having to worry about security of your business content."

Businesses can integrate Zoho WorkDrive with a wide range of applications to further improve the platform's functionality. For example, integration with Zoho Projects is designed to let track tasks, manage files and collaborate on content – all from a single centralized location. Easy integration with third party business apps to aid the automation of file management, remote access and data synchronisation is also supported. In fact, businesses can integrate Zoho WorkDrive with thousands of applications via Zapier and Zoho Flow to streamline data sharing between them.

Customers value ease of use

The real-world business benefit of Zoho WorkDrive can be evidenced by looking at the experience of Barings Law, a legal firm based in the North West of England, which uses WorkDrive to securely store and share case files that represent around half a million clients across thousands of claims.

The organisation's head of marketing and technology, Melanie Cope Machial, described the benefits Zoho has delivered: "Technology is not quite where it should be for law firms, so thank goodness we found Zoho. Any business can hit the ground running from the moment they sign up – it's easy to understand how to use by any user skillset. And we can now provide our clients with the most seamless experience possible. Previously we used many disjointed applications with a lot of providers which was chaotic to stay on top of."

Barings Law uses WorkDrive to store all of its client files. It has structured the technology so it replicates, or imitates, the structure it has within its Zoho CRM application. Every client has their own folders in WorkDrive, and every client's folder will have folders that contain case information.

"In a nutshell the structure of WorkDrive is a direct replica of the structure of CRM which means that the integrity between our data management platform and our file management platform are very similar," Cope Machial added.

"We link all the files from WorkDrive back to CRM using WorkDrive's API which enable all our legal staff and customer service agents to access all the files directly from CRM just by clicking on a link, which makes it nice and easy for them. We can also generate external links that we use for auditing which we can password protect and encrypt so they are obviously only accessible to authorised personnel."

Another firm that has boosted its operational efficiency by deploying WorkDrive is ArtiCAD, which operates in the UK, Ireland, South Africa, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Established over 31 years ago, ArtiCAD is a specialist Computer Aided Design software company which targets the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom industry, serving thousands of designers, retailers and manufacturing specialists worldwide. It reports that implementing WorkDrive has simplified the company's file management, storage, and sharing.

Theresa Turner, director of marketing and HR said: "For different departments to be able to share files in WorkDrive has been fantastic. And we can share those documents externally as well and that's a major plus. We use Zoho WorkDrive exhaustively for our internal documentation and file storage."

"We find it really easy to search for any document or file in our whole ecosystem by just typing in the subject of what you are looking for searches the whole ecosystem. You can search in WorkDrive, or across all of your Zoho applications."

Another customer of Zoho WorkDrive is Alchemist Global, a consulting firm that helps individuals and corporations with a full set of business support services including accounting, registering for VAT, setting up business websites and implementing CRM systems. Riyas Parat, CEO of Alchemist Global explained that the group has offices in multiple countries including the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India. It has been using WorkDrive for around six years and has 70 people internally using the solution, plus around 60 external clients.

"We researched multiple products and we found that Zoho WorkDrive has the option to auto sync files. You can also have multiple team members in the same folder. You can also add hierarchies in the folders," said Parat. "One thing that I personally like is the auto synching option. Every laptop in our company is in auto synch mode so any time anyone works on a document in a client folder it is automatically synchronised in the cloud."

Zoho's Vijaykumar believes that the wholesale migration to flexible and hybrid working that was engendered by the COVID pandemic is firmly here to stay. "People have now started to understand that flexible work is so important and businesses are offering flexible work arrangements as standard. And staff have solutions from companies such as Zoho that enable them to work securely and effectively from the office or anywhere remotely."

Sponsored by Zoho.

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