The COVID-19 pandemic has forced employers across the U.S. to shift their operations online, as so many employees are now working from home. While glass installation can’t be done over a computer, many fabricators, manufacturers and other glass-related companies have shifted at least part of their workforce to a telework capacity. With this transition comes a change in the technologies used to get the job done.
Video conferencing allows people to set up virtual meetings internally or with clients. One video conferencing program is Zoom, which allows for free 40-minute meetings or unlimited meetings with a subscription. Other options include Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, WebEx and Google Hangout.
Kevin J. Wisniewski, regional manager for Larson Engineering Inc. in Appleton, Wis., says his company is using Zoom weekly during this social distancing period. Participants can use audio and video or do screen sharing.
Wisniewski suggests that prior to beginning a video conference, people log in to make sure the program isn’t in need of updates.
“If it hasn’t been used in a while there might be updates which could prevent you from starting at the right time,” he says. “Open the program half an hour before the call to work on bugs before the meeting starts. You could also have problems dialing in. Get that stuff worked out before the meeting so you don’t delay it.”
He also recommends having any attachments that need to be shared open and running so they can be viewed quickly when the time comes.
Vitro Architectural Glass has been using Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and WebEx Teams for video conferencing. John Shimkus, director of information technology for Vitro, says the biggest issue has been local internet service providers.
“The connectivity is contingent on the line in your house,” he says.
Filing Sharing and Remote Log In
Both Larson Engineering and Vitro Architectural Glass were prepared for a telework scenario. Larson’s employees regularly have the option to work from home. The company set up a virtual private network (VPN) to access files from their on-site servers using home computers.
Vitro puts a risk management plan together every year and one of the things it has considered in past years is what would happen if its sites lose their communication ability or if people are unable to get to the site.
“We didn’t look at this from a global perspective but we had the framework in place for a work-from-home situation, just not at this scale. We had to adapt to have more people able to connect from home very quickly,” says Shimkus. “One approach that we take is not putting all of our eggs in one basket. There are multiple vendors that we use depending on where a facility is located. We wanted to have the flexibility to bounce between different technology for different needs.”
Vitro uses a cloud-based system to access files remotely and through the web. That software was already in place, says Shimkus, who adds that the company has seen little to no impact from this situation except for minor outages from the software provider itself. Vitro also has multiple VPN clients for remote connectivity and ramped up ten additional servers in preparation for the move to telework.
The company has other programs used primarily in its plants. These programs can be used for machine maintenance, monitoring and management using password access.
Vitro also takes security very seriously, especially since so many people are logging into its network remotely.
Planning for the Future
Unfortunately, it’s likely that not all companies in the glass industry have the infrastructure in place to support a swift shift to telework. For companies looking to set up telework framework, Shimkus recommends they explore multiple vendors to help with support.
“It’s good to have more than one option,” he says. “The right solution will depend on each company’s size and the size of their IT staff.”
Shimkus adds that vendors should be able to provide monitoring tools to watch the number of network connections daily. This allows Vitro to proactively add servers if necessary.
“We’ve almost tripled the number of users on our remote network. Aside from local internet providers having some outages or slowness we haven’t seen any problems,” he says, adding that it’s never too late to start planning. “You may think you’ve missed it but now is the time to start planning how to improve your network for the future.”
We’ve found Microsoft Teams to be a great source for our curtain wall engineers. Thankfully, we put in place project management, time sheet and productivity metrics in 2019.
Our team is adapting well with the technology we have. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the field construction personnel whose work is mission critical, during this historic event.
In isolation, you may invest a ton of energy with the tech you effectively own, particularly in case you’re working from a home office.