Isolated Business: Pro Tips on working remotely during the COVID-19 Quarantine

By March 22, 2020 One Comment

By Scot MacTaggart
Special to the Pittsburgh Current

We’re all working from home now, but some of us have never had to do so before.  I’m a veteran remote worker and a tech guy from way back, so Pittsburgh Current Editor Charlie Deitch thought I might be able to help with some tips for those of you that need to get up to speed.  

Here’s a handy checklist to make sure you’ve covered everything:


Regular landline phones:  Forward calls to cell phones, or to voice mail.

  • If it’s a regular landline phone, pick up the handset and wait for dialtone.
  • Dial *72.
  • When the tone returns, dial the number you want to get your forwarded calls.
  • You’ll hear two short tones to let you know it worked. Hang up.
  • If you need to record a new voice mail greeting, do it now.  Be mindful of your word choice and messaging while you do it.
  • When it comes time to stop the call forwarding, do the first two steps again, but use *73 instead.
  • Write down all the changes you have made so you can un-make them later.

Old-school hardwired PBX systems:  Forward the main numbers.

  • Find the manual and follow the instructions.
  • If you can’t find the manual, call the vendor and ask if they can change the programming remotely. Expect to pay a fee for this.
  • Write down the changes that you made so you can undo them. 

IP phone systems:  Go into the administration tool (probably a web page) to change your setup.  Look for a gear icon or something similar to make changes. You may need to use the “help” or “support” links in order to do the following tasks.

  • Get salespeople, managers and other key employees to download softphone apps (phone or computer software applications that are able to make and receive calls) if they’re going to keep taking calls.   
  • Make sure that everyone who needs to get forwarded / redirected calls is actually loaded into the system so you can program rules.  Expect to pay a little extra if this means adding new users.  
  • Take inventory of all the voice mail boxes you have and which ones need to change, and then change them.  Be mindful of what you say – keep messaging simple so you’re not causing new problems.
  • Run tests on everything before finishing up. 
  • Make sure to keep a list of everything you changed so you can change it back later. 

Website and Social Media

People want to know the basics.  Are you open? Are you short-staffed?  Experiencing delays? Different hours? People are a bit frazzled right now.  Don’t make them look for critical information. As with all the steps above, you are going to want to keep records of the changes that you make so you can revert back to normal when the time comes.

Website:  This is where everything should be available, including ways in which they can get regular updates after this visit.  

  • Use a banner or some other highlighting mechanism to call attention to the alerts you’re posting. 
  • Answer a set of specific questions.
    • How are you keeping employees, customers, and visitors safe?
    • Are your hours of operation changing?  Days of the week? Are you offering
      Special hours for vulnerable people to come in when things have just been restocked or everything has just been disinfected?
    • Is your product or service selection changing?
    • Is your way of delivering those products and services changing?
    • What dates will you be making changes?
    • What social media channels or email subscriptions will provide updates?
    • Is pricing changing?
    • How can people help your employees or other people in the community?
    • Finally, put yourself in their shoes and try to answer their real concerns – maybe they are concerned about what they will do if you close down, or that there will be layoffs, or that they will get all the way to your location and you’ll be out of product. 
  • Be mindful of extreme cases of anxiety – medically vulnerable individuals, parents of small children, those with mental illness, those who have been laid off. 
  • If you have the time and capability, consider adding a chatbot to your site to answer these questions too.  Even though it’s right on the front page, they may skip over it and go to a help bot.

Social Media:  Many of the same concerns as the website section.

  • Do you have hours posted in your bio / about section?  (Be sure to look at the Google listing for your business as you’re working through this bullet.)
  • Link directly to the webpage you built in the section above.  
  • Post the Q&A elements from above in organic posts.
  • Do your social media staff know what content is appropriate at this time?
  • Do you have an auto-scheduler full of content?  Are you comfortable with the posts that are scheduled to go out?
  • Consider setting up a Facebook messenger response bot.


There’s no reason to do a face-to-face meeting right now.  Even if you were to try, people would probably resent you for it.  Do your part by staying home. Here are your options in the meantime:

  • Zoom – Pretty much the standard.  Voice, web and video meetings all in one app, letting you share your screen, record your meeting, and be face-to-face with customers, teammates, and partners.  The free version will connect 3 people. For $15/month you can stretch to 100 participants.  
  • – It does what it says on the tin.  Sign up on the website, get a free account with a phone number and PIN, and the ability to host web meetings with screensharing and video.  Obviously as a free service, it has limitations, but even at the free tier you get good quality calls, reports afterward, and some storage recordings. 
  • Google Hangouts Meet – Google isn’t quite as intuitive as Zoom – especially if people want to dial in – but you probably have a Google account, as do your employees and your clients.  Plus, they have a nifty feature where they will provide “live captions” for people who need them. Obviously the accuracy of the transcriptions won’t be 100%, but my friends with hearing issues love this feature.  Voice, video and screensharing are all included.
  • Skype – What started out as a member-to-member calling app years ago, and then grew into a phone service, is now part of the Microsoft family.  It’s baked into Office 365 accounts, and it will let you do voice, screen sharing and video. 

Bonus:  If you’re going to buy an IP phone system, be sure to look at RingCentral.  It comes with Zoom meetings and a live chat function for your employees as part of the package.

Collaboration and Remote Computing

The one thing that will really be different for everyone who reads this is what “working” actually means.  Some people – most people really just need to share and collaborate on documents. Others have to work in specialized applications, have to worry about regulations and security, or some other level of complexity.  Below, I’ve put together a list of services in an attempt to recommend something for every part of the spectrum.

The Basics:  Google’s G Suite.  Gmail, Google Drive, Docs and Hangouts Meet.  It’s easy to set up, you get a ton of storage, everything’s searchable because it’s Google, and you can easily collaborate in real time.  It starts to break down when you have to incorporate others, but it’s great to keep your own team coordinated and connected.  

The Midrange:  Microsoft’s Office 365  A lot of established workers seem to get frustrated with Gmail’s interface, and when it comes to collaborating with clients, everyone’s familiar with the Office environment.  Like G Suite, O365 is still in the cloud, and everything you need is in there – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook for email.  

Big Stuff:  Amazon’s AWS Workspaces.  Workspaces lets you provide streaming Windows computers through the cloud.  You set them up for your employees, load exactly the software they need, and then send it to them in a securely encrypted stream.  This is the best solution for people who have rigorous security requirements and software that they can’t get from the usual services.  Even better, AWS has just announced that they are going to provide free Workspaces trials for up to 50 users if you’ve never used the service before.  

Scot MacTaggart is a member of the advisory board at the Pittsburgh Current, and the Regional Director for EagleDream Technologies, a company that assists business with tech.

One Comment

  • Pete Walton says:

    Great tips! It’s not easy to work remotely, but with the right tools and space we can accomplish a lot in a day. Don’t let other distractions like social media get in the way, unless you’re using it for business purposes of course! You can now install light therapy lamp to get more out of your work space!

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