In this day of smartphones and ubiquitous wireless Internet, it’s hard to imagine being anywhere that email can’t reach you – even when you’re on vacation. But until earlier this year, that was the reality for staff aboard Expedia CruiseShipCenters boats.

Remote working takes on an entirely new meaning for the cruise ship operator that has franchises across Canada and 180 locations total across North America. While the ability to send email has obvious benefits, and in the case of the Expedia team it was to relay cruise itinerary information and the ability to have the questions of field agents answered by head office, Expedia was relying on standalone e-mail client from Fuse Mail that could only be accessed when workers were in the branch office.

That’s a problem for a business that requires travel by its nature, says Billy Hepper, partner support coordinator for Expedia.

“We’re a cruise ship business so they’re going to be in strange places on cruise ships, so it’s important we can access e-mail from there,” he says.

Adopting Microsoft’s Office 365 service, Expedia has now started accessing email using the Outlook web application from their browsers. That means inboxes are always accessible to employees, so long as they can get an Internet connection.

Expedia is also making use of the other familiar Office productivity tools in the cloud suite. It taps Excel for its accounting and record keeping functions, but it’s the email service that is making the most noticeable difference for its team so far.

“It gives us the ability to trace messages,” Hepper says. “We can find out exactly from point A to point B. So if a message wasn’t delivered successfully we can issue a trace and find out what happened.”

As the IT support mothership that supports Expedia offices across the continent, playing email detective is part of Heppler’s job description when problems arise. With Outlook’s web application, he can view the inboxes of individual agents if they’re having technical difficulties. He also finds that Microsoft’s team supports him well when he has tickets related to Office 365, as agents are available 24/7.

Next, Expedia plans to implement Microsoft Lync for its 4,100 agents. The instant messaging application has been deployed in the corporate head office already.

“If one of us has a question, we can quickly get that question to the subject matter expert,” Heppler says. “It’s quicker than sending an email.”

Lync can also be used for desktop video conferencing, so Expedia agents from across the country could meet in the same virtual room, he adds.

Thanks to Office 365, Expedia agents are now more like the rest of us – they can’t escape from e-mail, even when they’re on a boat.

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