At the beginning of 2020, if you asked most COOs and IT Managers about their business continuity and disaster recovery plans, they’d say they’ve got a plan that is updated annually and might even be tested 1-2 times per year. In many industries, this is a requirement for industry accreditations or certifications, or as a function of an audit if the organization is regulated.
Ask those same folks today about how well those plans worked, and I’m guessing you’d get a litany of issues they hadn’t accounted for and challenges they’re facing in their ‘new’ normal. As I reflect on how we’re helping our clients navigate these issues, there are 5 main themes that keep rising to the top: Connectivity, Security, Availability, Productivity, and Community.
As state and local governments started to make decisions about ‘sheltering in place’, many organizations had the decision made for them on whether employees should come to the office. That meant that their entire workforce needed to do their jobs from their homes almost immediately.
For those that embrace SaaS solutions, that transition was easier because their teams did most of their work from the office in the cloud. For organizations the are still primarily on-premise, VPNs needed to be established and access to critical systems made available. Even though vendors such as Cisco have made free licensing available for a period of time for their products, getting licenses installed and making applications available required some juggling for many companies.
Even more basic than that is the available internet resources for their employees. Our service desk, which has some talented and empathetic people answering calls, was flooded with calls regarding slow response times, inability to access certain applications, and other network related issues. It was frustrating for both our team and our clients as we helped them work with their internet service providers.
As organizations move past this, I can see companies requiring their staff have appropriate bandwidth and redundancy, even if it means helping offset some of the costs, to ensure adequate connectivity to operate the business remotely.
Now that the team is remote, you’re relying even more on everyone to follow appropriate security measures. We’ve received several inquiries on how to ‘lock down’ the teams’ computers to reduce the threat landscape of people working from home. In many cases, home firewalls are not going to be as robust as those in the office. Additionally, people are more likely to click through to sites and services they might not while in the office, leading to more potential issues.
The Ascend Cybersecurity team received questions on how to maintain the corporate security posture for a 100% remote workforce. We’ve helped clients review more stringent policies, additional security features for existing subscriptions (data loss prevention for email, etc.), improved logging on VPNs with geo-location tracking, and even virtual desktop interfaces (VDI) so that they can more easily manage a consistent image for their team.
For example, Amazon Workspaces is providing 50 free licenses through the end of June, so we’re working with companies to leverage those types of options with our help.
This is all about the team. We need to be available for our clients and for each other. As an organization, we needed to plan for our own people, or their families being affected. What are our contingency plans and how do we make sure we have coverage for our clients? As employees have the option of shifting some of their work (maybe starting the day later and then working into the evening), are we adapting and ensuring coverage for our clients?
And when our teammates need us to resolve a client issue or to help with calls as a parent helps their child with schoolwork, do they know what our availability is so they can plan accordingly?
We recently moved our entire organization over to Microsoft Teams. With known status and calendar integration, it’s straightforward to provide a status and to let people know how to get ahold of you if needed. Since it is included in our O365 subscription, it made sense for our team to leverage it as our collaboration tool. We’ve used it for all-company calls, and it has worked well.
Another challenge is new hire onboarding. We’ve had new hires starting who can’t come into the office, pick up their new laptop, etc. How do we make sure they’ve got availability and are productive as soon as possible? Our team configured a setup that will allow new team members to VPN into our domain. We’ll drop ship them a laptop, have them login and apply our domain policies. They can then access our productivity tools via the internet with our policies in place.
Once everyone is established remotely, how do you ensure you’re still delivering for clients. This item is more specific to your circumstances.
I’ve seen quotes that say, ‘If you don’t trust your team to work remotely, why did you hire them in the first place’. While I agree with that logic, fact of the matter is that with TVs, family, pets, and general concern and uncertainty about the state of the world right now, there are plenty of things that can pull someone away from focusing on their work.
We developed internal dashboards that focus the team on our service level agreements. We highlight potential issues on personal and team dashboards. Our supervisors are holding daily video stand ups with the teams, and through those efforts, our team has remained productive and engaged. A few folks have even separated themselves for their ability to really focus and be productive while remote.
Also, by ensuring connectivity, security, and availability are taken care of, people have the tools to be more productive.
Personally, I’m a ‘head down’ type person. More and more, though, I realize that I really like my team, and I miss the face-to-face interaction that comes with working alongside my colleagues. When we discuss health and well-being of our team, we start with the current medical landscape, but often talk about some of the emotional challenges our team might be facing. Isolation, stress, and uncertainty are real concerns for us as managers. More and more, I think that having an answer for those worries is as important as some of the others mentioned earlier.
One of our supervisors is leveraging teams to hold ‘virtual happy hours’ on Fridays. Starting at around 4PM on Fridays, the team hops on a video call (using Teams) and shares some conversation and the beverage of their choice. These really pull the team together and reminds people about some of the reasons they enjoy working for Ascend.
That’s the question a lot of managers are working to understand. When will teams be allowed back into the office? Are there residual effects on team members? What will demand for our products and services look like?
At Ascend Technologies, we’re in the business of leveraging technology to help our clients weather environments like we’re experiencing right now. We help prepare them for changes in the business landscape. We’ve had to make adjustments, and we’ve helped our clients adjust as well. Whether it’s helping your organization continue to operate under current circumstances or helping you prepare the next time something like this happens, we can help you and your team ensure you’re covered for whatever comes next.
By Corey Dean