COVID-19 Work From Home: Massive Lessons Learned.

What a Life Lesson That Was!

Kia ora kotou. So that was an interesting experience to say the least! Four weeks of COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown taught us so many things about who we are as a country and as communities, what we truly value in our personal lives, and we also learned a lot about the gaps between how many businesses functioned before lockdown and during lockdown.

Some of you may have had an opportunity to read my earlier post New Zealand SMB Covid-19 Management Guide where we outlined things that SMB’s should be considering to ensure they were as well placed as possible heading into lockdown. So how did we do?

As an IT service provider across a range of Hawke’s Bay SMB businesses we observed some really interesting things from our clients and other service providers across the country, that we’d like to share. So let’s get stuck in… 

Your SMB Sector Affected Your Options

SMB COVID-19 WFH Learnings 2

Joel Macklow
Customer IT Strategist

This was a fundamental aspect. Everybody was clamouring to examine the government COVID-19 Essential Businesses List to see if their business sector was included. This was interesting as it really helped us to collectively see what are the absolute minimum services that the country needs to keep functioning, sustaining the essentials of life and safety of the community.

If you were on the list, or a supporting provider to an essential business, then you could move on to considering the implications as to how you would function. If you weren’t on the list, time to pull the blinds, shut the door and head home for a while.  

Learning: If you are looking for a new SMB business opportunity that can remain functioning as an essential service when the economy is in it’s lowest possible functioning state, then the COVID-19 Essential Businesses List is a really good place to start.

Old School IT Took a Hammering

For SMB’s with aging application stacks installed onto desktop PC’s connected to a local server in the office, options were limited.  Aging phone systems limit inbound call routing to “forward to mobile” at best. For those businesses with remote user VPN setup’s many of them started to have capacity issues as more users started WFH and connecting into the office.

From our observation, this ICT approach is often found in businesses that have embedded technical debt and are also driven by decades old business processes that have not been modernized. These businesses often approach their IT using an ad-hoc “break-fix” approach and as a result are missing the benefits of proactive IT support and the strategic advice and direction that comes with using a IT managed services provider.

Learning: There may be a longer recovery time for these businesses. As they recover, significant investment should be allocated to modernizing business processes and prioritizing the removal of unintentional technical debt from the business.

Cloud Enabled SMB Fared Better

Those SMB’s that had already started their cloud journey in the last few years fared much better than those who were rushed into the move or who were still locked into “old-school” IT. Their workforce were already trained and had embedded processes, policies and procedures in place. For these businesses it really was a case of business-as-usual (BaU), but from a different place.

Some of these businesses clamoured to get hold of and provision laptops and webcams for their WFH staff when they came to the realisation that their workplace focus was about backsides on seats in front of desktop computers with single or dual screens.

While these businesses were better prepared, things like employee WFH internet connectivity, real-time internet threat management and web filtering, Wi-Fi coverage, mobile coverage and lighting (to look your best on all those Zoom and Teams meetings!) had often been overlooked, and rushed implementations were the rule of the day.

Generally these businesses have engaged with an IT provider that is providing strategic advice and management of IT estate. As a result they are able to have their WFH employees supported remotely, wherever they may be.

Learning: If your workforce are able to work remotely, then your device refresh cycle should be looking at laptop/tablets with docks and screens in the office. Also, focus on ensuring the safety and threat protection for company devices on home network connections. There may be ad-hoc Microsoft Teams implementations that may need to be revisited to establish governance and management requirements.

Born-in-the-Cloud SMB Fared the Best

These businesses set the bar for functioning under Level 4 lockdown. These businesses are generally newer businesses that have not had the constraints of historical organisation IT. From their beginning they have:

  • Used cloud services like Google G-Suite or Microsoft (Office) 365 for document collaboration. 
  • They have used Microsoft Teams or Google Meet or Zoom for video conferencing. 
  • Their standard new hire device is a laptop or tablet.
  • For voice calling they use cloud PBX software like 3CX or Microsoft Teams which enables smart phones to be just another extension in the office.
  • Server based application stacks are modern web designed apps or remote desktop environments running in Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS or Google Cloud Platform.

These organisations are typically leaders in flex-work, remote-work and 4 day work weeks. Their ICT systems are flexible and enabled them to continue to operate seamlessly.

These businesses see the clear value that an IT managed services provider brings to their business.  Their WFH employees are remotely supported and have full access to an IT service helpdesk. The IT service provider makes extensive use of automation to ensure consistency and speed of service delivery, enabling the business to operate efficiently. The strategic advice and direction the managed services provider delivers is customised to the needs of the business, providing direction and intent that is aligned precisely to the needs of business to power business growth.

But here’s the really interesting thing: They were able to focus on the health and wellbeing of their WFH employees, because all the ICT platform and workflow decisions had been made.

Learning: Being proactive and embracing cloud technologies reduces stress for management teams and WFH employees. Organisation focus on health and wellbeing of our people are paramount.

Conclusion

So which SMB organisation are you? What did you learn about your organisation, your people and yourself? 

This pandemic has been a real life lesson in understanding that our lives are really about the people in them; our families and our communities, as well as the people we work with. Caring for each other and looking out for the health and wellbeing of our loved ones has been so important.

So where does technology fit into all of this? 

For me it really comes down to this: Technology, when implemented well, can provide us with freedom of work, reducing our level of stress about work and also frees us to focus on the health and wellbeing of ourselves and all those around us.