Kia Ora. For those who I haven’t met, my name is Joel Macklow and I’m the Customer IT Strategist for Cloudservices in Hawke’s Bay. My role is to provide infotech guidance to our small and medium sized customers.
It’s been quite the couple of weeks for our country as we all try to come to grips with how to handle a pandemic. Especially is that the case if you are a small business owner or member of a management team.
If you are a sole trader or micro business of up to 5 employees, then how you work through this will be a bit different to what I’ll be discussing here. Likewise if you are a business of more than 50 FTE’s you’ll likely have risk, compliance and HR capabilities that will be activating management plans that they have already had in place.
But if you are the owner or manager of a business of between 5 and 50 employees, you may be looking for a practical guide as to what you should be considering and decisions that you need to make to manage your way through this pandemic. I haven’t really seen any information around that covers this without trying to hawk a product or service. I hope that this guide can provide you some clarity and a bit of a checklist of things to consider. If you find this valuable, please share it with others so that as a country of small businesses we can all benefit.
So let’s get stuck in…
Customer IT Strategist
In the 1960’s Harold Levitt published a model that outlined three parts of organisation management. People, Processes and Tools (or technology). Those three areas of focus are still practical in managing your business through a pandemic like COVID-19. Let’s consider each of them and mention some info that can be helpful to you.
Our first priority has to be caring for our people, our employees. Ensuring the physical and emotional wellbeing of them and their families is good for our communities and helps to ensure the viability of our businesses and that we can all contribute to our local economies. If everyone in the country can do that in their own communities, then the country can manage much better through this situation.
I’ve seen and heard a number of conspiracy theories going around as you not doubt have as well. This is of no use to you in ensuring the wellbeing of your staff. There are a number very well qualified and reliable sources of information regarding steps that can be taken to minimize as much as possible the spread of COVID-19 in NZ. Here are ones that I’ve found to be good that you might want to share with your staff. I’ll provide links to each of these sources below too.
She has an awesome ability to be able to take technical matters and make them easy for us mere mortals to understand and act on. There is a series of articles that she has published on The Spinoff that explain the steps all kiwis need to take to ensure that our communities are as best prepared as we can make them. They have some brilliant explainer graphics in them too. Especially the articles “The three phases of Covid-19 – and how we can make it manageable” and “After ‘Flatten the Curve’, we must now ‘Stop the Spread’. Here’s what that means”. Read her articles here
I mentioned at the beginning of this section that we need to care for the physical as well as the emotional wellbeing of our employees. How do we do that and what does that look like? Another great person who has generously shared her knowledge is Jacqui Maguire. She has been interviewed on TVNZ and you can watch it on her LinkedIn post here
We also need to examine the policies and processes that we have in place to ensure that we can consistently apply good practice for all our employees and that our expectations are clear.
Obviously having a clearly documented plan is a huge help in this respect. Our industry colleagues at iT360 in Auckland have generously shared a copy of the template they have used. You may find it to be a great place to start.
I’ve also heard from customers about steps that they are taking. Their feedback may be useful for you to consider in your plans too. Some have enforced a complete business travel ban, and for those who are currently travelling; they need to self-isolate home for 14 days regardless so as to protect the company. This also applies to domestic flights for business meetings etc. With regard to in person meetings, some have decided that meetings will be reduced to 3 people maximum and with a social distancing.
Finally we get to the technology component. Obviously you will need to have some discussions with your technology service provider around what steps are practical for your business. There are huge variables here depending on where your business is on your cloud journey and which provider ecosystem you have invested in.
If and when there is a need for self isolation, we need to evaluate how that employee can continue to contribute to the business. If they are sick, then obviously they won’t be working, but there may be family members who are confirmed cases and then our employee, while still well is in isolation. How can we help them?
First, now would be a good time to enquire as to the internet and WiFi capabilities that each employee has access to at home. Do they have UFB Fibre, VDSL? Hopefully not ADSL or no internet! But if that is the case, how can we get them internet access? Are they within coverage for wireless broadband over 4G or perhaps a fixed wireless connection? There are plenty of options available in the market to choose from and your IT partner will be able to provide you guidance on this.
Second, now that our employees have good connectivity, are you asking them to use their home computer, laptop or tablet for work? Do you already supply them a company owned laptop or will you obtaining some devices to use as pool devices for those in self isolation? Considering these questions will ensure that their Work From Home experience is as seamless as possible.
If you are providing laptops to your employees, implementing a DNS security solution such as DNS Filter provides realtime web threat security and policy based filtering for your mobile workers.
Third, the platform considerations. If you are in the Google G-Suite ecosystem, your core collaboration tools such as Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets etc are already cloud based, and for video collaboration you have Hangouts.
If you are in the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem, you have Outlook email, OneDrive file storage, SharePoint document libraries and collaboration solutions. For chat and video collaboration you have Teams. If you are new to Teams or your IT service provider is now rolling it out, Matt Wad, a Microsoft MVP has published an etiquette guide for Teams, which is a brilliant resource that you can share with your teams. This information is gold!
Video collaboration is important in self isolation Work From Home events. Maybe you don’t have access to the G-Suite or Office 365 options I’ve just mentioned. There some free or low cost options that you can deploy immediately if required.
First there is Zoom Meetings. You can have unlimited one on one calling and group meetings of 3 or more up to 40 minutes at no cost. Google Hangouts and Duo are no cost options for fewer than 10 people. Microsoft have Skype Meetings for up to 50 participants at no cost as well. So, make sure you have a good web cam and you can easily be collaboration with colleagues, business partners and clients in no time!
Voice calling and conferencing are still a large part of collaboration in many organisations. If you have a cloud hosted PBX phone system, then you are already good to go. If you still have an old-school on premises PBX then you may need to engage your provider to see what your options are for out-of-office call routing.
Most businesses have industry specific or custom developed applications for their line of business. How these are developed hugely affects how easily and securely these can be accessed remotely.
Larger organisations have traditionally enabled secure access to internally hosted applications by using VPN gateways. At times like this, when some entire organisations are being asked to work from home, these VPN devices struggle to handle the demand.
So there we go. My tips and suggestions for how to manage your people, process and technology as a SMB owner or executive during the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand. I hope you’ve found this useful and informative. If so, please share with others you know who could benefit. The more we look out for each other in business, the better we can all cope, the better the outcome for our business and communities.