Are you REALLY ready for a remote workforce? Part 2 - Technology
(Shout out to Tom Fishburne at the marketoonist for the picture - https://marketoonist.com/2020/04/digital-transformation-2.html)
This is probably the most obvious of the 3 things you need for a remote workforce that actually gets things done. However, I would be willing to bet that a lot, a whole lot, of companies found out that they weren’t prepared for a much larger remote workforce from a technology perspective.
I have heard stories of a company’s GoTo Meeting tenant just being down within the first few days of sending “non-essential” workers home to work remotely. I have had slower responses on VPN connections with some of the work I have personally been doing, as has my team. We have heard stories from our customers where a 45 minute to 1 hour data pull at the plant now takes 12 hours or more to do remotely and the user hoped beyond hope that the VPN connection didn’t drop during the data pull, or he would have to essentially restart.
In an unrelated, but yet related note, my youngest son’s online school system performed miserably the first week or so of remote school despite the order going out several weeks ago that school would start remotely on March 30th. Since then, things have improved, but they are still not where they could or should be. I am not sure anyone with the school system and the remote school application vendor really understood what kind of a load was coming. You have an application that is maybe 25% to 50% loaded on any given day during a normal school day is now 150+% loaded with attempts at video conferencing, video uploads and downloads, as well as way more users on the system doing way more taxing things.
I would highly suspect that a lot of companies’ IT departments went on hyper drive after the directives went out to work more remotely. I also noticed that when I went to best buy, there were less headphones, microphones, webcams, usb networking components, and the like in stock. Why? Because everyone suddenly needed them.
So, what tools do we use and ensure we are ready to roll amid global pandemic or natural disaster? Here are some absolute must haves:
VPN, networking, and server infrastructure
I am sure that most companies’ VPN systems were severely tested during this pandemic. It is really critical that if your employees are required to be logged in to the VPN to perform critical work for your company, that your VPN and any associated network traffic can handle the load.
Fortunately for us, we have been using Office 365 and pretty much every company function runs off of something in that suite of products. We do have a development server that we use on a VPN, but that system is hosted in a data center.
I will never forget on July 30, 2009 when a tornado ripped through the Wolfchase area of Memphis. I was working for LSI at the time and our servers that our entire company relied upon were in that building. If that tornado had been just a mile north and hit our building, it would have crippled our company for days. We quickly re-did our whole IT infrastructure after that. It was certainly a wake up call, like this pandemic is for a lot of companies.
When I set up the infrastructure (or had it set up) for Industrial Insight, I knew that living in Florida, where we have had 2 hurricanes in the last 6 years that knocked out power to my house for 3 or 4 days, that there was no way that any critical piece of hardware or software would run on my property. We have used Office365 or collocated servers in a data center that is well protected and has backup power to host everything we do. Literally every decision we make with regards to company infrastructure is that the hardware and software be hosted in places that have high reliability and can be remotely managed.
Most companies have done ok with all of this, but I am sure many companies have reassessed their capacity and viability in this area. My advice is don’t get cheap or less vigilant when the COVID-19 pandemic fades, because something like this WILL happen again, and you need to be prepared.
I have heard several stories of customers who have had major issues with conferencing solutions early in this pandemic. I would also be willing to bet that most companies have now beefed up their solutions, or re-thought them completely.
We have 2 solutions we can use – Zoom, which costs $15 per month per person and Teams, which comes with our Office365 license. If one lets us down, we can use the other. It is cheap insurance to keep my people working. Again, don’t go cheap here.
In the last 5 years, I know a company with a substantial amount of people who still had a very limited amount of remote conferencing seats and it seemed like we were always fighting over the few seats we had. Why? Because the company didn’t want to pay for something not being used. Again, this is cheap insurance for what is going on right now. I suspect that company has invested in an alternate solution and most people have the ability to remotely collaborate.
If you are using Skype for business. Please, just stop. Now.
Quality headset and microphone
Invest in a comfortable headset and microphone with good sound. It will pay off. I typically buy my people gaming headsets, but that is just me.
Sure, you can use the built-in one and it can be fine. But, if you video conference a lot. Consider a nicer camera.
We typically set our people up with two additional monitors and a docking station. A few years ago, I was in Costco and they were running a sale on a 34” widescreen monitor. So, I picked up one for me and one for Ben. They have been a truly underrated tool in what we do. We have much more real-estate to look at a lot more on one screen (they can act as a dual screen monitor by docking two windows in a pinch – they are THAT big).
With that said, all of us have 2 large monitors plus the laptop screen, for a total of 3 screens. My suggestion is that if you are setting people up to work remotely, they need to have extra screen real estate. As a side note, Tia recently told me that her widescreen monitor "just makes her happy." Well, I am certainly glad it does!
This just goes without saying. I have a 1Gb connection (wired) at the house and typically get 95-300Mb/s download/upload speeds on wifi. This is essential. Again, obvious, but don’t skimp on price and if you require remote work, pay for the wifi for your people if they are going to work remotely.
Messaging app/collaboration center
Most companies have been adopting either Slack or Teams lately. I find both quite useful. Do your research on which one fits your company better. Slack used to be way ahead, but Microsoft has done a great job with Teams and Skype needs to just die. It has been awful since becoming a part of the Microsoft family. I know they are killing it off, but if your company is still using Skype for meetings, please, just stop.
I would be willing to bet that most of this is obvious and a lot of you are thinking “Duh, this was all so obvious.” However, my experience tells me that most companies went only halfway here. They skimped wherever possible and ignored a lot of things that really needed to be done for remote workers until this pandemic started. Now, it is time to take it a step further and make sure that WHEN something like this happens, your teams can go fully remote and there is no disruption to your business and your IT teams don’t see a massive impact with cost or workload.
In way, we are at an advantage, because I have never designed Industrial Insight to be a company based on physical locations, but a company that will always go find, recruit, and hire the best talent. Period. So, every technology and tool we have is built around a remote workforce. I think a lot of companies would be better to served to have that kind of mentality from here on out.
Next week, I will address the final piece of the puzzle in having a tremendously effective remote workforce, tools.