The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how businesses operate, perhaps permanently. This is evidenced by the number of businesses, from small companies to enterprise organizations, who have had to transition to remote workforces.
Deploying a fully operational remote workforce is a huge undertaking, even without the time crunch brought on by coronavirus. From equipment to employee training, your Information Technology department will be responsible for the bulk of the transition.
EBI deployed a fully remote and 100% operational US based remote workforce in five days. This week, we present a two-part series about how to successfully manage a similar deployment. In part one, Brent Wettengel, Director of Information Technology at EBI, offers tips for a seamless technology transition.
Tackling a transition of this scope in normal conditions is a luxury. You have time to assess, plan, train, deploy, and troubleshoot. In an emergency – which this COVID-19 crisis caused - you must do all of this in a shortened time frame with tensions running high. You need to be fast, agile, and flexible. You should, hopefully, already have some semblance of a Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP, in place. The COOP is your roadmap to implementing and managing business operations so they can be performed in an emergency event.
In EBI’s case, the Information Technology and Business Operations teams recognized the potential disruption to everyday operations coronavirus would likely cause. We wanted to ensure our COOP adhered to our ISO 9001 quality standard certification and ISO 27001 information security standard certification.
“We saw the writing on the wall and began acting three weeks before actually needing to deploy staff,” says Wettengel. “We came up with a design and plan in terms of technology needs that fitted our COOP and presented this plan to leadership. They let us run with it.”
From a logistics standpoint, here is what Wettengel and his team accomplished in that timeframe:Prior to 3 weeks (as part of EBI’s continuous improvement plan):
- Transitioning plan from desktops to laptops for remote capabilities
- Redundant VPN connections
- Already had some employees working from home with VPN capabilities
- Configured multifactor authentication to protect login information
3 weeks from deployment:
- Created initial equipment manifest of technologies like VPN units, laptops, and phones the IT department already had in stock. Much of this emergency stock was previously retired equipment that fell out of use due to age but was still functional for this emergency.
- Examined bandwidth traffic on the network. Recognized busiest times and earmarked routing adjustments to maximize throughput.
- Presented deployment plan to leadership
- Adjusted IT staffing schedule to ensure plan could be executed
- Polled managers to find out additional remote working needs from employees – who needed a physical phone or software VPN, for example
- Implemented employee training (see below)
- Signed out or mailed equipment to employees
- Conducted tests to make sure everyone is up and running
- Updated company intranet or internal education resources
- Emphasized security protocols (see below)
- Created new streamlined way to initiate IT assistance with any remote connectivity issues (see below)
- Conducted additional trainings
- Requested feedback (see below)
Once the amended COOP plan was approved and in place, it took Wettengel and the IT department ONLY 5 days to get the entire EBI workforce operating 100% remotely.
A plan only works if the people you’re depending on to implement it know how to do so correctly. Taking the time to train and assess your deployed workforce is a critical step you must not miss in any remote transition.
In time-sensitive situations, conducting batch training sessions in-house before you go live remotely is the fastest and most accurate method of getting everyone up to speed. Scheduling groups of 20-30 employees from a variety of departments keeps your operations running smoothly without noticeable interruption and prevents your IT staff from getting even more overwhelmed (this is a high-anxiety time for them).
Here are some tips to conduct training:
- Create small groups of employees to undergo work from home software and equipment training while the office is still operational
- As each group completes its training, sign or mail out equipment to those employees and have them set up work stations at home
- Test the functionality of employees’ remote setups, troubleshoot issues, and adjust your bandwidth
- Offer additional live video training sessions conducted by an IT staffer once your small groups are operating remotely (For example, EBI offered special trainings on digital tools like Microsoft Teams video conferencing. This helped integrate EBI’s existing remote workforce who was already comfortable with that software, with its newly remote workforce who rarely needed to use it before).
Keeping your company intranet or internal education resources current will also help remote employees find answers and lessen the burden on your IT staff. Having information at employees’ fingertips is one way to keep operations running smoothly.
Maintaining data security practices and protocols is extremely important during any remote deployment. While these standards may be second nature for IT staff who usually help develop and write them, employees may need a reminder about information security and secure business practices when working remotely. Again, this is where your company intranet can be helpful.
Here are some of the employee IT and security procedures you may want to remind your employees about:
- Use of company hardware and software
- Handling Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
- Internet usage
- Selfies and social media
- Mobile device policy
If you don’t already have policies for things like social media and mobile devices, or if you had to create them on the fly during this pandemic, make sure to examine how your employees handled these items while working from home and amend your COOP for future situations.
Normally, feedback is solicited after an event. A survey is sent out and a post-mortem collection of information is captured and processed. This is a wonderful approach when you have that luxury we talked about at the beginning – time.
But, in the case of a rapid remote deployment you will learn much more from your employees if you engage with them during the transition. Most importantly, you will fix minor issues faster and prevent them from turning into long-term problems.
One of the best ways to establish this open line of communication is to set up a chat channel with your IT department using whatever Instant Messaging tool your company subscribes to. You can set up a notification so your entire IT team can see when someone needs help and step in accordingly. Wettengel says moving remote connectivity issues from a ticketing system to IM removes any lag time created by email and facilitates quicker resolution when using unfamiliar systems. This allows for normal nonpriority issues to still be filed to the ticketing system and allows for easier prioritization of issues and improved productivity.
“Typically, staff members would submit tickets to us to troubleshoot their IT issues. That was cumbersome for our needs of deploying a remote workforce quickly. So we created a Microsoft Teams channel specifically for IT issues,” says Wettengel. “We were able to address and quickly resolve issues.”
Soliciting feedback this way will certainly keep your newly deployed remote workforce satisfied, but it will likely also put more pressure on your IT staffers. EBI had 4 IT employees monitoring the chat channel during working hours, in addition to putting in 12-hour days during the lead-up to, and execution of, deployment. Even now, while business operations have reached a ‘new normal’, our IT department continues to fire on all cylinders.
It’s important to remember these employees are the backbone of any successful remote workforce deployment, and to show them a little more gratitude during this stressful time to help keep up their morale.
EBI is Here
Navigating this turbulent COVID-19 business environment is difficult and will continue to present new challenges as the economy recovers. You can count on EBI to not only provide useful information about maintaining business operations, but to assist you with your background check needs. Our team is always available to answer your questions; speak with one of our experts or email us.
You can also Get to Know EBI by visiting our LinkedIn page.
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