27 Mar

How we got work from home right and fast

We have two businesses under one roof: an IT management software company (SmartDeploy) and a technology consulting firm (Prowess Consulting). We are headquartered in the cradle of cloud computing, Seattle, Washington, which unfortunately is also the place where the US COVID-19 outbreak started. Our office is just three freeway exits from the early focal point of the outbreak in Kirkland, Washington. It was unnerving. Clearly, everything was about to change.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our company was able to get to 100 percent working from home (WFH) literally overnight. We realize that not all businesses can do WFH. But for those that can, we want to share what we did and what you can do.

What really helped get us ahead was having a good business continuity plan (BCP). Many businesses have a BCP as a matter of compliance, but many such BCPs are not complete, not up-to-date, and not regularly tested. Because our headquarters location is surrounded by hazards in the Pacific Northwest, we take our BCP seriously.

We went about annual drills ranging from simulations via email to full evacuations. We kept our supplies stocked, including N95 masks, gloves, food, water, and other first-aid and hygiene supplies. Plus, we created individual safety packs for all office workers that contain an emergency contact list with response protocol, food, water, and a small first-aid kit.

Perhaps most importantly, we prepared our IT infrastructure. We focused on redundancy of services. We created a secondary IT service location in our branch office in Salt Lake City, Utah. We moved many apps and services to the cloud, and we worked hard to ensure that we could effectively manage workers and their devices outside the network.

As a result of our preparation, our process to enable 100 percent WFH was to simply ask people to start working from home. All services and tools existed already, and our team was equipped and ready to go.

And then, in the middle of everything happening in the world, an earthquake struck Salt Lake City. Fortunately, the only harm was to our team’s nerves. Modern construction standards prevented damage to our facilities and almost all structures in the area. We again followed the process outlined by our BCP. We found all services were online and our people were all safe.

Learnings—No Panic Required

Our preparation made a simple “instant-on” response to WFH recommendations (and now orders) possible.

Although we paid primary attention to geological and ecological disasters, our thorough plan readily addressed the current COVID-19 pandemic. Although we were emotionally rattled, our response to the follow-on earthquake incident was orderly.

Good software tools with emphasis on globally redundant, cloud-based services make IT management and delivery possible to and from any work location:

  • We use Microsoft Office 365 SharePoint, Skype, and Teams for day-to-day collaboration.
  • We employ teleconferencing and webinar software, including GoToWebinar, to keep us in touch with customers, clients, and partners at scale.
  • We rely heavily on our own SmartDeploy endpoint management software to provision and manage PCs and apps from the cloud. To stay productive, all our teams require full power PCs. Remote desktop solutions have too many trade-offs for us. SmartDeploy endpoint management helps us reach all PCs in all locations on any type of connection (Wi-Fi, 4G, or GigE) so that we can provision updates, apps, or entire operating environments.

Remote Work Made Easy

If your organization is less prepared or less able to support WFH, there are many steps you still can take:

Work with (not against!) your IT team:
  • Tools may be available to support you that are not yet in use. Just ask your IT team.
  • Many industries have extensive compliance requirements that require IT involvement to ensure that you have an audit trail.
If you only have a desktop computer (or other hardware constraints):
  • You may be able to use your own home computer with your work software.
  • You may be able to ask IT to allow you to access your work desktop from home.
  • You may also be able to ask for a laptop—software like our SmartDeploy endpoint management system makes setting up systems on different hardware fast and easy for IT.
Don’t have an internal IT team? (Or don’t have compliance obligations?) Connect your team ad hoc with free exiting tools:
  • Use intranet-based social media groups. Many intranet platforms like Microsoft SharePoint have social media collaboration capabilities. (If you use Microsoft Office, you may have SharePoint and not even know it.)
  • No intranet? You can use free, encrypted platforms like WhatsApp to create private groups for basic collaboration.
  • Use free-forever, instant-on team tools like Slack.
  • Group communication through group email or ongoing instant messaging threads is not ideal, but it is better than nothing.

If you are a freelance contractor or a gig worker, you have even more flexibility. You can help your clients be more efficient and more secure while helping them adapt to WFH:

Get all the tools.
  • Software never runs out of inventory. See what tools your clients use, and install as many titles as necessary to keep pace. Many are free.
  • Most businesses are over-subscribed to premium software, so your clients may have the rights to let you use a license while you are working with them at no charge.
Secure everything.
  • Protect yourself and those you serve by using multifactor authentication everywhere possible.
  • Switch all passwords to a very strong format, and save them by using an encrypted password management solution like Dashlane or LastPass. Change all your old and reused passwords.
Organize your personal cloud.
  • If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to structure your work around your own suite of cloud services.
  • Are you a Google person or a Microsoft person, or have you made your own collection of independent storage, communication, and collaboration solutions? No matter how you do it, you can optimize how you secure, share, and connect with your clients and customers.

Our future is certain to have more events that cause business disruption. My hope is that we all can not only thrive through our stay-at-home effort to flatten the curve of the current pandemic, but use this time to innovate and devise new ways to be increasingly productive and fluid in where and how we work.

This is a repost of our CEO, Aaron Suzuki’s, LinkedIn article which can be found here.

About the Author

Aaron Suzuki
Aaron has spent his entire career as an IT consultant. Rising at the age of 26 to the role of President for a regional Internet application development firm, Aaron led the company successfully through the economic downturn of the early 2000's. From there, he moved to a broader technology business opportunity, taking on the revival of an ailing Seattle-based IT firm where he acted as the Director of Business Development. Aaron co-founded Prowess in 2003 and co-founded SmartDeploy in 2009. As the CEO, he helps create and instill process in production and management. He is responsible for the ongoing operations of the business, including day-to-day management. Aaron drives the strategic direction of the company, and he is the primary liaison to the Advisory Board.