Office Update - The office is open virtually, all systems go

By Ian (not very good at OpenArena, decent at Pool) (March 23rd, 2020)

If you need us, then just call us or email us as normal. We have made the transition to be 100% remote working for the foreseeable future until the advice around COVID-19 suggests we can all go back. We will miss playing pool together, but the apprentices have managed to get us all playing network Openarena instead – only at lunchtime though! If you’ve got a support question then Chris and Tim will still be taking your calls as normal.

We had been preparing in a relaxed manner for a long time, and we were already experimenting with home working before the current crisis, but there are still things you can do. In case there’s any value to other companies then here’s the key software we used to sort out remote working.

1. Internal planning and communication: we operate a fortnightly sprint, with daily stand up meetings, and we’ve always done these face-to-face before last week. However, there’s a huge number of team communication tools that enable chat and informal discussion online. About three weeks ago we jumped for Slack.com, and we seemed to swap to using this for all our internal communication with very little friction. I have a feeling we’ll never go back to how it was! This was our #1 big change to support the current situation – to make sure we could communicate internally, and that all of us could still access each other easily. You can do this today even if you’ve never tried before. There’s other platforms like Zoom.us for video calls if you want to see the other person, but the important thing is to make sure your own staff can still communicate effectively.

2. VPN: this is essential to allow everyone unified access to the day to day systems in the office – every office has one or two things that they can’t do without that are shared in the office. We have no customer-critical services hosted in the office, but access to our hosted cloud platform is heavily restricted and one of the easiest routes to support our customers is via the office. If you don’t have any centralised systems or security requirements then you don’t need this, but if you do then you must control who can get into your network and what they can see once they are there.

3. Voip Phones: we made the jump in 2015 to a fully hosted phone solution – and now it is just a matter of taking the phones home to make them work. We can also use mobile apps to connect in with a soft phone – but for today we thought it was easier just to take the whole desk phone home. Chris wasn’t a fan of this as he cycled in on his last day! You could probably survive by just using everyone’s mobiles as backup, but with a hosted Voip platform your customers don’t need to change anything. If you haven’t already moved to Voip then you can divert your phones to anywhere if you tell BT.

4. Moneypenny: this is another element from changes we made in 2015 – if we can’t answer the phone then the call is automatically routed to Moneypenny. This triggers an issue into our issue tracker so we can see who has called and respond. They might be accepting new customers today...so this is one you don’t need to have prepared in advance!

5. Remotely accessible workflow tools – our issue tracker is our central repository of tasks for all team members across all projects. It is our timesheet, our file sharing hub, and our planning tool. We’ve been using Jira since 2012 and I think we’d be lost without it. Jira has eased our transition from face-to-face communication, to totally remote working because we can still effectively plan the week and monitor progress. Your needs will be different, but you should be planning on how your own workflow is supported remotely. Obviously if you need a hosted repairs/service management platform we can help (you are reading this so I assume we’ve already helped you tick that one off!), but are your other systems as accessible – accounts? HR? Email? Our own asset maintenance and property maintenance solutions were born out of the Y2K panic and the business continuity discussions of the time, but we’ve been careful to heed our own advice since then. We use Xero for accounts, we use SAS Protect Online for all our HR issues, and we use a customised version of our own solution for all our billing. If you are having problems with any of your teams then there are solutions our there that can help – from specialised platforms to general purpose solutions like Dropbox (but please remember GDPR is still a thing, so check the T&Cs).

6. Team spirit: don’t forget this one in the push to go all remote. We played pool every lunchtime, and we will miss it. Fortunately our apprentices have worked out how to play an online game called Openarena.ws remotely and have been hosting daily sessions. The older team members are rubbish at it, or at least are pretending to be to make the apprentices feel good.

The next few weeks are looking a little scary, but we think we’ve prepared everything as much as we can. Our regular processes are all working as normal (we are in the middle of rolling out March’s updates) and the cloud servers are all running as expected (with a reassuring normal load for a Monday which hopefully means most of our customers are still receiving jobs from their clients) .

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