The working from home ‘movement’ has long been a hot topic in technology companies. The nature of the job means many engineers work after hours and during working hours they often prefer to work remotely. The recent worrying spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Far East and now in other parts of the globe has caused many companies to see how viable working from home would be for them (including us at BIOS Middle East). It seems we are not alone with companies like Hitachi, JP Morgan and Chevron all asking their workers to work remotely as a measure against the rapidly-spreading disease.
Firstly, a little bit about our setup. We operate two main offices, one in Dubai, UAE and the other in Bengaluru, India. Our 120 plus staff focus almost exclusively on providing managed cloud, disaster recovery and cyber security services to several hundred businesses in the Middle East. The nature of our work means we are paid to be a little bit paranoid and to prepare for worst case scenarios. While not much is known about the Corona Virus, what is known, is that if one member of staff brings it into the office many members of staff would likely catch it and not be able to work for many weeks or worse. Based on that risk alone (no matter how slight) we began asking teams to work from home a few weeks ago. Currently 80% of our UAE operations work from home and we will shortly begin putting the lessons we have learned in place to roll out the same policy in India – which we were already forced to test earlier in the year due to a 1 day planned power outage. We share these lessons here with you.
The first consideration for businesses in the UAE assessing if working from home is viable for them is probably bandwidth. Many business have published some applications for their staff to use outside of the office and do allow for remote access via VPN. But usually this has been designed in a piecemeal fashion. Is your business prepared for all staff to access your servers via high bandwidth simultaneously from homes? A few 100MB ADSL lines or a 50MB leased line is likely to be insufficient for 100 plus users using a 100MB ADSL line from home. What about the nature of your business? Do you use large files? How big are your perimeter devices like routers and firewalls? Can they handle having your office LAN outside coming in as opposed to inside with just web traffic going out?
The truth is most companies with on premise datacenters will not be able to supply enough resources or bandwidth to make this viable. A further consideration is who will manage and maintain these datacenters if the office is closed? The easy fix to all of this is to have your IT infrastructure on the cloud. Usually, our Go to Market about cloud is based around cost savings, security, scalability and the agility to create new infrastructure on the fly. However, an important advantage, which is sometimes over looked, is the robustness cloud gives to remote working.
We at BIOS Middle East own and operate one of the largest public cloud environments in the UAE, so for us this was not much of an issue. We also use many born on the cloud applications such as our CRM and ERP such as Salesforce, Service now and Sage. While other companies may be in the same boat, a further consideration about suddenly granting all your users remote access should be security – 2 factor authentication should be the standard here.
A second consideration is inter office communication. One thing that is lost when staff are no longer in the office is the ability to ask a quick question and get a quick reply. At BIOS Middle East, we have a unified communication from Cisco that allows for soft phones, Webex for video calls and Jabber and Slack for instant messaging. However, they were never really tested remotely. Ensuring all your staff have accounts and know how to use them is key.
A third consideration is how to maintain the culture when people are not in the vicinity of each other. We decided to implement a morning video call so we could see each other’s faces and discuss issues and tasks. We implemented a chat bot in our IM (Instant messenger) to ask staff what they planned for the day and what issues they expected to face – the results of which are aggregated into a report and shared with management. Luckily, for us our business is very dashboard driven and those metrics are available to management from almost everything in a live or report format with a click of a button. So far our work from home KPI’s and metrics are in-line with where they were when we worked from the office. And this is the key of it all. The economic welfare of the company is an extremely important aspect of the welfare of our staff. They are symbiotic and they lead to the level of service we can provide to our customers. All three are directly tied together. This is most likely the case for all business and this is why every CEO should be at least seeing how prepared they are for remote working.
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