Two days before the Pennsylvania Governor closed most businesses in Pennsylvania, in response to controlling COVID-19, I asked our employees if they would prefer to work from home and almost everyone responded with a yes. I was happy to learn that ANP was considered an essential business because we supply IT services and the Governor likely knew once businesses were closed down IT support would be required to support employees working from home.
Fortunately ANP was ready, we had a new Cisco Next Gen Firewall with the latest VPN software, and we had multi-factor authentication deployed to ensure secure encrypted access. Plus every employee has a new Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop and two 27” HD monitors and a docking station with a Microsoft 365 subscription.
Everyone took their gear off of their desks and drove home. Each employee set up their new home office in their apartment bedrooms, kitchen tables and on their laps in their living rooms. Literally the next day we had all of ANP up and running from our homes, we were answering our company phone lines, dispatching service tickets and our engineers were helping our 3000 PC users as if nothing had changed.
How did we do that? It’s simple. ANP has implemented Microsoft Office 365 to keep our team productive. At the same time that COVID-19 compelled ANP to work from home, our clients were also rushing to get their home offices set up for remote work.
Even though most of our clients were already set up with some sort of work from home capability, our team was slammed with thousands of clients asking for help getting their IT set up to work remotely. I watched my team work diligently to support our clients as they transitioned employees out of their offices to working from their homes. During the next two weeks I learned so much about connecting and collaborating remotely. I want to share some of what I learned with you in this blog.
IT support is a contact sport, yes I’m a bit old-school and believe that IT engineers do their best work when they are within listening distance of their colleagues. That means when they are all working together in an office. I was really worried about how the team would do when everyone was separated from one another. I was completely wrong, my team worked through a crushing load of tickets and made closing those tickets look easy. They handled twice the normal workload, and our customer satisfaction score remained above 98%. Honestly, I was proud but also really surprised.
So how did they do it?
The answer is ANP is made up of great people and we had embraced Microsoft Teams for collaboration. We are all social beings and to succeed we need to connect and collaborate with others, and the workplace is no different than any other part of our lives. When our employees were thrown into working from their homes they instantly embraced Microsoft Teams and began chatting and sharing within work groups immediately. I saw every aspect of our business embrace Teams: marketing, finance, sales, the Virtual CIOs and all of our engineers. Everyone was chatting or holding meetings within Teams.
If I dive deeper, I saw some evolutionary things take place at ANP. The first thing I noticed was shorter meetings replacing longer meetings. My calendar was packed with 30-minute meetings all day long. I had not decreed from above that there shall not be any long meetings, this just happened organically. Our workforce instinctively changed the way they were communicating to optimize the new work from home reality.
I believe everyone on our team was hungry to stay connected, we had a huge surge in tickets and everyone wanted to be ready to help anyone else in need. The number of chats opened in our chat rooms segregated by department exploded. One engineer would place a question in the chat room, and he would get 13 responses immediately.
I also saw my reports reaching out to me much more often for short 1-on-1’s to huddle and talk through an issue. We spend so much unproductive time face-to-face when we find ourselves apart we all sense the time together is valuable and we look after that time more carefully. Here at ANP shorter meetings has been a fundamental shift, at a time when meetings seemed to be growing longer and longer.
Instant messaging also exploded once we started working from home, my Teams IM messages were coming in constantly, and teams would allow me to review an hour of messages in just 10 minutes of reading. I felt more connected and on-top of my business than I have ever felt and that’s all because of the power of remote collaboration that Teams provides.
I’m not certain where this work from home COVID-19 journey will lead ANP, but I now understand how critical Microsoft teams will be to my company culture and to employee’s work-from-home productivity.