How was IT for you during lockdown, one year on?

It’s a year ago today that you tuned in for that significant announcement “You must stay at home” which heralded the start of Lockdown.  How has the last year treated you and your business?

In May 2020, Sevenoaks Chamber of Commerce invited Computer Troubleshooters to present in their series of Lockdown webinars.  The chosen topic: How is IT for you in the “New Normal”.  It’s fascinating to look back and check out the predictions made in the depths of Lockdown 1.  Here are the highlights from the webinar.  Do you agree with us?

Introduction

I suspect you have hardly given a second thought to your business’ IT setup in the past – as long as you could get on with your work, there were always more pressing matters demanding your attention.

Do you remember how you could casually sit and discuss work with a colleague sitting next to you, not worrying about social distancing?

In the New Normal, you can’t do anything without technology – even getting together with Sevenoaks Chamber involves being able to log into a Zoom meeting!

As we are hopefully starting to see light at the end of the tunnel of lockdown, this seems a good time to take a look back and see what the impact of Coronavirus on our businesses has taught us, focusing on the IT viewpoint of course!

As your local IT advisers and virtual IT department to several businesses in West Kent, Computer Troubleshooters is well-placed to see the impact of the lockdown on computer usage.

Was your business ready for lockdown?

Were you one of those organised companies with all your policies in place performing an orderly evacuation? – Women and Children First – applying the Birkenhead Drill as you manned the lifeboats

We certainly have customers who had paperwork to be completed prior to onsite visits before lockdown came, and one of our vendors had transitioned to working from home early in March.

Or was your office abandoned in haste, looking rather like the Marie Celeste?  Half-finished cups of coffee, paperwork scattered around.

Some of the companies we look after did make a few return visits to collect up paperwork and check for post and deliveries.

You may have had to start dealing with staff being absent from the office prior to this, as schools closed on 18th March and families vulnerable to Covid-19 imposed self-isolation even earlier.

The importance of IT

When lockdown came, your computers were probably the least of your worries but technology has turned out to be essential to your whole life – not just work.

Where would we be without online ordering (of both essential and non-essential items), home schooling, binge viewing and friends and family get-togethers at wine o’clock every Friday.

Thinking back, what was the first IT issue for you?

In all likelihood, it was the consideration – can your team actually work from home? (assuming they have office-based jobs, of course).  We experienced all of the following at various client sites and it was a hectic period of adjusting to the new normal:

  • Do employees have their own suitable computers? We discovered some Windows 7 PCs and even the odd XP machine. – just not up to the job and very insecure
  • should they take home office equipment? Tricky with dual monitor setups.  Do they even have a proper desk and chair to give it a home (let’s ignore health and safety issues for the moment).  And their work computer may need to stay in the office.
  • Should you provide them with a new laptop? – clearly a lot of companies were following this route, as we saw a massive price hike and shortages, exacerbated by a lack of supply from China.
  • Or just a second monitor as that was what they’re used to at work – hope you remembered to provide the right cable to connect it to their laptop! One of my BNI colleagues set up her entire team with second monitors and this has really helped everyone being able to maintain their normal work practices – but what will she do with all those spare monitors once lockdown is over?
  • Did you need to provide phones, internet access, data top-ups?
  • If they are going to participate in Zoom meetings, do they have speakers, microphones and webcams? More than one user was disconcerted to discover that desktop computers do not always come with conferencing facilities as standard – we received calls to support asking for help with hearing the team meetings.

Getting on with work

Great, so you have your staff set up in “home offices”.  Can they actually get at the data, the information, they need to do their jobs?

  • If you have moved to cloud systems, you will be laughing – access to emails and shared work folders without having to access the office. You just needed to make sure that your employees know how to log in.
  • Were you able to redirect your phones? Can your employees make calls on behalf of the company as though they are in the office?  Again much easier if you have an internet-based system – Voip – where they can take physical handsets home or use mobile apps to access the company phone number.
  • Do you have a central office-based server or NAS (Network attached Storage) box to store your documents and maybe your email system. Perhaps you have specialist applications which run on your office-based computers.  If so, you needed to make arrangements for your team to access these remotely.

How did Computer Troubleshooters clients fare?

– our monitoring system automatically gave users remote access

  • – but the security measures could challenge them – MFA anyone? (that’s multi factor authentication – requiring additional passcodes) getting to grips with an app when you are a technophobe could be a painful process but fortunately our technicians are very understanding and patient and got everyone set up in the end.
  • – you can only remote in if the computer in the office stays on, so we had to stop the machines from choosing to go to sleep or suddenly deciding to apply an update. We also had to wake up computers which users shut down at the end of the day through habit!
  • printing – if you are accessing your office computer remotely, do you want the document to print out in the office or on your home printer?
  • – problems using Zoom – not very easy to hear the other participants if you try to use the speakers on the office-based computer – even if you turn the volume right up to 11! This is when you discover that some programs are best installed locally.
  • Backup: if you have a system which depends on your swapping over the physical hard drives and storing them offsite, this is no longer ideal.

Communication is the next big challenge that faced us.

When you work together in an office, you know that Maureen will have the answer at her fingertips, so you can just lean over and ask her a quick question – not quite so easy when everyone is working remotely

  • You could pick up the phone, but how do you know if they are away from their desk or in the middle of a complicated tax calculation.
  • You could drop them an email, but messages can often get misinterpreted when put in writing, it could disappear into a spam filter or get lost in the flood of marketing emails with Covid-19 in the title – do all these senders really think we want any more information about what they are doing about the virus?
  • Whatsapp? Possibly more useful for social chat.
  • It’s good to use Zoom for meetings – bringing isolated workers together feels especially important at this time. Beware of Zoom fatigue though.
  • We’ve been using Teams – other products are available –

The importance of Communication

Communication is particularly important at the moment, especially since people won’t be seeing you every day

  • You need to keep up the morale of your staff and make sure they’re not feeling isolated and lonely.
  • You will need regular check-ins on projects to ensure that everyone is going in the same direction and knows the goals and timetable and their part in the plan.
  • What about your customers? And your suppliers? Do they know that you are still trading?  Maybe you have had to change working hours or product offerings?  Perhaps your processes have changed, for example you have chosen to send invoices electronically rather than through the post.

Process improvements

This could have proven to be the opportunity to make changes to make your life easier:

  • You may be using technology to improve your processes – no longer accepting cheques or cash so you don’t have to visit the bank, is it worth sending letters if no-one is visiting the office?
  • As all good business coaches will tell you, business owners need to spend more time working ON the business rather than IN the business. If you are experiencing a quieter trading period, this is an excellent time to access online training, including the webinars offered by the Chamber.
  • Perhaps the lockdown has given you the breathing space to focus on the development projects you have been considering. It could be the perfect time to get rid of the office server and move to the cloud or migrate your emails over onto a new system.  The downside of this is that funds might not be available to invest in new projects and upgrades, especially given the uncertainty of what the economic future holds. 

The downside of technology

Technology can cause your business issues too, of course.

  • There have been several reports of internet issues – either locally within the home – the adults in the household working from home or enjoying some downtime on Netflix while the children are trying to access Joe Wicks, home schooling or improve their Fortnite score – or nationally as there have been reports of networks crashing due to the increased demand.
  • You might also have to improve the connectivity for staff working from home – perhaps consider a short term 4G contract to get better internet speeds.

Cyber security

Unfortunately cyber security is a massive issue too.

  • Hackers can see an opportunity to wreak havoc and of course profit from the situation and have jumped on the bandwagon.
  • You may have superb computer security for your office, but how secure is the setup of your staff who are working from home? Things to consider: Passwords / firewalls / antivirus / and also backups/backup and disaster recovery which allow you to recover if your business is held to ransom. The hackers may exploit a chink in your company’s defences via a remote user for example a weak password, gaining access to all your systems and your precious data.
  • Especially in the early days of the lockdown, everyone was desperate for information and could easily be tempted to click on a message popping up offering toilet rolls, hand sanitiser, online deliveries or PPE. Hopefully your computer users know not to click on dodgy emails, but where they could doublecheck with their neighbour in the office if in doubt before, would they bother their colleagues by checking if it is not so easy?  Spam filters help, except that we have seen dodgy emails masquerading as quarantine emails too!
  • CEO fraud, where the cyber-criminal gets inside your email system and requests an invoice payment to be processed, is also more difficult to detect and prevent when you are not physically in the same office together.
  • A new twist on Ransomware – data shaming! Instead of threatening to destroy your data, they threaten to “out” it instead, revealing confidential details from your company’s files.
  • It could be a good time to consider security awareness training for your staff? More important than ever with your team members feeling isolated.  There are plenty of training options, with follow up testing – sending out phishing emails to see if your computer users are tempted to take the bait.

The lessons of lockdown

  • IT is important (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the business) to let our companies function and operate successfully with users working from home.
  • If we could go back to the start to do it again, we may have made other arrangements, putting more importance on communication or security, for example.
  • On the whole, businesses have survived the experience, and we may see working from home becoming the New Normal on a permanent basis, not just for the duration of the lockdown, at least for some of the workforce for some of the time. It has been proved that it is not so “impossible” or “impractical” after all, and it will be more difficult to turn down requests in future.
  • Business travel will decrease as Zoom meetings become the norm.
  • With more flexible approaches to working, maybe companies will choose to invest in technology and connectivity rather than office space.

 

How has lockdown been for you?

Have there been positive outcomes for your business?

Will you continue with some of your “new normal” practices, or are you champing at the bit to get the team back into the office?

Just give us a call on 01732 300064 if you’d like to have a chat about the last year and what you would like to change on the technology front.