Though the topic of remote work comes up frequently in the pages of CRN, never have we as a society collectively had to embrace it on the scale we see today.
Selling the modern workplace has been a strong focus for a subset of Australian partners for a good number of years, and now it is being put to the test.
As the world grapples with the threat of the COVID-19 virus, social distancing practices have become the norm, relegating people to their homes. While Australians have greatly reduced the number of hours they spend in their corporate institutions, work for many continues from the humble home office.
So how are partners getting along, what are their challenges and what do they say is key to success when working from home?
Shane Muller, the managing director of Microsoft partner OBT, has been a modern workplace specialist for years and said working from home was by no means a new concept for OBT staff. But despite flexible working technology being in the wheelhouse of what the company does, Muller said change on this kind of scale still creates challenges.
“We have always had the ability to work from home and even after two decades of providing 'work from anywhere’ services, this has taken many off-guard,” he said.
“Mainly because remote working ‘capability’ is very different to a remote working ‘practice’. The latter requires a ‘culture’ to be developed around its practice.
“We’ve been fully remote since the end of February and have had a significant number of learnings that we’re addressing and aiding our clients with too. We’ve not had any service impact and our main focus has been on ensuring our team and clients are completely mobilised and adequately set-up for the change.”
Muller wrote up a quick work-from-home starting resource on the OBT Anywhere website, which provides quick tips to organisations on how to keep their businesses up and running. This includes practical preparation points such as bolstering home network capacity, upgrading storage, implementing decent communication lines for team members and more.
When it comes to advice for other MSPs, Muller says increasing partnering and collaboration amongst peers would be valuable.
“This is a time where partners will be the best for our market as a whole. Where one might be in trouble or just under the pump, another partner can help,” Muller said.
“There are many talents and strengths throughout our industry and working together is going to be a key to navigating out. We ourselves have called several partners and even competitors. Keeping the dialogue flowing and being open can help us as an industry come out strong.”
IBRS consultant Joe Sweeney, who has been advising on flexible working practices for years, told CRN that the ability to settle into a work-from-home mindset varied widely from person to person.
The number one piece of advice Sweeney had for individuals just getting started in working from was around discipline.
“One of the techniques I use is that I have a physical workspace. It’s separate. I’ve isolated it. It’s not in front of the television, it’s not on the kitchen table, it’s not in the bedroom,” Sweeney said.
“In my case, I have an actual home office, but the important thing is that I have always had an area that when I walk into it, I am at work. So I create a different mindset by crossing that border. You need that mental persona. If you can get that, a lot of the rest will fall into place.
“The other thing I would suggest is to write out on a daily basis your objectives. What you intend to accomplish. Those should be socialised with the rest of your organisation as well so that everyone knows what you are up to.
"What you’ll then be doing is moving from working by time to working by objective. The rookie mistake to watch out for is that you’ll always try to slot too much into the day. Don’t sweat the small stuff."
Whether you’re a fan of working from home or not, most would probably agree that having a choice in the matter would be preferable. For Arthur Marinis, managing director of Melbourne’s base2Services, the forced nature of the current work-from-home trend is surreal.
“Being that it has been imposed on you and everyone you work with makes the situation feel a bit like a prison sentence,” he told CRN.
Remote work isn’t a new challenge for the base2 team, and the company has measures in place to help keep team morale and spirits up.
“base2Services has a 24/7 component to its operating model and therefore all technical risks associated with working away from the office were already in place,” Marinis said. “With teams in Austin, Berlin and Melbourne, our chat and ChatOps processes have been in effect for well over two years, so little has changed in that respect.
“On the people side of things, we have introduced RUOK phone calls, video chats instead of voice chats and our coffee run channel is just as active at home as it is in the office.”
When asked if any particular piece of equipment had come to the fore while working in isolation, Marinis said apart from the tools his team had always used, it was furniture rather than tech that had shone for his individual experience.
“We have used cloud-based tech, VPN's and powerful laptops for a very long time now, so none of that has really changed for us as an organisation. But for me personally, my chair has proven to be the hero,” he said.
“After a couple of days, I realised the chair I had was not going to cut it for several weeks, so I bought a gamer chair where the specifications noted it was good for eight-plus hours of use.”
Having a comfy chair is actually a huge consideration that HR departments are having to grapple with, with reports of staff requesting to borrow their chairs from their corporate offices.
That and other workplace health considerations can’t be overlooked during the crisis, according to Advance Computing director Chris Motton, who said a successful work-at-home experience started with getting the basics right.
“Occupational health and safety is still important and I suggest completing a full review to get the most out of your workspace,” he said.
Advance is based in Kyabram, Victoria, and while Motton said servicing customers across the country meant many were used to flexible working, IT organisations needed to consider that not all staff would be used to it.
“We’ve always worked from wherever makes the most sense for the right task at the right time but this has changed for some of our more traditionally office-based team,” he said.
“I find personally that I’m more productive in the office but more focused at home, so I have always balanced the two. Everyone is different and we’re finding that both internally and with clients.”
With such a big shift to home-based working for so many corporate organisations in Australia, there are likely to be lasting cultural impacts around how we work.
“I think we’re getting a glimpse of what we’re calling the new normal,” IBRS’ Sweeney said.
“We’ve already started talking about this, about what comes next. I’ve had discussions with three smaller-sized organisations, and their executives have said, ‘I’ve just realised we’re paying a fortune for these office spaces and we don’t need them. We’ve never needed them and my staff are happier where they are’.”
It will be a testing time for many organisations, particularly in the channel. It will provide lessons and case studies for flexible, modern workplace practices well into the future. OBT’s Muller said we needed to make sure we took it all onboard.
“Once this has all past, if we as professionals don’t learn and improve from this, we’re clearly missing a ‘loud and clear message’.”