If you have been following this series, you’ll know some of the tools available and have some tips on how to be productive at home. As you are reading this, you’ll be aware that the first wave has arrived and there is no longer any uncertainty about where you’ll be working. You are working from home. I’ve called this section “Judgement Day” because that is what today is. Not about your true value-add being found out or the discovery of the office supplies that magically found their way to your home (I know forward planning 😊), but the realisation of how well your company, specifically the IT Department and their chosen cloud-based providers (some discussed in Part 1) have prepared. So far, the early indications are not promising.
Firstly, the Cloud providers. A couple of years back I did a company-wide survey for a global client using a cloud-based survey tool. After three weeks of writing and re-writing questions, tweaking the nuance of the answers, grammar and spell checking (before the days of Grammarly) and what seemed like endless testing, we were finally happy with the survey. At 11am on Monday morning, we launched. At 2pm I received a call from a now completely dis-satisfied customer saying the survey wasn’t working and they now had a major, company-wide egg-on-face situation. At the time I was travelling, but using my phone, laptop and a somewhat dodgy internet connection I was able to identify the problem. The cloud-based survey platform had gone down. How did I discover this? There is a website that will become the best friend and first port of call for any cloud-based native – downdetector.com. I sent screenshots of the downed service, committed to monitor the situation then send an email when the service was available again. Net net, one placated customer, and the survey resumed when the service became available.
So, Monday 16th March, Microsoft was faced with a similar situation – lots of eager folks, keen to try out the working from home experience. This is what happened (screenshots from downdector.com)
If you were not aware, availability will depend upon where your tenant is hosted. This adds another layer of confusion/fun. Just because you are in a particular region, doesn’t mean your service will be affected. We assume that if we work in a particular region, that’s where our tenant – where our service is run from – is located. Not strictly so. For example, the Teams outage looked like this:-
This, and coincidently scarily similar to the real Covid-19, did not look good for the UK and most of Europe. If I worked in the UK and my company tenant was in the US, I’d be fine. Conversely, if I was working in Australia but my company tenant was in the UK, I would be less fine (although local time would suggest several, more enjoyable alternatives). You can see why for those of you working at home, downdector.com becomes your new BFF.
More worryingly is the impact remote working will have on the IT department. There is now a huge spotlight on them, what they have created, how they manage the users and support the business. There are several weak links in this particular chain.
The first is the email sent to you to tell you what you need to do. There are two particular challenges here, the way the emails are written and how the emails are received. I’ve seen a couple of emails sent from IT departments to users. As someone who has worked in this area for a while, they leave me baffled, so goodness only knows how the recipients felt. The best way is more pictures, fewer words. Use screenshots and avoid jargon/abbreviations.
More importantly is how the emails are received. From interviewing and surveying a number of users, one consistent theme emerged when receiving email from IT. They are largely ignored, rarely even opened and never read with the enthusiasm and attention IT believe their email will be received. IT needs to change the way and style it communicates with the business.
Secondly is the impact of legacy systems and “end-user” developed applications. These were developed on a particular platform or specific computer. Often, they will have hardcoded filenames, file locations or access details which made them difficult for the IT department to move to a modern platform or the cloud. Up until now, they have been tolerated, if not altogether ignored, by IT. The existence or prevalence of these legacy or “end-user” apps and the subsequent impact they have on the remote working experience means that even though the collaboration tools are in place and accessible, remote working is either impractical or impossible.
Thirdly the way IT works will also be exposed. The popular stereotype of the IT department consigned to the basement portrayed by the “IT Crowd” is sadly more prevalent that you’d imagine. IT is often isolated from the business. Beyond the occasional interaction for the provision of a new device, upgrade or application installation, IT doesn’t really mix. The gulf between IT and the business, which has often led to the rise of “Shadow IT” is only getting wider, and the rise of tools like No-Code/Lo-Code and cloud means this gulf will only widen. IT needs to rethink and reframe its relationship with and how it supports the business. Anything less than a seamless remote working experience will be the catalyst for that change.
Finally, support. During this period of remote working, users will realise just how straightforward self-support and self-service can be. Instead of contacting an overworked and understaffed help desk that seems to take forever to connect to their call, search under irrelevant stones, fails to resolve their problems in a timely manner or prematurely closes their calls, users will use alternatives like Google (or other search engines) or YouTube whilst waiting for the IT Helpdesk. Most users will find this easier, more productive, more informative and ultimately for the majority of common problems, a more preferred way of working. The more confident or experienced users will see small communities from around their sphere of expertise as “Shadow IT” gains “Shadow Support”.
Once things return to the post-pandemic new-normal, the ability of the business to operate remotely and flexibly will be paramount. ITs’ impact on the effectiveness of the remote experience will be front and centre of any post-pandemic review. Unfortunately, irrespective of all the valid reasons and the business’s efforts to reduce IT costs, IT will be held accountable for the experience. For those companies with poorest experiences, we will witness a “root and branch” change in IT like never before.