How will COVID-19 affect your IT (or any other) projects?

It’s easy and glib to say that the COVID-19 coronavirus shouldn’t affect your IT projects because everything’s in the cloud.  This isn’t that article.  There will be impacts for sure.  For some this will be small, for some more significant.

Nasty Green Virus

COVID-19

You’re reading this on the Internet.  Hence you’re not living in a cave.  Hence you’ve heard of COVID-19.  No need to dwell on this, other than to state the containment measures that may affect your business:

  • Increased sickness rates in the workforce
  • An employee has travelled to an affected area on holiday or for business, and self-isolates
  • An employee catches the virus and everyone in that office is quarantined
  • Schools are closed and parents need to look after their children
  • Broader control measures are implemented by the government to restrict travelling to a place of work

 

Most of these are knock-on impacts of the disease rather than the direct impact of the disease itself.  This might happen very soon.

What will the impact be on your organisation?

COVID-19 coronavirus impact diagram

The Easy Stuff

Working from home:  The tools are all available – are you using them and have you tested them?  We have had a “no tin” policy for the last 4 years – we have no physical servers and everything we use is either Software as a Service (SaaS) or occasionally we use VMs in the Cloud.  We can work from home.  We can meet online.  Can you?

Online meetings:  If you haven’t got Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom or anything similar you can sign up for this pretty quickly.  Do it.  Test it.

Home - Drawing of a House

The Not-so-Easy Stuff

Dialling In over VPN:  Many businesses have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow people to securely connect into their network.  This is needed when you have resources on your business network that you need to access.  Almost every large company has some of these – software apps installed on servers in your own business.  The thing is, VPN connections are finite.  It might be OK for 10% of the workforce to dial in at any one time, are you set up for 100% of them to dial in?  Again, test it now and see what you can do to increase capacity if needed.

Laptops vs desktops:  If everyone in your business comes into work and uses a desktop it might be hard to work remotely.  Believe it or not, there are still people that don’t have a computer at home.  Even if you do have one, can you connect to work systems with it?  It’s not “hard” to get laptops for everyone normally, but if everyone’s buying them for their workforce you might find shortages.

Customer interaction:  Whether it’s running a requirements workshop with blocks of post-it notes, delivering training, having a booth at an expo – these are things where you might find it difficult to make the switch.  Sales can be an especially hard one to move as networking and conferences may be a major plank of your strategy.  You’re going to have to find alternatives, especially as most tech conferences will be via online presentation for the rest of the year.

Office scoreboards:  Well-run business uses visual management methods.  Software projects use kanban boards with post-it notes.  Sales teams have a scoreboard.  Monthly, quarterly and annual goals are on the wall as a reminder of what you’re aiming at.  This can all be moved online – and the format may need to change in order to keep the impact. 

Management ability:  Are your managers able to trust your people when they’re not in the mother ship?  Do they have good enough communication skills to make up for not seeing people face to face?  Your management methods should ensure that everyone in your team knows what they need to achieve week by week or what KPIs they need to hit.  If you have chaotic or reactive management you’re going to struggle.

The Hard Stuff

Sensitive data:  Physical access is often one of the controls around sensitive data.  Having to pass access controls into a building in order to gain access to a network.  I’m not sure how much of your data falls into this category – hopefully it’s not much.  Implementing and auditing the correct security controls is still something that needs some thought.  It’s easy to give access to people, not nearly as easy to fully lock down.

Working with hardware:  Software businesses (like us) find it quite easy to keep everything online.  If you’re a technology company that has a high dependency on hardware this isn’t nearly as easy.  Let’s say you’re testing apps on a bunch of different tablets in a test lab – what do you do then?  You’re installing digital kiosks?  You need to change a hard drive in a RAID array?  These tasks are harder to support from home for any length of time.

Social interaction:  This is a problem for me actually.  345 went for a long time where we exclusively worked remotely.  I couldn’t cope with it – I needed to be with people most of the time.  Granted, many techies are introverts and love to hunker down with no distractions.  This wasn’t the case for me and it won’t be for many.  Think of some strategies for keeping sane, just bear in mind that video calls aren’t quite the same.

Not everyone has a home that is conducive to working:  If you’re in an apartment and you’ve got a 2-year old roaming around that might be a problem.  Or a dog that barks every time someone walks past the house.  Or you’re a recent grad sharing a house with 4 other people.  We can’t all magic ourselves a home office.  We might have to try though.

Phones:  If you’re a business that relies heavily on phones, for example if you take a lot of inbound sales calls, you might find this difficult to move. 

Checklist - All Green

Checklist - Get These Things In Place Quickly

Timescales:

COVID-19 is going to hit pretty quickly, and may be causing disruption for a year or more.  Go through the quick wins this month if possible and then tackle the harder wins next.

Quick wins:

  • Move your office documents to the cloud, e.g. to Office 365, where they can be accessed from anywhere
  • Sign up, set up and test your online meeting software.  Make sure you can meet with people outside your organisation as well as inside.
  • Make sure everyone has use of a laptop that can connect to the required services and they have headsets, broadband and ideally an ergonomic workspace
  • Make sure everyone knows each other’s mobile phone numbers
  • Make sure you can divert inbound calls

 

Harder wins:

  • Migrate to Software-as-a-Service apps wherever you can
  • Move your internal apps to the Cloud so you’re not as reliant on internal networks
  • Move to an internet-based VOIP phone system so you can take inbound calls from anywhere
  • Scale up the capacity of your VPN

What We're Doing

I don’t want to sound glib, but we’ve got most of this in place already.  We can start working from home tomorrow if we need to.  Our delivery of services already supports remote working. 

Some of the things we have in place:

  • We’re fully on Office 365, Slack, Zoom, a smattering of WhatsApp
  • We use cloud services for all our development (e.g. GitHub, Azure DevOps)
  • Our office phone diverts to mobiles if not answered
  • Everyone already works remotely at least 2 days per week
  • We’re ready to move from 3 days in office / 2 days at home to 5 days at home as soon as the signal is given

 

The things we’re going to struggle with are:

  • I go nuts when I work at home for long periods
  • A large part of our sales strategy revolves around events and networking
  • Another plank of our sales strategy relies on customer workshops run at their premises
  • We’re looking to grow our workforce and need to look at our recruitment and induction processes

Silver Linings

There may be some good things come out of this that make your business better in the future.

  • Attitudes become more positive towards remote working
  • Which means management need to develop more trust and employees need more accountability
  • Less commuting – less of your life wasted in transit
  • Some of that digital transformation you’ve been putting off finally gets done

 

That’s all from me on this subject for now.  Stay safe, wash your hands, take care of each other.

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