How we mobilised our workforce to work from home in the wake of Covid-19

04 Jun 2020 News
How we mobilised our workforce to work from home in the wake of Covid-19

We are now over 3 months into lockdown and as we consider how business may change drastically in the future, we took the opportunity to reflect on what changes we have experienced as a result of Covid-19 so far. We spoke with our Head of IT, Gezanfar Masud, about how he and his team successfully enabled Morgan Hunt employees to work remotely in only a matter of weeks.

The Challenge

Mobilising a centralised workforce of 200 people within an organisation with a culture of office working. Only a handful of staff had ever worked remotely and home based working was usually authorised on a case by case basis with a fairly strict policy. Therefore, for most staff, this was a brand new experience and they had numerous questions around how they access systems, telephony, the CRM etc. In addition to this (because of the fact that Morgan Hunt did not have a mobile workforce) we had very limited resources in the form of loan laptops and mobile phones, which would allow people to work from home.
Most people had a laptop at home that was fit for purpose, but many users own Apple Mac’s which was unsupported with our Citrix workspace environment. However, we overcame this technical challenge with a workaround. Morgan Hunt also extended a loan fund for staff to purchase a suitable laptop device to allow them to work from home.
Our Managing Director, Dan Taylor, allowed us as the IT experts to lead this project and our COO, Keith Widdowson, was recently appointed and very new to the organisation. Keith had many questions around how people would work remotely and how to access systems etc, he offered good advice regarding collaboration and BCP. Fortunately, by design we have ensured that staff can access systems remotely and most of the necessary ‘how to’ documentation already was available. I had to create new documents for our newer systems i.e. Telephony.
Although we communicated to our user base at an early stage via emails and by directing staff to our knowledgebase, the uptake was slow as staff were waiting for direction from the Senior Management Team (SMT). There remained significant uncertainty as to whether or not the office would be closed as the SMT awaited official government guidance.
Once the announcement was made, the IT Team had a huge influx of tickets and staff who wanted telephony and remote access set up for them. The team performed admirably to get this done under pressure. We held an IT surgery for all staff to attend and we addressed any questions or configurational issues with devices or user set up.

The Solution

We granted users remote access using our External Citrix Gateway. As part of our testing phase a few days beforehand, we asked various teams across our business to work from home to test performance. Feedback was not great to begin with and I engaged with our Citrix experts at Soft Cat who advised that our gateway could not handle 200 users due to bandwidth restrictions. As a result, we invested in a more powerful gateway which can handle the increase in bandwidth and additional traffic. This now offers a seamless and improved user experience. Feedback was positive as the changes were instant.
Implementation of the solution was straightforward and the fact that we have inhouse Citrix skills was highly valuable at this time.

The Benefits

Decentralizing the workforce was no mere task, but the fact that this is something that us in the IT Team embed in our service design made this process much easier for us to execute. I always knew that we had the capability and tools already in place to do this. Our change was not so much a technological shift, but more of a cultural shift, which was adopted due to the unprecedented situation that we all find ourselves in with this Coronavirus pandemic. In a way, it was a catalyst.
Our success meant that all Sales and Support staff have access to their full desktops, network resources and telephony via our hosted telephone platform; NFON. Had this occurred 6 months ago, we would have been in a bit of a tight situation and it would certainly have taken longer to deploy. The fact that we mobilised so quickly meant that we potentially had the edge over our competitors who may have been in earlier phases.
Continuous service improvement is in the heart of everything that we do. The next phase for me is to roll out or newer Citrix environment which will allow improved collaboration and better performance. I will also be improving the security posture of our environment, which is secure, but we always strive to do more.

Lessons & Takeaways

I would have liked to have deployed the mobile telephone app in a staged manner with better testing, however, the timeline did not permit this so we were forced to do a big bang approach. However, that said it has worked for most users. This is still one area that needs some more work to get the service to the high standards that I expect for my user base. I am working tirelessly with our suppliers to achieve this.
I think we need to invest in mobile working as a whole and provide our user base with the necessary resources to work outside of Citrix using our VPN. This will allow them to use local resources on their laptops/computers which they currently find challenging due to restrictions that we have imposed within Citrix as a result of security and company policy.
All of our suppliers were very supportive and acted professionally to our sometimes reactive demands. This is down to the fact that we treat all of our supplier relationships as a partnership which brings out the best in everyone. Special thanks to BtL, Access Alto, Soft Cat, Blue Saffron and all of my colleagues and staff at Morgan Hunt who have been very supportive throughout.

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