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What is Your Company Doing and Are You Prepared For the Impacts of COVID-19?
I thought I would write a post that talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected me personally as well as how it has affected the team here at BlueSilverShift. The situation continues to change, it’s nearly impossible to stay up to date on everything that’s going on with this fluid situation.
It is Monday, March 16 and only one week ago, I was of the mindset that this is being blown out of proportion and that, although slightly worse than the regular flu, this will pass. On the Friday before last, we recorded our podcast and the topic was how technology and the cloud is and will be used during outbreaks like this (it wasn’t yet labeled a pandemic). That weekend my wife and kids took a planned trip to Seattle (a city at the time that had more cases of COVID-19 than Vancouver – and still does) where they were attending an Irish dance competition (think large congregation of people), but we were not phased because the media was not talking the way they are now. If the competition was just one week later, there is no way we would have wanted them to go. That seems like a month ago now because of how much has changed in such a short period, but it was only 10 days ago.
I reflect on when we recorded that podcast and parts of Europe weren’t yet in lockdown, the US was in denial that this was something serious, and it was primarily an Asian and Iranian issue. At the time, here in British Columbia we had about 20-30 confirmed cases. Our views, and mine in particular, at the time, were that this is not going to be too bad. Yes we knew that people would get sick, but we didn’t think it was going to impact our day-to-day lives.
Fast forward those 10 days and according to the BC Center for Disease Control we now have 103 confirmed cases with 4 deaths, the provincial government is banning gatherings of more than 50 people, Canadian travellers abroad are being warned to come home early, the stock markets have had multiple days of significant drops, central banks have slashed interest rates to try to soften the blow to the economies around the globe, stores like Apple, Starbucks, Lululemon and others are closing to help stem the spread, Las Vegas is shutting down, spring break camps and child care facilities are closed for kids, schools are closed until September in some provinces, and companies everywhere (including BlueSilverShift) are recommending staff work from home.
Beyond us instructing our staff to work from home, this has also affected me in other ways. Namely, I have had at least one conference planned for May that’s been cancelled (and I expect other scheduled conferences to follow), we have had to cancel or put on hold three family trips planned for this year, multiple friends have had to cancel their spring break vacations, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the bare shelves at the grocery stores. All of this has transpired in just over a week, which boggles the mind.
Were we prepared for this? I know for myself, the answer is no, but are we panicking? For the most part, no and nor should we. This is not the end of days. How this should be viewed is everyone around the world doing the smart thing to help to “flatten out the curve.” If we don’t do our part then the medical system won’t be able to keep up and help those individuals who are the small percentage of the population that may have negative consequences if they were to contract the virus. From the medical professionals, the truth of the matter is that they say 35-70% of the population are expected to get COVID-19 at some point.
So, is that a reason to panic? Absolutely not. We don’t want to overwhelm our medical system to ensure that those who need medical attention can get the care that they need. That’s why it’s the right thing to do to minimize social contact and maintain your distance when you are in public places. I see it as all of us doing our part for the greater good.
Donald Rumsfeld once said that there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. We can plan for and directly address things that are known (including known unknowns), but where public panic and uncertainty stem from is when we start worrying about all of the unknown unknowns. If you don’t know what could happen, then we naturally think the worst and often that potential outcome that our imagination comes up with is far worse than what does happen.
With that in mind, there are things that we should be worried about and risks that we should plan to mitigate, but to go to the extreme and worry about unknown unknowns that we have no control over or visibility into is not doing yourself or anyone else any good. The best thing to do is to remain calm and control what is within your sphere of influence, which includes where you go and who you interact with. By minimizing your exposure to unknown unknowns (e.g. will the person sitting next to me on the bus be carrying the virus?) you can avoid unnecessary worry and once the infection curve starts to level out then life will start going back to normal. That is a known known.
What can you do to be prepared and how can you continue to get things done? What is your company doing to ensure the continuity of business operations when all of your staff are being asked to not come into the office? For some businesses this is more of a challenge than others (e.g. warehouse workers and service industries dealing with the public), but for companies where the majority of their workforce are in an office there are solutions available. Technology is at a stage now where staff can meet, collaborate and work remotely as effectively as if they were side-by-side in an office. The challenge is that many companies have still not adopted technologies like Office 365, Teams and SharePoint that are core to enabling this type of remote work.
Additionally, many businesses have line of business applications that are key to the running of their operation and these apps are in many cases not enabled for remote access. This poses a problem for these companies because if they can’t make the tools available outside of the office walls, then the staff cannot do their jobs effectively or in some cases even at all. There are solutions to address this by leveraging the capabilities of the cloud without needing to necessarily migrate your company to the cloud. One such solution includes application virtualization, which can provide access to these line of business applications through secure means.
A remote workforce opens potentially new problems for IT departments around security because unless the company is providing PCs, laptops or tablets for every employee to bring home (which is not possible at this time due to the shortage of Intel processors and supply issues due to Chinese factories running at only 40% of their capacity), then you have unmanaged devices (e.g. personal mobile or home PCs) connecting to your corporate systems. This opens up risks of infecting the corporate network with viruses, trojans, ransomware, and malware that can paralyze a company.
So if you can’t outfit your staff with managed devices, how do you provide them with the ability to work remotely while maintaining the security of your corporate network. There are solutions available that can provide full desktop or application virtualization and all that the user needs is a web browser to connect, even for traditional thick client applications that are not web-ready. This means that they can use any mobile device, tablet or personal computer and connect to the systems and applications that they need to be able to do their job. Since there is no direct connection to your corporate network, even if those devices are compromised it will not infect your systems.
All of the solutions to enable a remote workforce that is mentioned above can be implemented today with the aid of a partner that has done so before. At BlueSilverShift we have been working this way since we founded the company nearly four years ago. We wanted to be a born in the cloud company and not tied to any physical location to operate our business, so this COVID-19 outbreak has not impeded our staff productivity because we can do our jobs from home in the same manner as we do if we were in the office.
The only thing we miss out on is the social interaction with our peers, so believe it or not our team is so great at finding ways to keep the culture alive that one of our staff members set up a virtual lunch meeting over Microsoft Teams. This becomes a virtual hangout over lunch hour where people can eat their lunch “together” (from home) and still get social interaction with their peers, share ideas and stay connected. We are a society that thrives on being connected with others, so let this be a lesson that you don’t have to feel isolated during this time, you can use the technology that exists to enable you to stay connected.
You might read this and say to yourself, “That’s all well and good Craig, but we don’t have the tools that you’re talking about and we don’t have the staff to be able to implement it.” Well, you’re in luck because BlueSilverShift is here to help. Here is what we are doing to help you get through this: No Strings Attached Support and Guidance
Free Tips and Lessons Learned from our own Remote Workforce experience
BlueSilverShift has a distributed workforce with many remote workers. We can provide advice on how and where to start your Remote Workforce Enablement journey, including how to reduce risk and avoid common pitfalls.
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We can help you design and implement solutions to enable your remote workforce including:
- Microsoft Office 365, Teams and SharePoint Online Deployments
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- Application and Desktop Virtualization
Don’t let the lack of technology prevent you from doing the socially responsible thing. Don’t let your company or your staff be like the 31st person in Korea to be infected with COVID-19, that person is now linked to over 80% of the infections in the entire country. We are here to help if you want to enable your workforce to work remotely. You can contact us at email@example.com for more information about the services listed above. Take care of yourselves and your family during this time and let us take care of your technology needs to minimize the impact!