BusinessDesk is proud to publish The Reset series, made in association with our trusted commercial partners and designed to supercharge your business in 2021. In this article, Karl Wright, chief information officer of Datacom (pictured above), shares the seven lessons he learnt from working during the covid lockdown.  

When news broke about a new virus spreading rapidly in both China and Europe, Datacom’s senior leadership team made the decision to plan for the worst-case scenario – someone in the 6500-strong company getting sick.

To that end, we set up a Pandemic Response Group (PRG) and tasked it with preparing the entire company for a move to remote working in a secure and timely fashion.

My role was to get all our Datacom team working from a ‘non-office’ location securely. By March 14, 80 percent of our New Zealand-based staff had relocated off site, and the rest had moved out three days later.

Getting our team operating remotely worked reasonably well. We communicated in advance with the 3000 of them in New Zealand and got them to test their Working from Home (WFH) capability early on. We then did the same with Australia.

We sent people home in waves to stress-test our technical systems as well as our humanistic elements and business processes, so when CEO Greg Davidson made the call to go, we were all ready and able.

While not all staff could work remotely, those who had to be in an office were able to spread out to be as socially distant from each other as possible, either in terms of space or by changing shift rotations so fewer staff were on site at any given time. Cleaning schedules were also increased at locations around the world.

For Datacom, the work carried on relatively unchanged from normal, which worked extremely well for our other major project – helping customers to set themselves up for remote working.

Not all of our clients were at the same point in their journey and some needed more help than others, it’s fair to say. We had 10 days of what I can only describe as ‘highly orchestrated chaos' as we stood up remote access and security solutions for customers. Typically, customer groups organise capacity for 20-30 percent of their staff to be able to work remotely; with the pandemic looming, they had only days to get that to 100 percent.

Today, Datacom is a radically different work environment from its pre-covid self. Many staff want to work from home semi-permanently, whereas others are eager to return to the office. How the new hybrid model shakes out remains to be seen, but the learnings have been incredibly useful.

Over the 2019-20 Christmas-New Year break, not a single one of our Datacom staff, sitting on a beach enjoying the sun, would ever have imagined that, come mid-March, our entire workforce would be absent from the office, yet the company would still be operating. But that’s exactly what happened. We made it work.

Karl Wright’s seven lessons:

1. Working from home is actually 'working from wherever’. It doesn’t matter whether your team members want to work from their kitchen table, their bach, or the office – it will work. 

2. In times of crisis, our customers need us more than ever. Don’t forget why we’re doing all these things in the first place – it’s for them.

3. Leadership, triage, prioritise: make decisions and move quickly. Essential services come first, then those whom essential services rely on. Everything else falls into place.

4. Use the primary sources of information. Don’t listen to gossip – go to the source, get the truth and stay on top of what’s actually going on.

5. Communicate early and as clearly as possible. In times of crisis, people want to be led, so make sure you tell them as clearly as possible what you want them to do and then get out of their way.

6. Never waste a good crisis. We got rid of a lot of sacred cows that had previously been deemed too difficult ever to turn off. We just did it, and we’re better off for it.

7. Technology is important but people are essential. We deployed Microsoft Teams, we now all use video conferencing as seamlessly as making a voice call, and we all have access to all our data regardless of where we are. It’s the people who make the company work, and for many groups, we’re now more connected than ever before.

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