The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 (Coronavirus) a pandemic with crippling impact to business, and more so to public health. The crisis the disease has brought has reached a critical phase globally. With new COVID-19 cases being reported every day, the possibilities of a government-mandated quarantine, travel restrictions, or imposed office closure are imminent. Apart from proper personal hygiene, sanitisation of common areas and social distancing have been recommended solutions to curb the impact of the virus. This may require having an entire workforce working from home .
Professional Advantage has taken the necessary steps to ensure a safe working environment for our people and our clients. We are able to see through our commitments and project deliverables by equipping our staff with the ability to work remotely.
Early this year, we created a team tasked to spearhead “Project Prepared”, our response plan and initiative in preparation for the COVID-19 crisis. Composed of key stakeholders from various groups within the business, the team has sent out constant communications and detailed instructions to over two hundred and fifty staff across our eight regional offices about running a 1-day fire drill. On 4th March 2020, we rolled out and tested our response plan and here we share our experience, lessons, and tips.
Read on to find out answers to questions about preparation, considerations, and technologies needed to help you successfully roll out your COVID-19 response plan.
What factors did you consider when preparing for your COVID-19 response plan?
Top considerations for us as part of Project Prepared are to minimise the impact of service disruption to our clients; ensure the safety of our people; provide our staff with the ability to stay connected; and get access to our systems and tools securely but remotely. We needed to ensure that our systems could hold up to the demands of our technological needs.
How did you prepare for the trial run?
We followed the news daily and used and accessed information from the most credible sources such as the government policies, information provided to us by International SOS (Professional Advantage’s medical and travel security services provider), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in creating a COVID-19 policy statement. In Australia we refer to Smarttraveller for identifying affected countries that are deemed as inappropriate or dangerous for travel. The policy is updated on a daily basis and is communicated across the business and to our clients. We continue to have daily stand ups every 5:00 PM to catch up on updates and action items to ensure our plans are progressing accordingly.
We then surveyed all staff to determine the viability and readiness for remote working across our offices in Australia, United Kingdom, United States, and the Philippines. We required our employees to respond to a technical checklist so we could assess and mitigate issues before the trial run. The survey asked questions around access to a suitable laptop with Microsoft Windows capability, headset, internet speed, and a suitable environment to work at home.
What technologies did you use to assist with remote working?
Professional Advantage utilised the full capability of Office 365 applications with multi-factor authentication (MFA) activated to keep our data secured. Microsoft Teams played an integral role in keeping our staff connected and productive, enabling them to collaborate on documents and files and to hold online meetings. Video calls were indispensable both internally and with our clients. Its built-in chat and call capabilities allowed for swift responses within our teams. With all our lines of businesses having their own secured channel in Teams, our staff could quickly get to the files they needed without having to leave the application.
For our staff using other specialised applications, there was no need for them to install these on their home PC. Instructions were provided for connecting to their office computer using RDC (remote desktop connection), a remote desktop gateway for Windows. This allowed them to connect to their applications from their personal desktops, then run it as usual. Our office telephone functionality was handled by softphone technology, ensuring our reception, support helpdesk, and telemarketing teams could provide the same quality of service through software.
What lessons did you learn from the trial run?
#1 Communication is key!
Strong communication is essential to provide updates, disseminate instructions, and to announce new information. This said, it is important to ensure content is communicated via the right platform. Critical and time sensitive updates were communicated to the whole company via brief “all-company” emails, with a Yammer link to detailed information, while our “Project Prepared” stakeholders planned, met, and communicated internally via a dedicated Microsoft Teams Channel. Yammer also provided a forum for staff to ask questions and obtain clarifications.
#2 Microsoft Teams and Office 365 are invaluable.
Our trial run would not have been possible without the utilisation of the applications within Office 365. Microsoft Teams provided us the ability to communicate, even with external users such as our clients. Face to face meetings can be moved to online meetings in order to limit physical proximity, whilst still being able to respond to the needs of our clients. Microsoft Forms allowed us to quickly create surveys and collect responses, and Yammer made broad information dissemination faster and more interactive. These applications empowered our workforce to work from anywhere, thereby supporting our business to run as usual.
We recognise that rolling out only one day of our response plan is not sufficient to make a strong assessment on our capability to support a remote working arrangement. Hence, we will roll out an imminent multi-day drill to further test our capability. Check back here to learn more about future updates on our COVID-19 Readiness Plan.