Testing Our Business Continuity Plan for All-Remote Work

This past week, organizations and IT departments across the world crossed a new frontier: remote work for everyone.  

While business continuity planning has always been part of an IT department’s mandate, organizations and their people have not seen disruption to business-as-usual on this scale before. Preparing to adapt to a fast-changing scenario like the one surrounding COVID-19 is a major advantage. However, being ready for anything doesn’t happen overnight.  

The need to support all-remote work has also highlighted the need for IT leaders to integrate the human factor into their business continuity thinking along with traditional concerns around data and infrastructure. 

On Thursday, March 12th, Softchoice conducted a company-wide test of our remote work capabilities involving more than 2,000 users across the US and Canada, who depend on 24/7 access to applications hosted in our hybrid data center and SaaS applications in the cloud.  

We met (remotely) with Jeff Reis, Sr. Vice President – Information Technology, and Lester Moniz, Director of IT Infrastructure, to discuss what went into preparations to meet this unprecedented need and how others could benefit from what we’ve learned.  

Laying the Groundwork 

Softchoice has always had a business continuity plan in place as part of our responsibility to customers. However, the last several years has seen the IT organization lay the groundwork for remote work with a focus on people, process and technology.  

The underpinnings of native business continuity at Softchoice came out of a strategic decision to outfit every employee for flexible work. About three years ago, Jeff explained, the company made a switch from deskbound technology to software-enabled tools. 

“In terms of the process, equipping everyone with a laptop, camera, headset and a suite of collaboration software – is by design when they start at Softchoice,” said Jeff. “Part of our business continuity plan is the toolkit we give them.”  

More than just hardware, the broader technology strategy touched a host of software and infrastructure areas. For instance, support for remote VPN connection required network and data center upgrades.  

There was also a major security component, including the adoption of TLS 1.2 – the highest standard for encryption protocols, without deprecating support for older protocols needed to support partners and customers. Planning for an all-remote work scenario included mitigating the risk of loss of assets as well as data loss. For the past two years, all employee laptops have shipped with builtin firmware allowing the IT team to track and manage anywhere in the world regardless of OS build.  

Measures like multifactor authentication and device encryption also played a key part in providing employees with a secure way to work remotely. A single-sign-on (SSO) portal model helped ensure ease of access to applications for remote users – tying together all the components needed to native business continuity.   

All these efforts were done “with the notion of any time, anywhere and on any device” in mind.

We applied this thinking to our Network Operations Center as well to provide continuous support to our Managed Services Customers. Even with all the components to support a remote workforce in place, however, Softchoice had never fully tested these capabilities for a scenario requiring remote work for the entire organization.  

They warned that rolling out all-remote work doesn’t happen overnight. “By and large, we did have this in mind – but not in a perfect way,” said Jeff.   

Putting AllRemote Work to the Test 

On test day, the biggest concern for the IT team was the stability of the VPN infrastructure. This had never been tested for the load about to be put on it. While VPN connection is not necessary to access all work applications, this would be the area where strain would be most visible.  

We felt good about what we had designed on paper and implemented, but as is often said, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’” said Lester.  

The good news: The all-remote work test went as planned with few surprises.  

At peak time, Softchoice had 60% of our users with an open VPN connection and their total utilization did not load the VPN infrastructure beyond 20%. At the same time, the ticket dashboard revealed a ticket volume and issue type dispersal consistent with a typical Thursday.  

Relief and confidence were the words – that our people were able to work without challenges,” said Jeff.  

Softchoice planned its remote work test on March 12th with the intent to capture and incorporate any lessons learned before shifting to all-remote across the company.  

Circumstances moved the timetable forward.  

 “The COVID-19 situation evolved so fast – we thought we’d have a week or two,” said Jeff. Because the results were so positive, however, the executive leadership team was confident enough to go ahead with all-remote work for Softchoice employees beginning the following Monday.  

An Integrated Approach 

Jeff and Lester attribute the success of the business continuity plan, to people and process, then technology. They described the approach as “very collaborative,” involving many departments outside IT, including Human Resources, OperationsRisk Management, Facilities and Communications.  

Decisions needed to be made and were guided by our company values. Keeping our employees well informed was paramount. Ensuring customer experience and our ability to deliver uninterrupted services was equally important.  Enabling managers to lead remote teams and planning for upstream and downstream impacts to the supply chain were also key focus areas for our business continuity planning. 

They agreed that the cultural shift toward flexible work also played a key part in the test day looking like business-as-usual from an operational standpoint.  

Applying Lessons Learned  

Jeff and Lester acknowledged that there are likely some organizations living their lessons learned around remote work right now. Some may be wishing they’d had a few months to prepare for this situation.  

Their advice? “Keep challenging yourself on the what-ifs,” said Jeff. They agreed that there is a responsibility for certain leaders in an organization to consider different scenarios and make the right decisions and investments to be ready to react.  

At the same time, Lester explained, the shift to cloud-based tools at Softchoice played a key part in reducing the stress on known potential failure points in the infrastructure.  

Furthermore, they advanced the notion that being able to work anywhere, anytime and on any device extends well beyond emergency preparedness. “It’s a cultural work shift and expectation of younger people entering the workplace today,” explained Lester.  

“I think if organizations start to think that way, it will open the possibility of reducing their dependency on a single physical work space.”

Where to Start with Remote Work 

In an unexpected event, complexity and confusion threaten to impede the return to business-as-usual. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you identify, deploy and adopt the right approach to support your users for all-remote work.   

The Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop is a structured workshop addressing the most common end-user enablement challenges organizations might face during times of work interruption.  The session assesses your readiness to support remote work, pinpoints gaps and identifies requirements. Each workshop is facilitated by an End User Productivity Journey Architect, a highly tenured expert in helping organizations to define and enable modern collaboration and workplace strategies. 

Explore the Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop

10 Productivity Tips for Working from Home

Events like COVID-19 could make remote work necessary for everyone. For those who prefer the office, we’ve compiled these tips to help you keep to your usual, productive routine wherever possible.

 1. It’s Business as Usual…

  • Follow the same routine you would as if you were going into the office.
  • Structure your day around your natural flow of motivation and productivity (for example, are you more productive in the morning or after lunch?)

2. Have a Dedicated Workspace

  • If possible, the workspace should be separate from areas of the home where there may be distractions or that you associate with relaxation.

3. Mirror Your Office Setup

  • Create a home working environment like the one you have at work. If possible, try to recreate the physical setup, including monitor(s), keyboard, mouse and other peripherals you use daily.

4. Stay Connected Through Technology

  • Make sure your home internet service can handle your typical workflows, for example, cloud-based collaboration, data-intensive workloads or large file transfers.
  • Install your organization’s collaboration software and have easy access to training, support materials and contacts for your IT service desk.
  • Use instant messaging and video calling to stay responsive and maintain real, person-to-person communication.

5. Structure your Day Like You’re in the Office

  • Set a schedule and stick to it.
  • Stay off personal social media. Make it harder for yourself to access personal social accounts and sign out if necessary.
  • If you have the option, take advantage of tools like Microsoft Office 365’s MyAnalytics and Focus Time features to book automated “do not disturb” time.

6. Set Realistic Daily Goals

  • Work with your manager or team to set and prioritize daily tasks. Don’t underestimate the time it will take to accomplish a task.
  • Communicate your daily and weekly goals with your manager or team. Sharing these goals helps keep you accountable.

7. Don’t Forget about Snacks, Lunch and Breaks

  • It’s easy to lose track of time. Make sure you include time for regular breaks.

8. Set Clear Boundaries with Family Members

  • Set clear boundaries with family members or others who may be at home during the workday. Just because you are home doesn’t mean you’re available.
  • Establish signals (such as headphones on or closed door) that indicate you are not to be disturbed.

9. Remove Distractions

  • Do your best to remove distractions like the TV, household chores like laundry or anything that threatens to take your mind off work-related tasks.

 10. Set Regular Hours and a Finish Time

  • Set clear start and end times for your workday – and respect them. It’s important to separate work and personal life to avoid burnout.
  • If you are a people leader, consider setting the example for your team by “signing off” for the day.

Don’t let the unpredictable impact your comfort or productivity. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you select, deploy adopt, secure and manage an end-to-end solution to support your users in any event.

Connect with an expert.

 

 

When Remote Work is Much More Than a Perk

For some, the opportunity to work from a location other than the core office is a perk.  

But remote work is much more than that: It’s a critical aspect of business continuity planning. When going into the office or traveling for work aren’t possible or safe, the ability to connect and collaborate easily and without interruption is essential to sustain day-to-day operations.  

The recent office closures and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are just one example of events outside our control with the potential for serious business impact. Health concerns, weather events, strikes, service shutdowns and many other scenarios may enter the picture without warning to disrupt business activity.  

Is your organization equipped to maintain business-as-usual when external circumstances are anything but?  

Many of our collaboration provider partners have already responded to the current situation by extending their premium offeringto organizations in need.  

While we cannot predict how any given situation will unfold, we are ready to help you implement the solutions you need to ensure you can keep things up and running when workers can’t come to work.  Here are three key considerations for integrating collaboration tools into your business continuity strategy.  

Maintaining Face-to-Face Communication 

Between better collaboration and team participation to faster decision-making by internal teams and external customers, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. No email or instant messaging platform will fully replace the business value of meaningful collaboration.  

In the event your organization cannot access core office spaces in the medium or long-term, a videoconferencing solution that provides seamless calling and meetings helps preserve that valuable person-to-person connection.  

To maintain face-to-face communication, your strategy should consider: 

  • All-in-One Collaboration Platform: a collaboration suite that consolidates in-person meetings and other functions like real-time document collaboration, messaging and project tracking into one secure platform helps to simplify teamwork across locations.   
  • Meetings, Calling and Messaging: selecting a collaboration suite that offers a frictionless video calling and meeting experience is key. Many users are accustomed to easy-to-use consumer applications and expect a similar experience with those they use at work.  
  • Training & Facilities: making sure users are equipped and ready to use video meetings is another key factor in business continuity. This requires making sure users have continuous access to the tools, facilities and training they need to conduct meetings from any location. 

 

Staying Connected and Collaborating   

Your business continuity plan likely includes measures to restore data backups and minimize downtime for critical infrastructure.  

Maintaining high availability for business-critical systems is important. But no organization can survive without continuous communication. As such, it’s also imperative to consider the people who will drive and carry out business-critical decisions.  

In a situation where employees can’t access each other for in-person communication, the connectivity of email and collaboration solutions is even more important.  

To ensure continued connectivity, your plan should consider:  

  • Network Readiness: ensuring your network architecture is capable of supporting cloud-based collaboration tools over ordinary web traffic is important. Many legacy architectures were not designed with this use case in mind and may degrade performance, causing significant business impact.  
  • Training & Adoption: being well-prepared to shift to remote communication and remain connected also depends on the readiness of your user base. If users don’t understand how to access and use collaboration tools, the change may cause confusion and frustration.  

 

Keeping Everyone Safe and Secure 

The need for secure and seamless access and governance only increases with a shift to all-remote communication. In this sense, proper planning for a potential interruption to workplace access involves extending security from inside the business to the cloud and mobile platforms.  

To be prepared, IT leaders should take measures to implement security across the four pillars of identity and access management, devices and applications, data and threat detection.  

In an emergency scenario, providing the right users with the right access to the right applications and data is more important than ever. We recommend you consider:  

  • Integrated Platforms: simplifying security by consolidating point solutions in line with industry best practices will go a long way to protecting your users in a scenario calling for all-remote communication.  
  • Automation & Advanced Authentication: putting in place advanced authentication and automated threat intelligence will help provide safe, seamless access to business applications and data from any location.  

 Next Steps  

In response to the current situation surrounding COVID-19, many of our vendor partners are extending offerings to support continued productivity and collaboration throughout.  

Click below to get the details 

In an unexpected event, complexity and confusion threaten to impede the return to business-as-usual. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you identify, deploy and adopt the right approach to support your users in any event.  Ensure readiness and jumpstart your business continuity plan. 

Connect with an expert