"We can't get all staff working remotely maybe 60%." But within a fortnight the whole company was working from home and the office fell silent for the first time in 15 years.
I was the last one out of the building that day and I will never forget the feeling of physically locking the front door; the first time the building would be unoccupied, having always been full of life and personality 24/7. I loitered on the doorstep and took a moment to think about what was happening and what my team had just achieved – that the business continued to run, with no interruption to our services, still hitting our SLAs and that we had just relocated everyone home to meet the lockdown directive imposed. All in the backdrop of a pandemic.
As I reflect on that surreal time, I know the success comes down to the whole team working together amidst our culture that embraces and encourages preparedness and a can-do attitude. What did that look like in practice for us as we entered the pandemic?
- Regularly reviewing risks.
- Plan responses.
- Most importantly, test those plans regularly.
The news of this unknown disease was accelerating and cases increasing rapidly around the globe. The first case in London of a woman taking an Uber to the hospital triggered a handful of our staff to become nervous, and it quickly escalated up the priority list for discussion at SLT.
We shared what we knew already, brainstorming the potential risks and scenarios. What if staff fall ill? What if there are cases in the office and we must close the office? What if we don't have enough staff to handle our clients calls and so on?
We devised a four-step plan of actions around those scenarios and what response we would need in each case to continue business as normal. This included staff communication, client communication, isolating a small number of staff from the main team in their own space, deploying the small unit of "remote-ready" operators, cross training operators, and practical actions that included investing in additional equipment and having a deep clean company on standby.
A week or so later as cases continued to rise, and we had a scare close to home, when an ambulance pulled up outside our neighbouring office building and the paramedics appeared in white suits. This set off a reaction of fear amongst our staff.
I found myself sitting in the board room with our switchboard management team, reassuring them of the situation, running them through the plans, answering their questions. The team have referred back to that meeting several times wondering how I knew what was going to happen and how well prepared we were. What they have all forgotten is what I said in that meeting: "I've been here before, we prepared for bird flu, and we prepared for swine flu but just never had to invoke the plans!"
Despite not having experienced this scenario before, my confidence came from knowing that we are able to continue running the business when we are not in the office - why? Because it is one of our major incident plans, and along with others, I ensure we physically test those plans in full regularly. It is clear to me that the senior team were reassured because we had a clearly defined plan, and I was able to communicate it quickly and confidently to them. If they spoke to other leaders within the business, they received a consistent response.
Little did I know just three weeks later we would be in full lockdown.
As the rates started to shoot up and the rumours spread about closing schools, we took another step forward in our plan, implementing some more staff working remotely, prioritising those that were identified as high risk or with high-risk dependents, and rotating personnel in departments to minimise the risk of a whole team falling ill.
We had just found out that our remote emergency facility would not allow us to invoke if we had to close our offices due to a corona virus case. The question was posed, what if we had to have everyone working remotely from their homes? The answer was "we can't get all staff working remotely, maybe 60%".
Instead of simply accepting that, my team, as we do with any problem, immediately started coming at the problem from other directions:
- What can we achieve and how can we maximise that?
- How can we overcome what is stopping us achieving 100%?
- How can we ensure the same quality of service and team spirit when we are apart?
In addition to our internal challenges, we are central to many of our clients' business continuity plans and as such were simultaneously assisting them. We experienced a significant increase in calls as they moved to remote working and had constant changes to call handling instructions and data to manage. Whilst we continued to work as a team, we had clear accountabilities for part of the SLT to focus on clients and their needs and the others on our operations.
Having initially questioned the possibility and believed we could not run fully remotely from team members homes, we find ourselves continuing to do so successfully today, with a proportion of staff working out of the office who choose to, and others coming in to work as and when needed for team collaboration.
We have not yet finalised what the future of hybrid working looks like for ComXo, after-all, who knows when this pandemic will be over. What we do know is that; our business is still thriving, we successfully supported some of the biggest and the best professional services firms through their own pandemic response, our team are benefitting from a positive work/ life balance, our family culture is flourishing, and our can-do attitude is as strong as it always has been.