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Sarah UKFast | Account Manager

CTO’s Update: The Challenges and Opportunities of WFH

27 March 2020 by Neil Lathwood

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UKFast CTO Neil Lathwood WFH

UKFast CTO Neil Lathwood

After the initial shock and rush to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the UK are now settling into new ways of operating with a WFH (working from home) team – and UKFast is no different.

It’s exactly one week since we transitioned the majority of the UKFast team to a ‘working from home’ status. Setting up more than 300 employees with remote access connections, VPNs, remote desktops and ensuring everyone had a device on which they could WFH was no small feat. However, there’s no doubt we’re in a fortunate position right now, as a huge number of businesses struggle to adapt to the challenges faced in these uncertain times.

We’re a people business

As a tech company, there is an expectation that mass remote working is part of our everyday lives. But, the reality is, we’re a people business. We’ve worked hard over the past two decades to create vibrant workspaces which encourage people to socialise and collaborate over Friday drinks or a game of table tennis. So, while we do have a number of roles that accommodate regular WFH, around 80% of the business works solely from the office.

Our WFH challenges

We’d been testing in the weeks leading up to the lockdown and so had already worked through some teething problems with the initial sample of setup. But moving more than 300 people to remote working in a matter of days presented its own challenges.
Firstly, purchasing and setting up new devices was a huge investment in all senses of the word. Making sure everyone had a connection that worked and a device suitable to use throughout the working day has been one of our biggest focuses. And with such a new process coming into play, we had to ensure the team got the support it needed while feeling as self-sufficient as possible. We created several guides, and with internal support readily available,  staggered the rollout across three days for minimal disruption.

We then tackled special requirements which a simple laptop couldn’t meet. For example, setting up our videographers with our own FastDesk GPU desktops. The GPU-accelerated platform has allowed them to continue graphics processing and video rendering, amongst other role-critical tasks.

Finally, with such a dependency on in-person communication, we decided to speed up our roll out of Microsoft Teams for its ability to videoconference along other features that have now become crucial for collaboration and morale.

We  encounter small issues every day, like any other business adapting to change. But it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be anywhere without our tech teams and internal support. They took  the setup and management of this huge IT task in their stride.  Our data centre team also deserve a huge shoutout; whilst they cannot work from home, they’re keeping UKFast and all its clients running as normal.

Looking after your team

Maintaining communication across your business is key when everybody is working from home. For us, using Microsoft Teams has been essential, and we’ve kept morale high as a result. The instant messaging feature has brought back some normality in allowing colleagues to chat to one another with the same immediacy as face to face communication in the office.  I think it’s here to stay – Teams and Office 365 as a whole has been a great business decision.

Another concern which many companies have right now is what to do with roles that are incompatible with WFH. At UKFast, the front of house team has become the company’s wellbeing team which plays an essential part in checking employees are in good health, both physically and mentally. It’s created a soundboard for general issues and identifies any areas where we can improve our support network.

Security concerns of WFH

In the rush to get people working from home, virtual back doors are being left wide open and exploited. Even though there is so much good in the world right now, unfortunately some are taking advantage of the current situation. Companies need to stay at the top of their game when it comes to security.

Many people may not realise, but every VPN, every new software rolled out, must be thought about and implemented with security and compliance standards at the core.  Question the decisions you’re making on a daily basis: Is this the most secure choice? What impact will this new software have on the business? Can this new tech be easily exploited?

There is no option to leave these decisions for later. Even one hour is enough for an attacker to strike and security must be an ongoing consideration.

Looking to the future

COVID-19 has taught us some valuable lessons so far but has also brought out the best in the UKFast Team.

We’re seeing collaboration across the business accelerate as people learn new ways to communicate. Productivity has also seen a sharp incline as concerns are still being addressed but in a more structured way that minimises disruption. We’re seeing projects become more efficient as a result.

It may seem tough, but there are many opportunities to be had as workforces adapt to this new way of working. The benefits are already being seen and felt.

There is no doubt that as we come out of the other side, whenever that may be, we will have more choices in how we move forward. I’m sure many will choose to introduce a more flexible approach to combine the advantages of WFH with office-based working. Whether the requirement to work from home lasts three weeks or three months, I’m excited to see what businesses will do next.

Check out our #WFH Blog Series for top tips on managing a remote workforce, tackling tech issues, strengthening your WFH security and more!