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Adapting to Remote Work: An Infrastructure and Security Perspective
We've been hearing from many of our customers how best to make this transition and still maintain high performing teams. We felt this was an important topic to facilitate and to hear how other leaders have successfully adapted the companies to remote workforces. One of those is Boris Voltchenko, VP IT Infrastructure and Security, Reynolds Consumer Products. Here is what Boris had to say at a recent round table webinar sponsored by MATRIX. Watch the full recording of the webinar here.
How did the shift to 100 percent remote work impact your business from an information technology readiness and security aspect?
The company I work for was truly 100 percent on site. Roughly half of the company is made up of manufacturing workers, so some of those people did not have an option of not coming to work and not being in the production line. For those of whom remote work was an option, they did go home, and I think we're lucky in terms of having up-to-date laptops for everybody. And we had sufficient VPN capacity to be able to access our resources remotely. Working remotely once a month is very different from doing it day in and day out.
So, we had to adjust our capacity. We had to retrain people on a lot of tools and make sure that security and awareness is there because which we can no longer protect employees through the technology since everybody connects their own router to their ISP. They are out there on the internet and they receive all kinds of phishing emails. I don't have the protection of my web content filtering, so the first two weeks we invested very heavily in education.
So technologically, we were ready. I've heard horror stories where people had to buy laptops for the entire organization or retrofit whole machines. Fortunately, we didn't have to struggle through that.
In addition, our company was undergoing a major transformation. We are splitting from the parent and standing up our SAP ERP system. Executing those projects and activities remotely was something that we considered very carefully. There were two camps. Some people were advocating for not doing that. It has never been done in the best of times, a transformation of such scale. But we got ourselves trained on our tools and practices and we pulled this off. So, in summary, we got the technology, we invested in training people, we are tweaking the processes, and we are operating at 100% of our abilities.
Are there any preventative measures that your team's practice and implemented prior to this pandemic? How did that contribute to current success?
We were well underway into our cloud journey, so a significant portion of our systems were no longer dependent on being in the office and going through our own data center. The ability to utilize cloud services helped us ease the load on the networks and VPN.
Also, we had in place general good architecture and security practices which always take in consideration continuities and system availability during peak hours.
When reviewing the preparation steps to handle the extra load, we looked at our peaks and counted our employees to make sure that the numbers matched. Same with the teams.
What steps did you take to keep morale high?
We did a make conscious effort to stay together, communicate one-on-one, and I think as a result of that very conscious effort, I feel more connected with a lot of company aspects.
Using video from home is a democratization tool when you see a big boss in his house, not in his nice and shining office, and his dog runs in or his kid walks by. I ran a town hall for one of our senior organizations, and the leader had his daughter start the meeting. She said, ‘My dad is nowhere to be found.’ It was great. It showed him to be human.
What ways are you measuring your teams or things that you have found effective in the current situation?
We have always been focused on our service levels to our customers. And that hasn't changed. We are a very lean team and company, so underperformance of any team member will show up quickly. So, we didn't feel the need to change the way we are measuring ourselves
Everybody needs to come home to the family for dinner, so long as that is in place, we trust people to be able to manage their time, their tasks, and so forth.
If utilizing third party vendors, what steps are you putting in place to make sure deliverables and SLAs are being met?
Some of the projects in my plans cannot be done virtually. If you need to pull a piece of wire, you have to be there. At the same time, you don't always know the vendors who have different capabilities. What are their practices? You don't always know.
Working through our environmental health and safety group, we've developed a set of guidelines that we ask our vendors to follow in order to get access to our facilities. We put the safety of all our employees and products first. The only area where we have zero compromise is the safety of our employees. The rest we are dealing with.
We always need to strike a balance between those who must be at work. How do you protect them and what technology do you use to protect them? We're talking about thermal cameras in the plants where you walk by and it can immediately take your temperature. Even planning for when we need to start returning to the office in larger quantities. We are trying to be understanding to all kinds of circumstances and all kinds of populations.
How are you able to maintain a sustainable pace?
Everybody expected to do a little extra to make sure we get over the migration hump and right now it's very important for me and my team to not continue in that mode. I am personally watching myself. I was in the habit where if I had an idea, I would shoot an email to the team at 8pm and expect a response. I don't do that anymore because everyone is 100% connected. My question at 8:00 implies expectation of an answer at 8:30. Instead, I ask the question in the morning.
We are also talking about vacations. I specifically discuss with my team when they are going to be off. What do we need to do when you are off? Who will cover you? I am encouraging most of them to take time off throughout the year. We are trying to schedule vacations so the floodgates will not open on Thanksgiving or other big holidays.
What do you think the new normal will look like?
I'm excited about the new normal. I think it will allow companies to tap into some of the potential that was not available for whatever cultural reasons had a very strict, ‘you need to be in the office’ culture.
Now since companies are realizing that they can successfully manage through this crisis and be remote, I think the sky's the limit.
I'm reading about this daily in Silicon Valley; tech workers, saying ‘you know what, I can have my dream job with this great technology company, I just don't need to pay three times the rent.’ In other words, if talent can move a few hundred miles away right now, your recruiting pool can expand beyond your county or your state.
It also opens up possibilities to people in remote areas who would have needed to move otherwise. So, I think the new normal is probably going to be a blend. As companies, we will need to adjust to accommodate situations where different workers need to be co-located for teams to be collaborating effectively.