In recent months, many organizations have had to quickly shift to a work from home set up. Even as some may be slowly returning to an office environment, many lessons have been learned along the way, including what it takes to monitor edge computing data centers around the globe while those doing the monitoring are working from home.
Monitoring these facilities is arguably even more important as companies rely on their digital platforms to help them weather the current global pandemic. But as of this writing, virtually all Schneider Electric employees who monitor edge data centers and other facilities for our clients around the globe are working from home. Some of them, particularly in the United States, have been doing so for about 10 years, so it’s business-as-usual. Others, such as in India, had to jump through some hoops to get their home work spaces set up.
Given our range of experiences, and the fact that we monitor thousands of edge computing locations from our seven Connected Services Hubs (CSHs) around the globe, we wanted to share our experiences with other companies that find themselves locked out of their network operations centers (NOCs) and forced to monitor operations from home.
Tip 1: Communicate liberally
In talking with the heads of our various CSHs about how they’re weathering the pandemic, communication was a common theme, both with clients and internal employees.
With respect to clients, our team in India was probably in the most challenging position. Depending on their location, many clients were not allowed to enter their buildings, which meant we were their only connection to the health and status of their edge data centers. So, the team quickly pulled together a weekly email campaign that included an individualized status report as well as helpful advice on topics like how to use mobile status apps or set call priorities. That helped calm nerves and left the reps time to deal with significant issues, like negotiating with the government to get one client a permit to enter his facility to swap out an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) battery that was in danger of failing.
All of our reps also indicated the importance of communicating with their own staff, who were all now working individually in their homes. Some conducted quick daily videoconferences, used both to simply check in and make sure staff and their families were doing OK, as well as to discuss any outstanding customer issues. That was particularly helpful for agents in the Philippines, who were under strict lockdown.
In India, where none of the employees had previously worked from home, most were initially eager to get back in the office. It took about two weeks to adjust to working from home, but the frequent calls helped to assure them they could speak up if they were having issues and their managers would help them.
Tip 2: Leverage modernized infrastructure and digital tools
Technology, of course, also plays a significant role in a successful work-from-home effort.
The U.S. team had a big head-start in that regard, as it’s been undergoing a multi-year modernization effort. Today, modern, cloud-based apps and voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology is used in North American CSHs, enabling the entire operation to be run from anywhere. The global pandemic essentially forced a switch to a 100% remote operation practically overnight, but the years-long digitization effort gave us the flexibility to pull it off seamlessly.
Digital tools (Schneider Electric uses Microsoft 365, including Microsoft Teams collaboration software as an example), have also proven crucial. Whereas once you may have simply walked across the office to communicate with a colleague, now you can do the same using collaboration tools. Our teams have been using them to have discussions, assign tasks, providing visibility into issues at shift crossover and lots more. The fact that such tools are available from smart phones, tablets and laptops also gives employees flexibility. If they have to step away from the office to tend to a child, it doesn’t mean they’re totally disconnected from issues at hand.
Tip 3: Maintain a list of approved tools
Over the years Schneider Electric has developed a list of digital policies, including things like approved VPNs, to ensure proper security. It started in earnest a few years ago when our team in the United Kingdom had to vacate the CSH facility for about two weeks. Rather than having to deal with whatever each employee might have had at home, they developed a list of approved tools – like soft phones and VPN. The list also applies to customers who want to be able to tap into our systems to monitor their own facilities.
Tip 4: Prepare and test
Unplanned disruptions also have a way of exposing flaws in a disaster preparedness plan. Our locations in New England, for example, would occasionally be closed because of snowstorms, forcing employees to work from home. On those days, it became a battle to score one of the VPN ports to get into our systems. Now, the systems are configured to be able to handle 75% of employees working from home, which has proven sufficient (your requirements may vary).
Of course, the only way you can know for sure if things will work as planned is to test them. When we rolled out the work-at-home program in the Philippines a few years ago, for example, we had staff work one day per week from home on a rotating basis. That wound up having a dual benefit: we got to validate that systems worked (or find any that didn’t), and employees got occasional relief from their daily commutes. It was so successful, in fact, that we continued the program even after validation was complete, which had staff well-prepared for the current situation.
I’m happy to report that our efforts have paid off, because our EcoStruxure IT monitoring service has been operating as usual, 24×7, throughout the pandemic, helping customers support their own digital transformation efforts.
Access Webinar on Business Continuity
To learn more about how to foster resilience in the face of unplanned events in your own environments, check out our webinar, “Maximizing Business and Operational Resilience.” You’ll hear leaders from Schneider Electric and Microsoft discuss how digital technologies and planning come together to help companies manage in times of crisis.