What now for IT and change professionals now we are truly ‘working from home’?

Introduction:

‘The times they are a-changin’’ as Bob Dylan memorably said. The enforced working from home has recently led us here at DtL Creative to think about what we can do, rather than focussing on what we can’t. So this article explores some of the aspects of IT projects and technology-led business change that can be progressed, and also the difficulties we may encounter in some areas.

Business continuity and remote working

All organisations will have had to enable remote working for many or all of their employees as well as figuring out how to provide essential services with a skeleton staff, whilst keeping everyone safe.

Some organisations were well prepared, others less so, but many of even the best prepared BC plans tend not to be designed for 95% of staff working from home for a period that could be six months or more.

So if you are responsible for this area, now is the time to absorb the lessons you’ve learnt this time and think about what you can do to ensure that when a similar situation arises in the future, your company can be more agile in responding.

Areas such as cloud versus on-premise storage, VPN technologies, multi-factor authentication and call routing will be key in developing fit for purpose and flexible approaches.

IT Strategies

If you’ve been trying to find the time to think strategically about your organisation’s business operations and challenges, and how technology can help (which is often challenging particularly for smaller organisations where strategic and operational responsibilities are almost always both part of a leader’s brief), here’s your opportunity.

What better time than when we’ve all been forced to think creatively about how to keep operations going and how to do things differently. Keep that fresh perspective in mind and take advantage of it.

Project delivery

If you were due to kick off a new project, such as replacing your housing management system, there are some very real challenges thrown up by Covid-19.

Organising the project kick-off can be challenging. Firstly, these things are generally best done face-to-face, as it’s easier to build relationships that way and create a sense of shared purpose in the project team. But face-to-face is no go at the moment, and indeed you and your suppliers may have other challenges that demand more urgent attention. If delaying the project is really not an option (and challenge yourself on this – is anything not an option anymore in this Brave New World?), then use remote technologies such as Microsoft Teams to do the meetings via video. Use Microsoft Teams, Slack or similar tools to enable your team to connect easily wherever they are based.

Developing the initial project documentation and setting up governance can often be done remotely as long as you can connect to the team when you need to collaborate. For document collaboration, there are a number of great tools. If you’re an Office 365 user, then Word comes with some great co-authoring features.  If you’re not a Microsoft user, Google Docs is just as capable as Word, and the business version of GSuite, which includes all the productivity packages,  is competitively priced (just over £4 per user per month for their Basic package). Other popular tools include Zoho Docs and Slack, which is a messaging collaboration tool that allows you to collaborate on documents inline in the context of conversations, and simply share files too.

If the project has already moved beyond this phase, then configuration and build work can certainly be done remotely too, as long as you can provide secure remote connectivity to the new system(s).

What may be more problematical are training sessions, as these are often most effective when the attendees are brought together to learn from each other, and the trainer can see non-verbal cues to help them see how effective the session is. Similarly for workshops, where being together in a room can help to maintain focus. But again, remote technologies which include screen sharing, such as Teams and Zoom, can be a viable alternative. You may need to set different ground rules for engagement compared to a face-to-face session – how to raise questions, having the baton to speak next etc.

For technical testing, this is often a sole activity, and again can be done remotely. But for user acceptance testing, depending on how it is arranged, you may wish some oversight so testers can ask questions and get help when needed. In this case you may have to deal with it differently – have someone on call for questions, or ask users to test for a few hours and submit their results for review, and thus work in testing ‘sprints’.

Conclusion:

Overall, the safety of your staff and customers has to be paramount. And we all want to have jobs to come back to when the shutters are lifted. So in that context, think about what you can do to keep work going where possible, giving people an income and a sense of shared purpose in these difficult times.

Much depends on the individual housing providers’ cultures and approaches but, in our experience so far, most projects that have started are continuing to move forward, although clearly this is stage dependant. Those about with a system ready to go live, and who were about to embark on end user training, for example, will have bigger challenges in how to move forward. But not necessarily insurmountable ones.

In the next article, we’ll go into more detail about how to approach the different aspects of the project lifecycle, what you can do, and some suggestions on tools to help you when working as a virtual or remote team.