Some organisations have found working from home to be hugely successful during the pandemic. Others not so much. But what other options do they have, especially during a pandemic or other disaster?
Pat Morley, Vice President of Global Product Management for Co-location and Workplace Recovery at Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) joins IT Availability Now to discuss the pros and cons of WFH and how it measures up to other workplace recovery solutions. Learn more about:
Brian Fawcett is a Senior Manager of Global Sales Engagement at Sungard AS. With over 15 years of experience in a range of industries, he specialises in forming enterprise-wide global talent and learning development programmes. Brian has enriched corporate learning culture by matching organisational vision and core values to curricula, leading to application and impact.
Patrick Morley is Vice President of Global Product Management for Co-location and Workplace Recovery, and General Manager of Continental Europe at Sungard AS. With decades of IT experience in both public and private businesses, Patrick has been responsible for a number of major business development initiatives at Sungard AS, with a focus on maximising customer value in the company’s data centre, workplace recovery and co-location offerings. Previously the head of the UK Recovery Teams at Sungard AS, Patrick has managed the recovery response of customers affected by a number of major crisis events, including the 7/7 London Bombings and the 2005 Buncefield Oil Depot Explosion.
The full transcript of this episode is available below.
BRIAN FAWCETT (BF): Working from home has been successful for many companies throughout the pandemic. Employees are productive. Businesses are active. Some are even thriving. But others are not. Working from home isn't the only - or necessarily the best - workplace recovery option. Some companies recognise this and are considering alternative options, both for now and for future disasters. I'm your host Brian Fawcett and this is IT Availability Now, the show that tells storeys of business resilience, from the people who keep the digital world available. Many procurement teams are heralding work from home as a success and a replacement for workplace recovery solutions moving forward. Business continuity teams, however, see a very different picture. They believe work from home ultimately falls short in most disaster situations, and a holistic workplace recovery plan is critical. In this episode we'll examine the two options. To help us weigh the pros and cons, we're talking to Pat Morley, Vice President of Global Product Management for Co-location and Workplace Recovery at Sungard AS, about how work from home stacks up with workplace recovery and the latest solutions available to companies. Pat, welcome to the show.
PAT MORLEY (PM): Hi Brian. Pleasure to be here.
BF: So, on the surface working from home has gone well for most, but a deeper dive reveals a number of issues. Let's start with talking about some of the top challenges of work from home.
PM: Okay - I think you're right. I think generally it's worked well for most people. It was quite complex and rushed to start, with setting up whatever solution you need to work from home. I think once that is established, whether you were buying laptops or securing the right solution, it's a very fast and easy solution to utilise. So I think it's gone very well, but it wasn't really designed to be used for an extended period of time, like it’s currently being utilised. So, I think for most, the only real option if you didn't have a recovery plan in place, was work from home. Most companies - 43% according to a recent IDC survey - didn't have a full-term workplace recovery plan, so it was really the only option that they could utilise. Even those that did have a complete workplace solution, it only addressed about five to 15% of their workforce and that was predominantly critical employees that have been identified as part of business impact analysis, etc., and that doesn't really adequately cope with everybody that you need to run a business. So, I think there's a lot of lessons that have been learnt. I think businesses today aren’t working under normal conditions. The workloads are smaller, expectations are lower, customers are more tolerant to their children interrupting or their pet barking in the background. Some of those things have certainly been relaxed and people are more tolerant, as well as with some of the regulations. A lot of business is tightly regulated, and those regulations have been relaxed to enable businesses to survive. In the pandemic everything's been available, so all of your services and the networks have been up, all of the support things are running. In a normal disaster there are elements of IT services that don't function. We have a lot of customers that are still very dependant on the office while at home. For instance, they are utilising a telephone system that's based in the office. And home working isn't kind of protected - it's not resilient - so home working is a more risky solution. Homes are at risk of flooding, broadband going down, blackouts - we've had city wide blackouts. So again, it's not really designed and built around the resilience that a recovery solution is. I think it's starting to take a toll on productivity and I think it's also starting to take a toll on the staff who are finding it more difficult day by day to utilise the relationships they have in the office - the spontaneous stuff that goes on day-to-day where you meet somebody in the corridor. I think that the longer it goes on, the more that it will impact the company's performance. I think that's particularly true of the younger workforce and the more at-risk workforce that don't have long established relationships that they can leverage online in the same way as they could walk down the corridor and talk to somebody. I think in general it has worked well, but I think there are significant challenges there.
BF: Yeah, and things happened so fast earlier this year that it seemed as if working from home was really the only path forward. With another wave of COVID-19 sweeping across Europe and the United States, what are other workplace recovery options that businesses have right now?
PM: So, I think a number of companies who have their own facilities and dedicated areas that they've identified as business continuity services, have been able to utilise those to kind of split working and provide multiple locations, and I think that's worked quite well. Facilities are built and conformed to their corporate standards so they've been able to leverage that, but I think a lot of those companies' facilities don't address some of the key pandemic things. They're not really built with social distancing in mind, which reduces your capacity. They're not designed to handle the number of people likely to enter, and they're not really suitable and designed for long term events. So, I think there's a big tied up expense if you have dedicated buildings that are not utilised day-to-day and are just sitting in reserve. That’s a lot of real estate to be having in the background waiting for things to happen, so huge costs tied up with that. I think third party facilities are always another option. Utilising third party facilities as a kind of recovery space is always available from different suppliers. And the suppliers range from just a basic desk and a chair to a full blown office with everything from an IT perspective - security, voice recording capabilities, all the infrastructure that you'd expect and need to have in a truly hardened environment - along with UPS, generators, etc. For third party facilities there are really two options. There's a shared option, which is generally less expensive than having a dedicated facility but it comes with additional risk since it’s first come first serve basis so you're not guaranteed access to that suite if multiple events happen at the same time. So, with a large regional event - like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, or citywide blackout, city terrorist event - you may not get access to the facility that you're hoping to. Dedicated suites are more expensive, but actually give you that guaranteed access and I think a lot of emphasis through COVID has been on how people adapt their dedicated workspace to be something much more tailored to their requirements, so I think you'll see a lot more of that. And the spacing of people within those facilities and how they utilise it is changing on a day-to-day basis. Collaboration areas in offices, such as coffee areas, have been closed off so now you're having coffee in your own dedicated workplace. So yeah, big changes.
BF: So, has the pandemic proven workplace recovery options, like third party facilities, to be better than work from home.
PM: Compared to companies strictly doing work from home, I think there are huge advantages of working in the office. We've seen customers with us that are reporting greater performance and customer feedback, their network is much more stable, and the motivation of their staff has increased. Also, if you're dealing with things that are quite confidential, there's no real way of having a confidential conversation at home or securing whatever you're looking at on your screen. So, we've got customers dealing with credit card fraud and those sorts of things, and they are reporting an uptick in competitive edge because they can guarantee that you're having a private, secure conversation with somebody sitting in a designed office versus somebody working at home in a family house. I think that does provide significant competitive advantages. I think going forward, hybrid will become a much more common feature where you'll utilise home working a lot more. We think there's going to be a big uptick in home working, even once COVID is gone, but combining that with your production office and third party workplace areas is the wave of the future. And that's been backed up by recent IDC research that's pointing out a blend of home working and remote working with all your production offices is kind of the way forward.
BF: So that's interesting. Tell us more about the hybrid approach. What does that look like and how can companies determine the right balance?
PM: I think the really important thing to determine the right balance is planning who should be home based and who should be based in the office. During COVID, many just quickly determined “let's work from home, you do this, you do that,” and there was a lack of planning. I think going forward in the new hybrid world, that assessment of your staff and who should be in the office versus who should be home would be really important. There's compliance, regulations, and government restrictions, which really play an important part. The unsuitability for cybersecurity measures or insufficient enterprise technologies may make a job more difficult or risky if you are performing it at home. I spoke earlier about confidentiality - there's nothing stopping anybody from taking a photo over my shoulder when I'm working from home or seeing what I'm doing. So, I think that confidentiality is almost impossible to cure from the home working perspective. Timeframe consideration is vital. Work from home might be the best solution in the short term - if we've got a strike in the city or a blizzard - but for the long term disasters there are better offering options. Recovering faster means potentially being able to take customers from competitors. I already spoke about the competitive edge - I think that the seamless recoverability and staying in business is a real advantage. Recovery locations need to be convenient for employees and must comply with that physical and data compliance. We're seeing a lot of movement with customers from inner metro environments to outer-city so they can dive to work and stay safe. I think it's really the evaluation and the assessment of your workforce, and the demographics of where they live versus the job that they do, to get the right balance of that hybrid solution.
BF: So, apart from the actual facilities, what else do organisations need to be more productive and successful when a crisis or disaster pushes them out of the office?
PM: When it comes to investment, there are several important areas to consider. Alternative recovery facilities will likely be a combination of company owned, third party and work from home, so again that balance between those three pillars. Also, considering the strengths and weaknesses of each option will allow recovery planners to match the facility to employees' work responsibilities, kind of based on the nature of the event. When working from home, bringing your own device up to corporate standards is a really important aspect with the security and data protection software. Access into the corporate networks is really vital, and if staff are working from home and you need to secure 500 endpoints, that’s a completely different scale of protection that the business needs to do. That needs investment to make sure that the endpoints are safe and secure for the devices and for the workers. I think the other thing is communication systems. Voice is absolutely critical. Video, internet, all those kinds of things that you're seeing online. There was lots of conversation prior to COVID about whether the telephone and voice systems were kind of dead. I think in this crisis they've been absolutely key to customers successfully working from home, so that it’s seamless when you call a number. I think desktop systems can survive and be accessible to employees at a variety of access points so any kind of collaboration tools like file/sync/share, file storage and presentation capabilities will be needed but physical connection and locations may vary. So there are various things you need to work through.
BF: So, how does Sungard AS address these needs in its workplace recovery offerings and how does Sungard AS help businesses enable a safe and productive return to work for their employees?
PM: I think we've done a lot of looking internally at the services that we've offered traditionally and making sure that they are tailored to the changing world. We have about 60 hardened recovery facilities across nine countries, including Europe, America and India, and those are hardened facilities with UPS and generators, often have dual path feeds, and get your networks into the site to give you a real resilient solution. We need to make sure we're using the same tools as the home office where we’re customising to replicate everything. The flexibility of the service is really important, so that you’re seamlessly able to work, whether you're in your production office or in one of our offices. We're making our offices look like an extension of your production office, since usability is very important. If you look at COVID, it's a long term disaster. No one ever envisioned that we'd be long term in these facilities and I think we've had to change the way that we've shaped our business, and the way that our suites are designed and serviced. And a key part of that, we launched a service workplace product at the back end of the summer that’s really a production office which enables your staff to permanently use one of our suites. We had a lot of customers asking about their dedicated suite and how usable it was, so clearly there was a requirement to accommodate this new hybrid solution mixed between home working, a third party like ourselves, and your production site. So we've designed a serviced workplace solution to accommodate that requirement. We provide the suites, the IT infrastructure, PCs, telephones, etc. and tailor it to each individual customer. We've seen a big uptick in businesses realising “I don't really need so much real estate anymore so maybe I can move into a resilient, protected office that if everything fails, I've got a safe, secure place to run my core business out of.” That is really being seen as a benefit and we give the ability to flex up into shared seats if you want to do a month thing or a marketing event, etc. We've initially rolled that out to two strategic locations across the UK and have now rolled that out across all of the geographies and into the sites where we have the capacity to accommodate it. So, yeah, customers are utilising our buildings now, day-to-day, and we've enabled that to be a much more user friendly experience. We've applied all the good housekeeping COVID protocols, signage, one way systems, etc. We've introduced temperature devices, we've got fever screens on some of the buildings where you can look at the screen and it cheques your temperature and actually sees if you're wearing a face covering before giving you access into your suite. So, we've done a lot of work on deploying plastic screens and other elements to really make the buildings as safe and secure as we possibly can. And we're looking at new buildings and new locations all the time so we will continue to grow and develop that service, along with the more traditional recovery services that we've been doing.
BF: Those are all great things. Workplace recovery will continue to be in demand as the pandemic stretches on and as the initial work from home afterglow fades. It's clear that having an actual workplace recovery plan that considers all employees, and other disaster scenarios besides pandemic is the first right step. We also learnt that companies utilising third-party workplace recovery facilities enjoy greater success across a host of metrics, and that a blended solution including on-site and remote working is the best approach. Pat, thanks for joining us today.
PM: Thanks, Brian. It was great to speak to you,
BF: Pat Morley is VP of Global Product Management for Co-location and Workplace Recovery at Sungard AS. You can find the show notes for this episode at SungardAS.com/ITAvailabilityNow. Please subscribe to the show on your podcast platform of choice to get new episodes as soon as they’re available. IT Availability Now is a production of Sungard Availability Services. I’m your host, Brian Fawcett, and until next time, stay available.