5 Best Practices for a Displaced Workforce.
At a time when many people around the globe find themselves working from home, it is every company’s job to do right by its employees and to fulfill its commitments to its customers—even if it involves some pivoting. From laboratories to emergency rooms, grocery stores, janitorial services, through data storage companies, businesses around the world are working to introduce order and safety where chaos and harm may loom.
Although countries such as Singapore are gradually reopening their economies by allowing more businesses to resume normal operations, most employees will likely continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. In fact, eight in ten employees in Singapore* wish to continue working from home at least half the time or more after the circuit breaker, according to a recent survey.
Whilst employees heed the call to work from home, the onus, more than ever, is on data to do the legwork for us. When the movement of people is restricted, the movement of data needs even more enabling. Good data management these days, more than ever, must include attention to efficient flow of data.
Why? Smart data activation, after all, can lead to connection—even if from afar. It means using AI and the cloud to collaborate on finding potential treatments by predicting molecules that are active against COVID-19, and developing new diagnostic tools that can read and process chest CT scans in 10 seconds. It also means schoolchildren learning virtually, employees working safely, doctors seeing their patients remotely, and relatives seeing their loved ones smile in real time.
As part of pandemic preparedness, businesses have a dual job to do: 1) keep employees safe, and, at the same time, 2) keep enabling the critical flows of data around the world.
In order to meet this dual goal, enterprises should pivot to best data management practices according to five key pillars.
1. Agility. Without a built-in flexibility in the system, pivoting in the time of crisis is difficult. Companies quickly realised it was not a matter of if, but when they would need more IT resources and support for WFH employees globally. This meant that many IT support teams around the world had to quickly run a battery of workload tests (such as asking employees to download a multitude of large files, and logging onto their virtual networks simultaneously) to check the resilience of their infrastructure. The success of these tests meant that remote employees could continue doing their jobs without risking business continuity.
2. Availability. Another move that helped keep data available and factories functional was setting up de facto “mini edge data centers”. As inputs from endpoints expand, few at-home locations have adequate broadband or optical fiber for remote data analysis and meetings, and a centralised system meant people took a longer time to use and access their data. Providing global teams, like those in engineering and finance, with access to compute functions closer to their homes became a priority. These mini edge data centers enabled employees to process data closer to where it’s created.
3. Connectivity. Making sure that employees stay connected is an important function that needs to be powered by institutional nimbleness.
a. VPN. VPN technology provides safe paths to information not only to newly-remote employees, but also to people in places with restricted access to sources of objective data. As a result, according to Atlas VPN’s user data, VPN usage has been in great demand. Taking Standard Chartered as an example, in order to enable nearly 60,000 of its global employees to work from home, the banking group decided to increase its VPN capacity by more than 600%.
b. Bandwidth. To increase bandwidth, companies are reviewing and upgrading their internet circuits around the world. This move will pave the way for the unimpeded movement of data, ensuring that there is enough capacity for home users to connect to their offices. Cisco, an organisation which relies on more than 140,000 employees and partners, was forced to move its entire workforce to remote working in just ten days. To increase bandwidth, the company added additional IT resources through IP pooling and split tunneling to cater for the now 100 percent of employees working from home.
c. Laptops. A core element of any business continuity plan is the capability of remote working. In order for core business operations to continue functioning, employees should have access to a laptop configured and ready to be used remotely.
d. Support. To help employees make the transition from work to home, businesses should provide as much support as possible through the use of remote tools and daily status checks, such as a 24/7/365 Global Service Desk, to ensure no extra backlogs and no impact on results and support levels. This will further prevent downtime and service unavailability.
4. Security. In the era of distributed access, security at the periphery becomes a priority. Businesses must ramp up their capacity and capabilities to deal with increased remote user traffic, particularly at endpoint devices such as personal mobile phones, tablets and laptops, which are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. After all, not all remote workers will have antivirus software installed in their personal devices.
5. Collaboration. For companies whose daily bread is innovation, working in teams is paramount. Innovation is at its best when it’s collaborative. Using Grab as an example, employees have been relying on online channels such as Slack and Workplace to stay connected and continue working without disruption. Zoom reported a 378% increase in daily active user count as video conferencing tools have become essential platforms for people to connect in real-time discussions.
These practices are working. We are hearing from cloud and other big tech customers that they have to scale up, out, and across core-to-edge locations in order to support the demand from work-from-home workers. We hear from many managers that productivity has actually gone up since the vast majority of us began to work from home.
A smart orchestration of data’s flow and its use means we can put our data to work for us—sending it places in our stead. In doing so, we can do our small part to better support the laudable heroes on the front lines of the pandemic—sanitation workers, grocery stockers, anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists, and many others.
*Data from survey by human resources technology start-up EngageRocket, the Institute for Human Resources Professionals and the Singapore Human Resources Institute
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Ravi Naik is the Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy at Seagate Technology.
With over 25 years of experience in the technology industry, Ravi Naik has successfully led large transformative initiatives, leveraging ideas and technology platforms focused on future growth and opening new business models and markets. Prior to joining Seagate in 2017, Ravi was the senior vice president of technology at Katerra, a technology startup revolutionising the construction industry by transforming the way buildings and spaces come to life. Before Katerra, in 2007 Ravi joined SanDisk to lead an enterprise-wide transformation initiative. Following the success of the SanDisk transformation, he was appointed as CIO, remaining with the organisation through its sale to Western Digital in 2016. Before that, he held leadership positions at Mercury Interactive, Hewlett Packard, and 3Com Corporation. Naik holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Bombay in India.