Working from home with Chalkline [video webinar]

Posted by David Smetana on Apr 22, 2020 4:30:00 PM
Man sitting at a desk at home

What better way to discuss working from home and all the IT challenges that go with it than an online web conference? It's what we're all doing now. So Harry and I joined up with Matthew from our friendly marketing agency to discuss the whole thing. 

 

 

 

Matthew Stibbe:
Well. Hello, it's Matthew Stibbe here, and this is the Chalkline David and Harry Show. We're here to talk about remote working and sort of what you do after the first week. I'm Matthew Stibbe, your host from Articulate Marketing. Rather than ask you to do boring professional introductions and tell us how long you've been working at Chalkline and things like that, I just want to ask you, we're all sitting in our homes now. What are the biggest challenges you've had, personally, adjusting to this new world of home working?

David Smetana:
So I guess from, a personal experience, in my infinite wisdom, I decided three weeks ago that now is a good time to sell my house. So I've moved in with my in-laws, so there are seven of us in the house at the moment, so that's definitely taking some adjusting. Working with the kids is a challenge for me. I've learned about Grenada today, because that's what my eight year old son's been learning about.

Matthew Stibbe:
The school or the place or the car?

David Smetana:
The place, the Caribbean island. Listen, it's a juggling act for us all, and I guess it's trying to find that balance between me working, my wife working, getting the kids to work, keeping them active and still trying to find some sort of form of normality as to keep things going as normal as it can be. And I think one of the best things for me, we've got these very cool little busy lights on our computer. I don't know if you know what they are? You should definitely check them out. And we had them in the office and they work with your Microsoft 365 presence. So green if you're available, it looks in your calendar, if you're on the phone, it's red. And that was really useful for when we were running the service desk, is to know who to pass calls to, I can look across the room. Of course now, I've told my kids, "If it's green, you can come and talk to me. And if it's red, I'm in a call or I'm busy and you can't come and talk to Daddy". That sign has worked well and it's transitioned quite well to the home use, if I'm being honest with you.

David Smetana:
But it's difficult being at home, we like working with people and being face to face with people. And I think really, what's key for us, is to continue to have that tap on the shoulder, albeit remotely, and just checking in with people. It's something that you've been working like this for years, so you're a professional at this, but something that all of us are relatively new to. There's a big difference between working at home once or twice a week or a month, and all of us being sat at home.

Matthew Stibbe:
Well I know, Harry, you told me last week that you were getting really antsy. You wanted to just go in the office, even if you had to go in on your own, because you were missing it so much.

David Smetana:
And he did today.

Harry Boyne:
We happened to have a laptop order, we had to get some laptops sent out for a client and I'm just like, "Yep, I'll do it. I'll do it." So yeah, I was definitely first the first one to go out there. I guess, from my side, it's, the social element has been the biggest. I'm surprised how much I've missed being with other people. I'm in a house, there's five of us in the house, four of whom are trying to work, which, well, that's an interesting challenge.

Harry Boyne:
I called dibs on the office, thankfully. So you know, I'm all set up. And everyone else, we've managed to find monitors around the house and everyone's working. But definitely, when we're all on conference calls and all go for a pace around the house and we happened to bump into each other in the middle, that becomes a bit interesting.

Matthew Stibbe:
So you're not really lacking for human contact, but it's the same humans?

Harry Boyne:
It's different humans I'd rather, yeah. I see them at the weekends.

Matthew Stibbe:
I have the same sort of adjustment, I guess, because I'm used to working from home, but my wife is now here and she's in a study and doing that but I quite like that. But what's the biggest challenge around adjusting the business? Because clearly you have a service desk and people in the office and you're busy. How have you sort of switched that sort of remote working model?

David Smetana:
I think we're quite lucky. We're selling this dream of remote working with Microsoft 365, and collaboration and all these productivity tools. So I guess we're quite fortunate in so much as we've been drinking our own champagne, and it was just a few tweaks here and there to make things a little bit more permanent. Our phones just carry on as usual, it's as if we're in the office, if I'm being honest. SharePoint Teams, all of these things allow, what's us to do everything that we were doing in the office, just from home.

David Smetana:
We were set up with all the KPIs and BI and reporting that we were managing people in the right way. And I guess, a keener eye needs to be given to that kind of information. Just to make sure that people are being responsible. And I guess there's a trust element, isn't there, of have people working remotely? There's this thing of measuring on output and not on input. So I think that's really important. I think if you've got the right measures in place then you can be safe in the knowledge that people are doing what you hope they are doing. But for me, like I said, it's just keeping this continual dialogue with people. And I think that goes for our team members and for our clients. I think it's never been more important to pick up the phone and speak to people and continue to build on those relationships. Even if it's just a five minute check in, how you going? How's your day been? And actually we've said that it's a really important to make that a video call and not just a voice call.

Harry Boyne:
My webcam was never on, put it that way.

Matthew Stibbe:
I know. I was threatening to buy you one because you would never come on with a video conference.

Harry Boyne:
I could always find an excuse. There's always a reason not to, but actually, especially when you're not seeing people, it's so important. And we're making sure we're doing a lunch room for the guys. So, between half 12 and half one anyone comes on the room and just says hi to each other because they're not seeing each other. Yeah, it's so important for people to have that video communication and to actually to see each other because they don't realise how much it's missed. One of the biggest things that also happens, you see it with clients anyways, email language. It is so easy for me to write an email and for some person to read as, "Oh, wasn't that lovely that Harry did that." And someone else to read that of, "Harry wasn't very nice. He was too harsh." Whatever it might be.

Harry Boyne:
And when you're now sending twice as many emails and you're doing it internally as well and you're doing it a pace because you've got a million other things going on, it's so easy for you to now, you're asking someone to do something and they think you're telling them off or whatever it might be. And then things can escalate and it's so important to keep that-

Matthew Stibbe:
You've got to pay into that relationship bank account as well as draw out. Emails is always a withdrawal, I think.

David Smetana:
Yeah. That's why I think we, listen, we're massive advocates of Teams and I think the Team's sort of gifs and things like that are quite good and you can heart things and like things and it's a good way to gain the measure of what you're saying. But I just wanted to put one thing that is quite interesting that we hadn't really considered, obviously we're asking people, we've created this drop in for lunch times, but one thing we're seeing is, and probably we should be encouraging more than ever, it's to step away from the computer screen at lunch time as well. So that's another thing. I found myself, certainly, by sort of three, four o'clock in the afternoon, I need to step away for 20 minutes. I need to have a little break and get a bit of fresh air, more than ever to be honest with you. I think it's really important.

Matthew Stibbe:
I was really struck by the thought that people who are not used to working remotely, if you're diligent your work takes a bit longer, so you're under a bit more time pressure because you've got more communications, and then you're sat, you're going from one meeting to the next meeting without getting up and going to another meeting room. In your office you're always going up to your lunch room and having pizza. At least every time I go there, there's always some pizza on the table.

David Smetana:
That's just for you.

Matthew Stibbe:
Okay. And people are commuting, which is a stress but it's some downtime. But if you just sat at your desk at nine o'clock, till six o'clock or whatever, just like meeting, meetings, it's quite draining.

David Smetana:
It is.

Harry Boyne:
But that's ... Go on, David.

David Smetana:
I was going to say, I remembered this funny Simpsons episode where Homer is working from home and he arrives at his desk at five to nine. He's like, "Oh, it's the first time I've ever been early." So I guess people can sleep in a little bit longer. But you're right, it's difficult and you are probably wedded to your desk more than ever. So it's about finding that balance.

Matthew Stibbe:
Yeah, got to walk away from it. And when you're doing this sort of social stuff, how do you kind of do, you're talking to your computer and your colleagues, but you're not talking about work. How does that play out?

Harry Boyne:
I did that today. I had an hour catch up with a project manager, an internal project resource, and we're going through things and actually, after about 10 minutes, we ended up just talking about something completely normal, not work related. Actually the call was nearly finished anyway. We had a bit of spare time and I just thought, do you know what? Let's talk about something else. It tends to be about what's going on with the world and the whole situation and how everything's a total mess but it's still interesting conversation. It's a nice social thing to have.

Matthew Stibbe:
Yeah, I think that's important. So let's talk a little bit about the technology side because this is your domain. When you're thinking about, more broadly, clients and the technology stack, what sort of problems are people running into? Or what might they run into with this sudden shift to remote work if they're not used to it? If they're not living the dream like we are?

David Smetana:
I think we're fortunate, again, a lot of our clients are on Microsoft 365 as a base. So, at the very least, access to email and use of all the whole suite of tools that it has to offer. I guess the issue for a lot of them has been that, whilst they might be in the cloud, so I think of our a hundred plus clients we've got five or six servers in [inaudible 00:10:44], a lot of them are in Azure. It's still set up for their PCs in the office. We don't do a lot of RDS, unless we really have to. So there's been a bit of a last minute push for setting up VPNs from home PCs, or just enabling the home working so that they can access all of their systems.

Matthew Stibbe:
So that they can effectively get into their work computer from home?

David Smetana:
No, not that. Just get into their applications remotely. Because it's all been set up around Office Access as opposed to Home Access. We access through a SonicWall or something like that. So it's just been a bit of a rush to get everything set up. I've been joking when people have been saying, "How's everything going?" I said, "Listen, we've been talking to all of our clients for the last three years about setting up these systems, and in the last two weeks everybody wants to do it, but tomorrow." So it's been absolutely manic but brilliant. And I think everyone's in a good place.

Matthew Stibbe:
Where people have these sort of systems in the office and VPNs and stuff, are you finding there's a little bit of congestion? It's something that people are running into?

David Smetana:
Go on, Harry.

Harry Boyne:
I think networks have been pretty good, in fairness. Microsoft Teams has had some initial bumps last week because something, they were just, they said something like 700 times the amount of normal usage. It's been incredible how much more people are using it, and they've had to tune back a few things for that reason. But people have been able to get into their systems. There's not been any major trains smashes. The biggest challenge that I think we've had is, as a business, we made the decision that everyone's going to be given a work laptop. So we grabbed a few, we had a few spares and we obviously we had to purchase a few new ones, got them set up and we sent them home with people the week before it was needed. Made sure people could test it, they were able to move forward.

Harry Boyne:
We've had some clients where they potentially already had work laptops and they just went home. Fantastic. You've got other users where they may have shared a machine or they had a desktop, and in that case some clients have decided to take the boxes and go home, which sometimes works, has mixed mileage. Some people have told them to use their home devices. And then that grey area approach is in terms of security, how'd you know that machine's secure? What happens when that user leaves? But also functionality, it might have Office 2011 or, if it's a Mac or Office 2010, and you can't get in SharePoint in that. So what do you do next? And that's been a bit of a challenge for us to explain to clients that just because they found this Mac in the cupboard from 2004, doesn't necessarily mean they can run their business from it.

Matthew Stibbe:
Yeah. And if they've downloaded some critical files to that and then it gets hit by some ransomware, that's not a great situation. Or it's got some personal identifiable information on granny's laptop. I'm perhaps projecting my own anxieties around this, but is security an issue? How do people need to start thinking about that with this sort of suddenly "use your own device" model?

David Smetana:
One of the things that we spoke about, and Harry will elaborate it, is it's not a risk that you really even think about. But I guess, even with something like Office 365, there is a risk that there's key logger, some kind of malicious software is stored on your home PC. And we've got absolutely no control over that. So you can only go so far to protect yourself. And even with a remote RDS setup, you're still going to have issues with things like that. The only way to fully protect us is to have a corporate PC policy, that's the only way I guess.

Matthew Stibbe:
Really? You think that's the "bring your own device" model is you have to accept some risk with that?

Harry Boyne:
One of the things that we've always said, we've had clients where they've previously asked us, when you talk about in the office, they want to get refurbish kit. It's half the price. Well, it is half the price but what are you going to do next week when you walk in the office and one of your users can't work because that machine's died again? What is the cost to you then? You're still going to have to pay them and you're going to lose any it kind of covers itself. And it's a similar conversation here. People going home, we did this roll out and you get, a handful of issues of the usual problems.

Harry Boyne:
You get people who have gone home and there's too many people in the house or they've got really slow internet or whatever it might be. But the guys have just been able to log in and crack on.

David Smetana:
We had a client that we actually have unfortunately lost recently as they wanted 24/7 and we're just not quite set up for them, but over the last two years we've worked with them to comprehensively overhaul their systems. So move them onto 365, upgraded all of their infrastructure. They were SharePoint [inaudible 00:16:07]. Moved them on to sort of Skype for Business Teams, Telephony, moved them onto their laptops and docking, and even though they left, I had a quick catch up with her recently and she said, "Really, everything's set up for remote working."

David Smetana:
All you had to do was take your laptop and go home and that was it. Got Telephony, got access to all their documents, access to all their emails. I guess that's the more modern way of working now.

Matthew Stibbe:
If somebody is in a situation where, not that, right? But they're just sort of stringing it together a little bit. And I'm not necessarily talking about your clients but maybe people who are listening to this. What is the roadmap for the next month? What are the main things that they need to be thinking about? Should they be going out and provisioning laptops? I don't know, what does that look like? To get from where they are now to where your former client is.

Harry Boyne:
So something that I'm assuming a lot of companies have done if they didn't have a solution, is, like you said, stringing it together, is potentially opening ports to the internet that shouldn't have been opened or were closed previously but it was a quick bandaid solution just to get this sorted. And it's as insecure as it was then. In fact, it's probably more insecure now because people out there are going to know that people are going to be less secure. You're going to be a target. And for that reason it's really important that people ... yes, last couple of weeks was a panic and yes, I had to get it open quickly, but now it's time to reassess the situation and go, "Right, what have I done and how do I make it secure again?"

Harry Boyne:
You look things like MFA, like Multi Factor Authentication, and make sure that you have protected all your users and not just disabled it for a few users because it was the easiest thing to do at the time. If you've open ports, you close them or you protect them with some form of gateway. Again, protected by MFA. Rather than just opening a random port and removing the protection, because you will get hacked. It's not if, it's when.

David Smetana:
Yeah, we always say don't make the network only as strong as the weakest point. And I guess-

Harry Boyne:
Totally.

Matthew Stibbe:
Now that network is everybody's home internet, everyone's home router, anyone who's using the "bring your own device"-

Harry Boyne:
All these things that we have no visibility of as an ITT.

David Smetana:
Yeah, it's tough.

Matthew Stibbe:
I'm having some palpitations a little bit. We should have a conversation later. Yeah so that, and I guess people have been signing up for, if they haven't had the innate wisdom to sign up for Teams and office 365, a lot of Zoom, a lot of Slack , things like that. And those are perfectly good products, I'm not running them down. But if people have done their own sort of, you can say, rogue IT, but they've just sort of bought stuff, signed up for stuff. Is there a process of tidying up that and provisioning it with more sort of a managed and centralised services, for example?

David Smetana:
Yeah, it's interesting you should say. We've just had a prospect, who we've been talking to for a couple of years, talk to us and they're got quite a traditional setup in a private data centre and they are trying to address the home working situation, and I guess you've got shadow IT kicking in here where some of them are using Slack, some of them are using another sort of conferencing software, some of them are using Teams, and there's no clear roadmap. And I guess each of those bring their own risk. What we've spoken to them about is if, ultimately, you're looking at moving to Microsoft 365, then really Teams is the way to go. And for the first time ever, and we've not had this before, we're looking at rolling out Teams before we roll out Microsoft 365. And that's actually a challenge in itself because we're trying to sort of fast forward six to 12 months, what is that future state going to look like. Now rewind and make sure that everything we do today is not going to hinder us in the future.

David Smetana:
So it brings its own challenges. But I guess you'd need to have some form of strategy of where you want to be in the next six to 12 months, and try and streamline the tools that you're using to adhere to that, really.

Matthew Stibbe:
Somebody once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. This is an opportunity to actually get this stuff pointing in the right direction perhaps. So I'm going to ask you both two questions as we wrap up.

Matthew Stibbe:
What is your top recommendation to make home working work? And what is the one thing that business owners need to be doing and thinking about with regards to IT in the next couple of weeks to make sure that they're efficient and safe? Top tip. Recommendation.

David Smetana:
My top tip for homeworking was, I realised pretty early on that working off a laptop wasn't going to work for me. We're fortunate, we've got a great set up in the office. We've got dual screens and wireless headsets. The first thing I did was I went and got in the car and I just got all my kit from the office and put it in the back of the car and brought it all home so I could have a relatively comfortable setup. I've got the wireless headset, I quite like to walk and talk whilst I'm on the phone to people. So I haven't wandered off during this, but I'm often sort of wandering rounds making myself a coffee and doing that. So I think you need to be comfortable and try and have as much normality at home as you possibly can.

David Smetana:
That's just for me as a personal. And then, again, for the business owners, I just think it's to have the constant communication, and never more so than now. And I think it will hold you in good stead for the future. Because I think the relationships that you build now during this crisis will make you even stronger afterwards, to put you in really good stead. And we've had some great conversation with existing clients and we're doing everything we can to help them. And they really do appreciate it if you go above and beyond and just keep that dialogue open.

Matthew Stibbe:
Yeah. I completely agree. Harry, what about you?

Harry Boyne:
So he may have just stolen mine.

David Smetana:
Sorry.

Matthew Stibbe:
Just say is again with different words.

Harry Boyne:
I guess my top tip, based on what we said before, is video call. There are people, there's a lot of people out there, where they don't want to do it, but, in the nicest way, get over it.

David Smetana:
I thought you were going to say wear trousers.

Harry Boyne:
That's a good tip, maybe. Or just don't stand up.

Matthew Stibbe:
We've all dressed up for this, right?

Harry Boyne:
There's a reason we've not all stood up, right? I guess it's so important to, I mean I had quite a long conference call on Friday, Friday evening, with a supplier, and they pointed out the fact that it was, they're stateside, and they pointed out that it was bright outside when we started the call and they basically watch the whole sunset. Which is quite interesting though, I guess. It tells us how long we'd been on the phone as well.

Harry Boyne:
And I guess, to business owners, the biggest recommendation is make sure your employees have got the right kit. Like I said, make sure they've got business laptops if they need them. And if they don't, do they need monitors? We've just offered to our team to subsidise some kit for them. Say for example, they haven't got a monitor at home or they can't use a TV, we'll provide them one. So at least they are able to work. Because we've had a few people that have come home with a 14 inch laptop, like Dave said, they're sort used to having these two big 24 inch monitors, and it's a massive change. All of a sudden you can't do three things at once, you can only do the one, and even then.

David Smetana:
We've been spoiled, haven't we though?

Harry Boyne:
We have been spoiled. Definitely.

Matthew Stibbe:
It's not. Because there's really tonnes and tonnes of scientific empirical evidence that if you have big screens, either two monitors or a big single monitor, you have a good mouse, good set, movable keyboard, you're not hunched over your screening, your back's better, your eyesight's better, you're more productive, you can have multiple wins. I know there are businesses right now are really struggling, so it's a hard thing say go spend money on computer stuff. But you get more done. So if you can, I completely agree. I'm a passionate believer in a good keyboard, a good mouse and a good screen.

David Smetana:
I am missing my office chair, I can't lie. I'm set up in my mother and mother-in-law's kitchen on a, it's not an office chair, it's just a kitchen chair with a little cushion on my back. And I guess over the next weeks and possibly months I might have to invest in a proper chair. But for now, I've got a good set up.

Harry Boyne:
When I went to the office today, I did sit in the chair and I was just like-

David Smetana:
Ah.

Harry Boyne:
Yeah, I might have to stay at this. So we're an HP partner and we get access to some demo kit and I requested recently, they've got a new 43 inch curved screen, which took about two months to get hold of. They emailed me last week, it's ready. And I was like, "Okay, send it to my house." So I set it up on my desk last week, so that's what I've been using that for the last week. It's been absolutely ... it takes time to get used to, but it is amazing. And I walked into the office and it's like using a screen from like 2003 almost. It was like, "What's wrong with the screen? I need to get rid of it."

David Smetana:
Now you're showing off.

Harry Boyne:
Yeah. Just about.

Matthew Stibbe:
There you have it. You can buy a 43 inch screen and it's all going to be ... And on that bombshell, I think we should wrap up. Harry, David, thank you very much indeed.

David Smetana:
Cheers.

Harry Boyne:
Thank you.

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