As an outsourced IT support provider involved with many small to medium businesses (SMB) we have deep insight into a variety of industries. As such, there are a number of observations we have made in 2020 in light of the pandemic which we believe are interesting lessons that are worth sharing.
1. Being in the same boat doesn't ensure the same experience.
Much like the passengers experience onboard the Titanic differed greatly depending on the class on their ticket, the universal impacts of COVID such as wide scale work-from-home (WFH) adoption has been very different from business to business.
Businesses in first class were those that were more prepared. Disaster recovery plans, contingency plans, and most importantly, forward thinking strategy meant that:
- Strategically chosen IT systems provided flexibility and redundancy to deal with such a crisis.
- Previous implementations of modern communication & collaboration tools had staff already accustomed to using them.
- There was 'structured chaos' when it came to implementing the various sudden and immediate changes as the pandemic unfolded.
That's not to say that being prepared solves every issue. By far the greatest impact to date has been the economic impact which varies from industry to industry. Undoubtedly however, SMB's with a proactive mindset have adjusted and fared far greater than their reactive counterparts.
2. There should be no 'temporary' home setup
In the early days of the pandemic people 'made do' with what they had and were simply thankful for the ability to continue to work from home at all. Several months later however, many are still operating with makeshift setups.
Those that recognised early that this arrangement was likely to be 6-12 months or more invested in their home setups. Simply put, those that did benefited from:
- Increased productivity
- More energised & engaged staff
- Fewer issues with lost items, tasks or communications.
It's still not to late to make improvements if you haven't already. At this stage it appears that WFH advice will continue for many more months. Additionally, studies are showing that greater than 40% of businesses are planning to maintain remote working policies beyond COVID-19. In some instances, more than 80% of workers are wanting to maintain part time WFH indefinitely.
3. In times of crisis, communication is key
The rapid adoption of WFH has seen increased focus on team communication and collaboration tools. WFH communication however is not solved by simply choosing between Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Communication issues in WFH environments tend to stem from poor practice and structure within the business.
Many businesses we have seen struggle with WFH are those that do not:
- Have clear lines of accountability & task assignments
- Conduct daily huddles for each team in the company
- Hold weekly team meetings focused on well defined operational KPIs
In a normal work environment SMB's can commonly get away with the above due to informal communication. People overhearing conversations, call outs across the office, and regular desk visits fill the gaps in communication that form without robust meeting rhythms.
Remote working provides no such luxury. The isolation of staff leads to poor customer outcomes and productivity as people do not have the information they need to be effective. Everyone has experienced poor service and inconvenience one way or another as a result of the pandemic. It's worth considering how your clients are experiencing you. Undoubtedly, clients won't be patient and understanding forever. Improve lines of communication in the business if you have not done so already.
4. The wrong decision is often better than no decision
As we had discussed in this article, the approach to 'hold steady' taken by many businesses is creating a cumulative negative impact. The day to day costs of 'living with it' compounds with the ever growing gap between themselves, and their competitors who have already taken forward steps.
As this gap widens, so to does the risk of losing clients to competitors who have found ways to mitigate their operational and logistical challenges. The forward thinking organisations with a can do attitude; getting it done despite a pandemic are going to be the powerhouses of the next decade.
Businesses that want to excel in this decade must mature all areas of their business. Finance, operations, IT systems, sales & marketing all need to operate in unison. A mid sized organisation is only as good as it's weakest function. The businesses with the brightest futures are making deliberate efforts to increase their capabilities of non core competencies through strategic partnership with external providers that don't just deliver a service, but provide value to the business that makes them stronger.
Qualities of a mature IT support function
What does a mature IT function in an SMB look like? There are many ways to go about it, but in summary effective IT should:
- Allow senior leaders to focus on core business activities
- Ensure staff are productive & efficient with little to no day to day issues
- Have clear costs, KPIs and ROI based calculations to measure performance
- Empower senior leaders to make confident business decisions though better access to information and reporting.
- Guarantee that IT investment is clearly justified from a financial point of view with clear impacts and ROI assumptions.
This is the equivalent of what you would expect from a highly experienced IT director in your business. They would be tasked to focus on delivering tangible value to the business through technology. IT done right makes everyone more effective, and ultimately delivers more value to your clients and better margins.
Not every provider can deliver high end results. Outsourced providers are typically more reactive than proactive. In most cases, SMB's IT is only marginally more mature than the office cleaning service. If however you would like to have a discussion about how you could better adopt mature practices in your business we would love to get in touch. You can book a meeting directly via our website.