In late February 2020, things began to change very quickly for us due to the onset of coronavirus. CHP already had plans to implement remote working for some of its customer-facing teams, but not for at least six months – that all changed in the space of a week!
After appraising the situation, we sought approval to accelerate our remote working strategy to prepare us for a large percentage of our 330 employees working from home, although at that stage I am not sure that we envisaged 100 per cent of employees being the ultimate outcome! We got our approval and went on a rapid journey to build a whole new business operating model in a matter of weeks.
Week one (9-15 March)
With new IT hardware starting to arrive, the IT team rapidly built a Microsoft-based server infrastructure capable of handling over 200 employees working remotely. Alongside this, they configured over 50 new laptops and set about training groups of employees on how to connect securely from home. The employees set off with their new kit and tested access from home, ensuring that within one week we had 50 per cent of our target employees ready to go.
In week one, we also commissioned security consultants to design and implement a remote working security model that ensured we did not expose our systems and data in any way. This not only secured our corporate devices but also enabled employees to securely connect their own devices to access CHP’s main business applications.
Alongside this, the business invoked our business continuity plan and set about planning how we would change a predominately office-bound team, culturally and procedurally, to a remote team in a very short timeframe. This was a massive undertaking but one that CHP’s leadership team fully embraced and delivered on. It was perhaps the best team-bonding exercise ever invented but this one was actually for real. Given that most of the planning was conducted remotely from people’s living rooms, kitchens and even bedrooms, the successful execution of this was even more remarkable.
Week two (16-22 March)
On Monday 16 March came the government directive for all people to work from home where possible. This meant our scenario testing had now become the new reality. Against the odds, we urgently acquired a further stock of laptops, given that national supplies were depleting rapidly. The same week we also repurposed a set of decommissioned laptops that were found in all sorts of cupboards and subsequently brought back to life. By the end of week two, one day before we had to close the office to protect our employees, our initial objective was completed. All devices were deployed and all employees were now working remotely within two weeks.
During this period our employees were fantastic. They accepted their new reality very quickly and were wonderfully supportive in adopting their new working practices. Who said that change management was difficult?
Overall, the employees were grateful that CHP put their safety at the top of the list, enabling them to work effectively from home, protecting both them and their families. By enabling this, we put CHP in a position to continue delivering services to our 10,000 customers, albeit with some restrictions in the interests of safety.
Week three (23-29 March)
This week brought the real test of all our hard work. We now had a business depending on a new, rapidly-deployed IT model and a completely new set of business operating procedures, and it worked! We had a few tweaks to make on IT server capacity and our operating processes, but otherwise it was very much ‘business as usual’, given the circumstances.
The new technical challenge became the rapid unbolting of mounted monitors and the deployment of these along with keyboards, mice and various cables to our employees’ homes to enrich their working environments. This was no longer a two-week business continuity event and a longer-term solution was now needed.
Week three saw the rapid deployment of Microsoft Teams for collaboration. We started training this in classroom sessions during weeks one and two, but a new challenge now existed – we had nobody left in the office to train. The obvious solution was to use Teams to train our employees after providing some basic instructions on how to join an event – problem solved! By the end of week three, most employees were set up and trained.
Week four onwards
Even in early April, the journey continued as we strove to continuously improve how we operated as a business in a new model. It seemed that each day brought with it a new need to help both our employees and customers. We rapidly adopted new development techniques to prototype and develop solutions to solve challenges, including:
- Developing new capture tools and dashboards to track employees’ current status;
- Bringing in new video technology to enable the remote diagnosis of repairs and to check in on our more vulnerable customers;
- Building apps to securely schedule and track contact with vulnerable residents to check in on them to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
By this stage, we could move away from daily planning meetings back into a relatively normal operating state. The new focus was now on how to operate more effectively in the longer term in an evolving business model, one that continues to bring unknown new challenges. The one thing that we do know is that we as a business are ready to take on any new challenge presented to us!
Our employees have all ‘stepped up to the plate’ and delivered in all areas. No task was too complicated, and we jointly delivered projects in days that would have taken months before the current crisis. We need to learn from this to enable us to operate in new and more creative ways in future, adopting the good practices that will undoubtedly develop further throughout this difficult period.
Michael Barber is the digital director at CHP.