How has work changed in response to Covid-19? We asked four kiwi companies
With global calls for social distancing amid Covid-19, businesses are under sudden pressure to enable effective remote working conditions.
What does COVID-19 mean at a pragmatic level for New Zealand businesses? We asked four cloud-based kiwi companies about any changes to BAU, as they consider how to best protect their employees, customers and operations now and in the future.
Microsoft Applications consultants, Walkerscott, global digital HealthTech provider, Aceso, creative technical and digital agency, Enlighten Designs, and financial sidekick for remote workers, HNRY, shared their thoughts on where it’s all at.
When cloud-companies evaluate whether they have the right remote-working capabilities in place, they are thinking about what this will mean for their staff, customers and wider business ecosystem. The companies we surveyed are looking outside – to government policy as well as recommendations around employee well being and health guidelines – and inside – with internal surveys and leadership planning intensives – to build that understanding.
“It’s good opportunity to test, and get an idea of where there are strengths, and where processes can be improved” – Dalibor Frtunik, Director, Aceso
For New Zealand cloud-based companies, with inter-regional or international clientele, the call for remote working appears more manageable than it has for other industries – but it has not been without its disruptions. Our survey showcases how companies will be at varying degrees of remote working, from all staff working from home for the foreseeable future in the case of Walkerscott, to all continuing work from the office as for HNRY’s small team. The companies report the majority shift of client and staff meetings to virtual, the need to rapidly ensure all that is needed is uploaded to the cloud, and the need to postpone or change event formats to virtual. They also report however, that being on the cloud allows for greater seamlessness in business continuity plan but also for experimentation with new approaches. As Nadia, Marketing Consultant with Enlighten Designs, explains “Most of us are set up already and realising the transition is actually pretty easy… It’s the new norm to work flexible anyway”.
What software are mission-critical to your current business operations?
“As a technology company, we’re no stranger to remote working” – Nadia, Marketing Consultant, Enlighten Designs
Across the board, these cloud-companies report it is virtual meeting capacity – with clients, customers and partners, and especially via Microsoft Teams – that is ensuring their continued business success. The structured collaboration enabled by Teams helped with business continuity, ensuring that projects weren’t being stopped. Nadia of Enlighten explains that, “We’ve got the capability with teams to be able to work remotely either at home or wherever we are, and capacity for internal team posts and notifications are key”. Aceso’s Director explains virtual meetings can be hosted in new and interesting ways such as touch-screen mark up, while also that a daily “sound-off system” was more essential.
Thinking about the role of virtual meetings in the wider business ecosystem, CEO of Walkerscott describes the value of Teams is expansive: “To allow seamless communication…vital to the success of our business at any time but even more so during these difficult times.” And speaking from outside of New Zealand, in their Australian office, Aceso’s Director, also explains that “Teams integrates well with the overall business ecosystem” – not to mention that ‘the meme flow has been great’.
Even though all interviewee companies are on the cloud, from Aceso’s viewpoint, “All of our products are on the cloud with Microsoft Azure – and we’ve found this is absolutely the best platform there is for this.” The ‘part-cloud part-desktop’ quality of Azure allowed Aceso’s software particularly enabled agile communication within Aceso’s software development team, even when out of office.”
The companies also agreed that, with the cloud, security is quite easily done. Mentioning security mechanisms such as two-factor authentication and encrypted documents, they explain these aspects are usually inbuilt to their business infrastructure and practice. Even in terms of virtual teamwork, Nadia of Enlighten Designs, points out that because Teams is deeply integrated within their business processes, her Microsoft-centric team are comfortable with any level of remote work – “Teams are the eyes and ears of the company as we all work from home”.
What does ongoing social distancing look like for your business?
“The question is, can we work totally remotely while still being a high-performing team? – James Fuller, CEO, HNRY
Also, key was being innovative about prioritising collaboration and efficient business processes as these Kiwi companies are thinking carefully about how to keep their networks on the same page.
For HNRY, there was further ambition on the cards to scale down ever further to light computing, as well as making onboarding virtual, while the Director of health heavyweight Aceso draws attention to the changed role of collaboration hubs – as he puts it, “there aren’t whiteboards in everyones’ houses, but I quickly realised the fun of using Microsoft Surfaces to draw diagrams in virtual meetings – it adds a whole new element”. And CEO of Walkerscott notes, “we’ve increased our normal one stand up meeting a week to two meetings to ensure that staff do not feel too isolated.”
One all-in virtual company is entirely confident that their business model will stay strong, but were more concerned about the impact on their customers. James Fuller, CEO of ‘financial sidekick to freelancers and contractors’ HNRY, explains that it is the “realness” as well as “immediacy” of cloud-interconnnectedness that underlies their effectiveness as a customer-facing technology: “As an intermediary function, ‘the virtual’ is key to empowering customers – when and how it suits them”. For HNRY, the government offering was critical but really brings the importance of their offering, informing customers about assistance with tax cut, to the fore, and that the need to get their messaging out is now more crucial than ever. “It’s really about creating a new habit,” Alan Hucks, Partnership Manager at HNRY, explains.
Has social distancing changed your overall business approach?
”We are fortunate being a cloud first technology company that our staff will be able to work as normal” – Paul Knox, CEO, Walkerscott
Kiwi businesses may be confident that business profitability would not be impacted in the future but there is the concern about future slowdowns should COVID-19 last many months longer. TO offset risks, these Kiwi companies are thinking about new strategies for deepening and broadening their business relationships. For Enlighten Designs, the challenge of COVID has pushed them to go deeper and broader in their relationships with current clients. Marketing Consultant at Enlighten Designs, Nadia, describes the need to “switch away from the ‘white pastures’ and focus on really looking after our partners wherever we can at this time”.
Aceso’s Director, Dalibor Frtunik, explains that while he’s optimistic that most businesses will survive, “We live in very connected societies – and there are major disruptions in areas such as flights and cargo that will ripple through”. Aceso’s Director explains how right now getting everyone to listen only to sensible news was especially challenging and that some companies are taking measures that are inadequate. Still, according to him, to deal with the changes, “The internet is the best tool we’ve got”.
The question of events appears to be the biggest current adjustment for these companies as they cancel, postpone or shift to virtual events that were up until recently part of their strategy. The companies also agree that clients have similarly been proactive in shutting out face–to–face encounters and interested in how tech innovation helps them do so.
Where does culture fit in?
‘It’s not enough to just avoid physical closeness’ – Nadia, Marketing Consultant, Enlighten Designs
Companies shouldn’t prioritise social distancing at the cost of all else, according to Enlighten Design. Marketing Consultant Nadia explains that social distancing is not just remote working and using Teams, or increased hand washing and no hugs, but its also about responding to the cultural needs and values of clients. She explains:
“Complete social distancing would actually disrespect the Maori culture but could be mediated with virtual video meetings – we saw this with a face-to-face with a Maori Iwi we had scheduled, and they were more comfortable with that and grateful that our technology was flexible enough to do it.”
This quickfire survey of four New Zealand companies shows that if you don’t already have a business continuity plan with cloud technology in place, you should make one – and fast. As other New Zealand companies similarly look to improve their business models amid the spread of COVID, the most innovative among them will likely see much opportunity on the cloud, to creatively respond to – and build upon – current systems and structures that are impacting how we understand BAU.
Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.
Enlighten Designs creates beautiful, user-friendly digital solutions. As an award-winning creative technical agency, our mission is to deliver digitally transformative experiences for customers ranging from small businesses to enterprise clients. Founded in 1998, Enlighten Designs is based on our passion to bring exceptionally designed, innovative and custom technology solutions from the shores of New Zealand to the world.
Aceso is a digital health technology provider with a mission to make health better for all.
Walkerscott is a Microsoft Dynamics business applications led consultancy who differentiate ourselves through our focus on analytics and reporting. A Microsoft Gold partner across multiple disciplines that deliver solutions across industries and business sizes from Forestry to Consumer goods to Government.