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If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s just how critical technology has become both for ourselves and our customers. Being a technology company certainly had its benefits during COVID-19, as most of our work was already performed remotely, and the tools and systems for a remote workforce were already in place before the lockdown. But that was not the case for many of our customers, and indeed many companies across Australia.

Every business will be changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. So as we start to slowly return to work from our offices again, we wanted to share what we’ve learned through this challenging period.

01. Demand for services can spike very quickly

Migrating a single customer’s entire workforce to a ‘work from home’ environment has historically taken weeks of planning and a carefully staged program of works to implement. At the onset of COVID-19 we had over 100 clients needing to transition within 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, from a service desk perspective, we had years’ worth of historical data around ticket volumes, and a very comprehensive capacity planning model. We thought we had seen it all.

In March, with almost zero warning, our service tickets increased by 50% for 5 consecutive weeks.

Previously when demand has spiked in project delivery or on the service desk, we ‘borrow’ resources from the other team. But in this instance, both teams were stretched to capacity.

On reflection there were two things that really helped us get through this. Firstly, a committed, passionate team of technical people across both support and projects. Secondly, clear and frequent communication, both internally and externally. A lot of people worked a lot of overtime in March, but it did show us what is possible when everyone works together, and in some ways it has forced us to rethink our capacity model moving forward

02. Increased demand need not result in poor customer satisfaction

There is no doubt that our service levels dropped during the month of March due to the greatly increased ticket volume. Surprisingly though, our client satisfaction (CSAT) remained the same.

While we were able to implement some contingency plans around service continuity, like introducing an IVR to manage the call volume, and our ticket closure time was 20% faster, we do not believe this alone resulted in high CSAT scores.

Over that period we had a dedicated team looking at every client touchpoint across the business to ensure service continuity was maintained.

CSAT scores during COVID-19

We also stayed in constant contact with clients through our Technical Account Managers and the Transitions team, and our CEO sent out regular communication.

Internally we increased the frequency of our meetings and huddles to make sure we were across everything as the situation unfolded, and that information was getting to the right people in real-time. It appears that this increased communication was the key to success.

We were also very fortunate that our clients supported us through this period by understanding our unusual workload, and adjusting their expectations accordingly.

03. Most people do not want to return to the office full time

When we recently surveyed our staff about what their ideal work environment would be, more than half indicated that they would prefer a hybrid set up, with a fixed number of days in the office and the balance working from home. A further 15% indicated that they would like to work from home full time. As a company that has invested heavily in building a strong culture, it is an uncomfortable statistic, but the message is very clear.

As a result, now that some states are starting to return to the office, we are actively testing how we can best work in the hybrid world, and the initial results are encouraging. Not only from a staff happiness perspective but also in terms of economics. While the prospect of reduced rental costs and increased attendance is appealing, the hybrid model is also the most complex.

04. A hybrid work from home model takes careful planning

While the transition to working from home came very quickly for most organisations, providing very little time to prepare, the same cannot be said with returning to the office. Here are some of the things to consider based on our initial experience:

  • Devices: Do you need to invest more in mobile work devices like laptops?  When at home do staff have a dock, monitors, keyboard, and a mouse to connect to their laptop, and if not who pays for those?
  • Video: Using video conferencing services like Zoom, WebEx or Teams for staff working remotely is relatively simple because everyone is remote.  In a hybrid environment, your setup will need to properly integrate meeting rooms with staff that are working remotely. Which means that all staff need webcams at their desk to be able to video call those working from home.
  • Collaboration: Proper use of collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams can simplify working from anywhere.  A lot of organisations have dived into using Teams without much thought to controls like structure and permissions. Many soon discover that finding where documents have been saved becomes an issue.  To use these tools effectively, you need to invest the right time and effort into configuration and staff training.
  • Mobile Staff: It’s important to also consider your mobile staff that aren’t usually as desk-bound (e.g. sales staff or field technicians).  How can they use the same tools from their devices when away from home or the office?

05. Fairness is always the best approach

Almost everyone has been negatively affected in some way by COVID-19. While we are indebted to both the federal and state governments for their stimulus packages, most companies will have had conversations with their suppliers about ways to reduce costs.

At First Focus, one of our core values is ‘strive to be fair’, so we have been in constant contact with our clients around how COVID-19 has affected them, and how we can support them better. For some clients this has meant suspending or even cancelling some optional services like scheduled site visits. But for those that have had to let people go, there was no fee negotiation necessary as our fee structure automatically scales down based on headcount.

Including a mechanism in our fee structure that allows clients to scale down has provided valuable relief to clients that really needed it, and it has allowed us to protect revenue by retaining our clients.

The impact of COVID-19 will long outlive the pandemic itself. It has challenged business models, altered work practices, and re-defined the balance between home and work life for many individuals. Every business will need to draw their own lessons from the crisis about what worked well, what needs to change, and what technology is needed as we adapt to the new normal. 

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