In our latest blog, Pre Sales Lead Andy Hughes reflects on his time working from home, and his time with EQ over the years.
Home working has become something of a hot topic since March 2020. The sudden and unexpected arrival of Covid-19 has forced many workers unto ‘Furlough’, whilst many more have found themselves sitting around the kitchen table with a laptop trying to balance a working day with home schooling!
Without a doubt it’s been a challenging time for businesses and workers across many different sectors. However, I can’t help but wonder and speculate on how much worse it would be for businesses if the same thing had happened ten or even 5 years ago.
Just over 15 years ago, I joined EQ ICS as a Software Developer. This was a role that primarily required me to develop software using Microsoft Visual Studio, on a desktop PC, in the offices of EQ ICS. There was no concept of home working when I joined. At home, I was ‘enjoying’ working on my first house with my then wife of 1 year. After around 5 years or so, the first signs of potential remote working started to appear. The ‘VPN’ client. This was a little piece of software which I installed on my own home PC. It allowed me to enter in credentials known only by me, and then remote desktop to my work PC.
My role at this point was one of a Senior Developer. I was broadly doing the same type of work, meaning I could work at home occasionally. It certainly wasn’t regular, but the option was there when home life required it. It felt like a real benefit. Fast forward another 5 years and my role had changed again. By now I was a Solutions Architect. Carrying out much less in the way of development and more research, bid response and design activities. The role itself lent itself to some degree of home working, but also meant more travel and client visits. With that, came a laptop. This was encrypted and meant that I could carry out the majority of my work from any location with an internet connection. The ‘VPN’ was still in existence, to let me connect to the company network. I’d then be able to get email and documents from the network.
June 2020. Today, things are different on a whole new level. House number 3, sixteen years married, 2 primary school aged children, 2 goldfish, 1 cat and 1 dog. That sort of different. ‘Work/Life balance’ is a term that now deeply resonates. Now a day in my remote working life, looks like this;
I’m getting up later, we all are. I think it’s a symptom of having no schools on and my wife being at home as well. It’s taken a full two months, but I’ve slipped from 6.15am starts to 8.00am starts! But that’s ok, because time has been somewhat irrelevant over the previous weeks. Saturdays and Sundays tend to blur and muck in with the rest of the week, no longer distinguishing themselves. After breakfast, I’ll power up the laptop, no need to connect the VPN anymore. As soon as I logon, I’ve all my emails. My documents all appear ‘locally’ on my PC and I can see who is online in Skype or Microsoft Teams. I’ll usually start by working through any mails I’ve flagged for follow-up or that need addressed urgently, but before 9.30 I’ll be on a call. Calls are both simple and important now. My headset is connected to the laptop and sits on my head all day. Nobody really ‘messages’ anyone anymore, its quicker just to click on their name and call them. I can see and talk to any of my colleagues at any time this way, we’ll usually have some banter. A catch-up on what’s happening in lockdown, before moving to work matters. It’s massively important to keep the human element there… to retain friendships and not become detached robots when working in this manner.
For formal meetings, or client meetings, I’ll typically jump into a Microsoft Teams session. This allows me to view everyone on the call (kitchen table or not) as well as share presentations or documents with the group. I can honestly say, that in these scenarios in particular, the meetings work as efficiently, if not more so, than face to face office based meetings. We’re all looking at the same document, in the same place, at the same time on screen. It’s much easier to ensure that we’re all basing our conversations on the same information!
I no longer do any software development, as my role is now as a Pre-Sales technical lead. This does however mean, that I tend to write a lot of bid responses or documents (like this article!). The concept of ‘logging in’ to the company network and finding documents has more or less gone! Now, all the documents I’m editing locally are stored in OneDrive. But to you and me, it just looks like they are in a ‘My Documents’ folder. It’s that simple. I share them with colleagues by clicking on ‘Share’ on the top of the document, which sends them a link, rather than using attachments to emails. Those colleagues in turn can view and edit the same version of the document that I’m working on. I can view who is working on the document at the same time as me, see where they are making changes or sync the changes between us by saving the document.
If the document needs to be retained in a corporate area, then I simple open up our corporate SharePoint and save it in the relevant library. This in turn, provides opportunity for the retention and disposal of the corporate documents to be managed via corporate retention policies which are automated via SharePoint or Office365 based retention processes.
One of the biggest changes that I see day to day, is how the access to my emails and documents is automatically managed without me really noticing. SharePoint is enforcing user and group security, meaning I’m only seeing the documents and libraries I need to as part of my job. Others in the company are working in different libraries unbeknown to me. By using the ‘Share’ option, I can provide read only access to other internal users if required. What I can’t do is interesting though. I can’t;
- Print to a home printer
- Use a USB stick
- Access personal email.
At first, this may seem somewhat restrictive, but in reality it’s just enforcing good, common sense information security practices. I tend to work digitally at any rate, so printed documents at home wouldn’t provide me any real benefit. I share documents via links to colleagues and clients as required, so don’t need to physically take them off the device. I do miss access to my personal email, but that’s just for handiness sake. I also recognise that by preventing access, it stops corporate documents being taken out of control of the organisation!
Aside from working across various documentation sets and collaborating with colleagues, I’ll often listen to our weekly update from Guy Wakeley, the Equiniti MD. This is broadcast via a Microsoft Azure based solution, LIVE to over 5000 employees. We can all ask Guy questions, and vote on which ones we’d like him to answer. I can confidently say, that during remote working I now know more about what Equiniti is doing across the board than I ever had previously. It’s like we all had to be driven apart in order to come closer together as a corporate entity, as corny as it sounds!
But this last point, exemplifies the Equiniti approach of embracing, encouraging and supporting the remote worker. Today, the office I work in remains shut. All workers in all roles are working remotely via the mechanisms I’ve described. 15 years ago, what would have happened? It’s kind of frightening to contemplate. I’m not convinced I would even have a job by this point. The technology to enable efficient home working simply wasn’t there. It’s a remarkable change in a remarkably short period of time. One that I’m delighted to see and experience in my lifetime.
I’ll finish up by saying that I’m looking forward to my future years in EQ. All the signs are that remote working will become an even more integral part to the business going forward. The Silver Lining for business in these times of Covid-19, could well be the rapid acceleration in a distributed workforce, cutting costs across physical office locations whilst retaining efficiency and most importantly of all a content and happy workforce.