How Managed Services Providers Have Managed Communications During the Pandemic


How Managed Services Providers Have Managed Communications During the Pandemic

By Special Guest
Stuart R. Crawford

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically affected today's workforce across industries. Businesses reliant on on-site work established significant safety protocols and procedures, while firms who could continue to operate with a fully or partially remote workforce helped their employees transition to work from home (WFH).

For many firms, moving to remote work was a significant shift. However, for managed service providers (MSPs) and other technology firms that already had a network environment conducive to such a shift, the transition did not present as much of a technical challenge as it did for other industries.

Shifting to Remote Work

Before the pandemic, "our staff were in the office unless there was an emergency," says Jorge Rojas, Partner at Tektonic Inc., And while the company increased its use of videoconferencing and messaging tools, they faced no real issues with implementation. "We were fully ready. And there were no additional costs for us [besides] new laptops for the techs to use at home."

Steadfast Solutions, whose staff were also primarily in-office pre-pandemic, also experienced a relatively easy transition from a cost and technical perspective. "Apart from bandwidth constraints for some remote users, the transition was pretty seamless," notes the firm's CEO Ian Brady. "There wasn't any extra investment. Most offices can adopt remote tools without increased monthly investment. It is purely driven by the company's direction and willingness to adopt changes."

While many firms plan to implement a permanent hybrid workforce model (or even continue fully remote operations), the transition has also presented a different, though no less important, set of challenges. Can the workforce adopt these tools effectively? Are firms able to use these tools to communicate internally and operate as efficiently as they did in person? And can these tools help them provide the same level or more service to clients?

For many MSPs, the answer to all three questions is yes. Matt Bullock, CEO of Accelera IT Solutions, even notes that while "our field support staff needed to get used to messaging with the Teams app versus standard texting to communicate issues, communication and service levels improved and helped the field team stay connected (even socially) to the office." MSPs were also able to leverage virtual client communications tools already in place like helpdesk ticketing systems like Zendesk, helped also helped Accelera IT Solutions service clients effectively.

Building on internal communications tools already in place helped firms like SemTech IT Solutions operate effectively. We had communicated through Microsoft Teams," says Nick Allo, SemTech's Director of IT. "Before, we were 100% in the office. During the pandemic, our only challenge was needing better webcams and not being able to see our clients in person when needed."

Palindrome Consulting, Inc. also relied on tools it had already deployed, with its CEO Ilan Sredni noting that "the utilization of Microsoft Teams for chatting and video calls has increased significantly.  Almost every meeting now includes remote workers who are participating via video." And while that has been the reality for millions of businesses, MSPs have seemingly not endured some of the WFH challenges other industries have faced.

Optimizing Online Communications

In some cases, employee adoption and use of these tools have also been seamless. Steadfast Solutions' Brady notes that their firm has not spent much time optimizing their internal and client online communication. And Tektonic's Rojas notes that while there is "not a set time" they spend doing so, "once we face a challenge, we try to find a solution for it."

By contrast, Accelera IT Solutions does dedicate time to optimizing online communications, as per Bullock. "We spend 30 minutes, twice each day, in online meetings to learn to be more effective with remote communication and determine how best to keep our clients happy when they, too, are remote much of the time." While some of this work is undoubtedly to address present demands, some of it may be forward-looking. Post-pandemic, the firm "will be implementing a hybrid worker environment with some of our staff working from home and one in a different state," Bullock says. "We will be implementing Microsoft Teams video conferencing for improved internal communications and interactions with clients who are not yet open to on-site visits."

This may be a wise approach. A recent study by research firm Gartner of service employees who've shifted to remote work found that not only do a majority of employees wish it to continue. The study noted challenges to organizational culture, collaboration, and career development that may arise as WFH continues. Dedicating time to optimizing online communications can help mitigate these risks. Further, it may be wise to devote time to ensure that other important work-life factors like remote worker career development are addressed.

Lessons Learned

Accelera IT Solutions is far from alone in pursuing a post-pandemic hybrid workforce model. And whether firms are doing so or not, the pandemic has been a wake-up call from a business continuity planning perspective. Firms without the appropriate IT infrastructure to support virtual work were left scrambling at the onset of the pandemic. Moreover, with the nation's vulnerabilities to natural disasters on full display since 2020, businesses must be ready to transition to remote work at a moment's notice. "I think every business should have full weight on [remote work readiness]," says Brady. "Businesses that can work remotely should have systems in place, not just a knee-jerk solution in the case something happens."

Does such planning necessitate significant additional investment? It may for firms outside of the tech industry, especially if firms have not purchased or deployed scalable video conferencing hardware and software applications. However, MSPs and other tech firms are unlikely to face technical challenges or additional investment costs shifting to a permanent hybrid work model.

Some firms are leveraging this experience to make some changes that may improve efficiency. Steadfast Solutions' Brady, for example, is considering leveraging using Teams as a phone system, while Tektonic's Rojas is looking for an SMS service that can be integrated into their existing PSA system. And Nick Allo at SemTech IT Solutions does not anticipate needing any additional tools at this time.

Inherently well-positioned to transition to WFH at the outset of the pandemic, MSPs nonetheless have had to make adjustments. However, as MSPs continue to operate using a hybrid model, they've been able to enjoy the same or greater levels of employee collaboration and client service provision, as well as improve their communications infrastructure, a trend also noted by MSP marketing research and advisory firm Ulistic. This bodes well for MSPs from a human resource and business continuity planning perspective, allowing workers to operate remotely and safely during the current crisis and in the event of future crises.

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