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Earlier this year, we released a Q&A article with our IT Manager Sean Bowker to discuss Room Alert, iBoot, Business Continuity Planning and where the AVTECH team started in terms of transitioning to working remote. With remote work continuing for many organizations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it would be helpful to have a follow-up conversation with Sean to see what new lessons we’ve learned from working remotely for the past several months and how we can internally improve as leaders in Business Continuity and Disaster Prevention Planning.
We have been so incredibly proud of our hard-working team for their dedication during this time of uncertainty. During these challenging times, our team has remained extremely productive by supporting our Room Alert users without any issues. We just launched the newest proactive environment monitor in our PRO line, the Room Alert 12S, as well as our first international sales office in Dubai and our Business Continuity Checklist to help organizations that may not have a documented and updated Business Continuity Plan. Also, we’ve learned a lot of valuable information about our own internal Business Continuity and Disaster Prevention Planning. Here are some helpful insights that hopefully you can apply to your own businesses, facilities and organizations.
Q: What lessons have you learned from this extended and unexpected period of remote working?
A: One helpful lesson that has come out of this time of working remote has been that I’ve become more familiar with remote assistance tools. It’s no secret that some people are more tech savvy than others and therefore are able to provide better descriptions of issues they might be observing. In the past, if someone within the company needed assistance, I would go down the hall, see what was going on with my own eyes, and take the necessary steps to resolve the issue. Now that the majority of our staff is working from home, I am not physically on-site to troubleshoot and problem-solve in person. To solve this issue, I’ve started using tools such as Microsoft’s Remote Assistance in order to connect to remote systems and help out. This, for me, is some of the most useful information I’ve learned while working remotely.
Q: Where have we made further adjustments or tweaked our original plans from the start of the pandemic?
A: Well, some of the servers that we use are setup to provide development and testing environments so that our engineers can develop new and updated products (firmware and software) as well as so our QA (Quality Assurance) staff can go through and test our Room Alert products. While we had setup VPN connections between team members’ home computers and the network at AVTECH headquarters, one thing we didn’t initially account for was allowing Room Alert devices that had been taken home to communicate with those servers. This is one instance where we had to tweak our original plan. While it wasn’t difficult to implement some configurations to allow for these remote devices to talk to the servers, it wasn’t something that we had initially planned to do.
Q: What worked and would you do the same way again? How were we prepared and proactive?
A: Based on who and what AVTECH Software is made up of, a significant portion of the team are the type of people who already had usable computers (those with up-to-date OS and plenty of horsepower), as well as those who had already been configured to work remotely for prior isolated events. That meant that because we internally are an extremely proactive and technology-based company, the infrastructure was already in place to handle unexpected or unforeseen circumstances. Because the entire company had to set up for remote working, this time we needed to extend out for those users who had not already been set up to work from home. While this did take some time and effort, it was thankfully nothing that interrupted our workflow as usual or ability to service and support our Room Alert customers. I am proud to say that we were overall very prepared to unexpectedly transition to a remote workforce.
Q: What didn’t work and you’d do differently moving forward? Did we miss anything in terms of Business Continuity Planning?
A: There’s always room for improvement, isn’t there? One thing that we identified is that some users were attempting to use computers that were not up to par. They were able to connect and access what they needed to, but either the operating system was no longer supported or the system resources, or lack thereof, were preventing the user from being as productive as they’d expect to be. We’re in the process of procuring new laptops that can be used either by staff at home or at headquarters.
Q: How did we plan for warmer months (with our fresh air cooling and AC management)?
A: When AVTECH moved into Cutler Mill in Warren, RI, we worked with one of our partners to install a fresh air cooling system in our server room. The system pipes in cool air from the crawl space below the building, and allows our servers to run without the use of an air conditioner for all but up to a few weeks in the summer. Last summer the AC ran for less than 1 week. So far this summer, as of the time of this interview, it hasn’t turned on once.
If by chance anything happened and the server room began to heat up, we have a few Room Alert monitors installed that would detect the change in temperature. Through our account at RoomAlert.com, myself and a few others would be immediately notified. Additionally, an installation of Room Alert’s local management and reporting software would begin shutting down servers before any damage might occur.
Even without a specific overheating event, the reports in Room Alert Account allow me to keep an eye on temperature trends to help predict when we may need the AC and whether temperatures are generally trending up or down. The information in the reports will be especially useful during summer heatwaves. Being able to view reports and receive alerts from Room Alert Account allows us to work from home without having to worry about the servers overheating unexpectedly in the summer months.
Q: Any other thoughts concerning how AVTECH has changed due to the pandemic the last few months?
A: Aside from a few staff members who continue to work at the office because of the type of work they do, I believe that most of the company has been able to adjust to working remotely without any issues or major concerns. Once it is safe for our employees to return to work as usual, while I would expect that everyone would be at the office on a regular basis, I would also expect that we’d have people working from home somewhat more frequently than prior to the pandemic. Because we’ve overall made such a smooth transition, and because we’ve remained equally as productive as working on-site, the ability to work from home to an extent is a feasible and realistic option for some. For certain employees, this may manifest into once a month, once a week, or something different depending on their specific circumstances. Because we’re now all familiar and comfortable with working remotely, this new option allows for flexibility as well as having everyone remain comfortable and confident with working from home in case something else happens down the road. As a team, we are now much more resilient as a result.
We hope you find this Q&A helpful and has given you a few ideas on how you can enhance your own environment monitoring and business continuity planning with Room Alert from AVTECH.
Sean was also instrumental in helping to compile our Business Continuity Checklist. Not sure where to start with Business Continuity planning for your own organization? Please download our FREE Business Continuity Checklist.