Businesses of all sizes around the world have had to adjust rapidly to the new reality caused by the global pandemic. And while many large enterprises have dedicated pandemic planning teams in place, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have had to adapt just as quickly, but often with far fewer resources. Forward planning has proven to be absolutely key in handling the sudden shift to remote working while maintaining productivity and a secure IT infrastructure.
“We decided to close the offices and send everyone to work at home. We made that decision on the Friday, and by Monday, we had everybody up and running at 8am”
One SMB that was well prepared for the dramatic shift in working patterns is direct marketing agency BNZSA*, which shifted its 170-strong workforce to full remote working over the space of a weekend. With offices in France, Spain and the UK, along with a BNZSA Academy in Morocco, the company works with major IT vendors and their partners to identify new opportunities to grow their pipeline or provide assistance to their key account managers. With around 50 clients to support, the company decided to switch to a remote working model as the pandemic started to get worse.
"After seeing the effect of the pandemic in Italy, we monitored the situation to understand the impact if other markets were to close," said BNZSA founder Brahim Samhoud. "This meant we had very good visibility on what kind of effort we would need in order to keep on providing leads and opportunities to our clients.
"As the situation got worse in Spain, we saw that the stress of travelling to work on public transport started to have a negative effect on employee morale and decided we would start allowing people to work from home. When the situation escalated the next week, we decided to close the offices and send everyone to work at home. We made that decision on the Friday, and by Monday, we had everybody up and running at 8am."
BNZSA, which started life as a data company seven years ago in Brahim's garage in France, had put a contingency plan for remote working in place in August 2019. This meant that it was well prepared for the sudden shift. The initial decision to offer the ability for remote working was intended as an employee perk, sparked by the company's people-centric approach.
As businesses rushed to buy new machines for home workers, BNZSA decided to rethink its approach to IT infrastructure and opted to invest in the Intel vPro® platform. A number of the platform’s key features, such as Intel® Active Management Technology, have helped support home working at BNZSA, as IT Director Alex Biet explains: "One of the challenges with working remotely, especially with this year's limitations on movement, is that it makes it difficult for us to intervene if there is a hardware issue. This is one of the reasons that we moved to the vPro platform. It allows us to take care of a machine even if that machine or operating system is not running."
The security features built into the vPro platform have also proven to be of paramount importance. "As well as remote management, the vPro platform's security features are particularly important for us because we work with large amounts of data from our clients and we need to be GDPR-compliant," said Brahim.
While employees were pleased about the move to home working and continued to be productive, the management team noticed a drop in morale as the effects of the global pandemic began to be felt in everyday life. As a result, they made use of their new robust infrastructure to run community events, such as hiring a chef for remote cooking lessons and creating a virtual 'happy hour'.
Clients reacted positively to the remote working structure as they saw the contingency plan working as promised. As a result, not a single hour of calling time was lost. And with so many other businesses working from home and physical industry events cancelled, BNZSA is able to act as the 'ears' of their clients in the market.
As restrictions ease, BNZSA will support staff working in the office again, but only in limited numbers so that they can observe social distancing measures. To manage this, the company has developed an online tool that enables employees to book a desk for the day. Once a slot is booked, the system selects the settings of that employee's computer and ensures the machine is all set up and ready for them to work when they arrive.
By focusing on the needs of the people that make up its workforce, combined with a sustained investment in tech, BNZSA has made it through a challenging time without losing a single hour's work. While proving that the working from home model can be successful, the pandemic has also highlighted the flaws of a permanent remote workforce, especially the lack of social interaction with colleagues. As a result, BNZSA is aiming for a hybrid approach in future, offering the best of both worlds. "We're not going to go back to doing 40 hours per week in the office, which is basically obsolete now," said Brahim.
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others