Dmytro Osyka, Head of Information and Digital Technology. Head of MODUS Digital Transformation Program, DTEK
The spread of the COVID-19 virus and introduction of quarantine in Ukraine are the reasons why employees across majority of companies shifted towards remote working. For some, this transition presented no difficulty, however, when speaking about large businesses with tens of thousands of employees, this task becomes a serious test for IT departments. Based on the specific characteristics of our enterprises, DTEK employees have either been placed on adapted work schedules or asked to work in isolation. Most of the administrative personnel, office workers, and customer service centres have shifted to distance working.
How did we handle this challenge at DTEK? A few key conclusions are presented below.
CONCLUSION 1: DETERMINE WHO CAN MANAGE WORKING FROM HOME
When mapping out the remote mode of operation, we took into account the company’s business processes. First, we determined a list of critical employees for each process to ensure the continuity of operations. We worked primarily with these people. As soon as we provided them with an opportunity to work, we moved on to the next phase. It’s not possible to transfer all at once, but with a strategic approach and prioritization, the entire process of organizing work under quarantine can be implemented relatively quickly and efficiently.
If speaking about a large manufacturing company, not all employees are able to work from home. When it comes to DTEK, the remote business of many other Ukrainian companies depends on the continuous operation of our enterprises: if there is no electricity, there is no light, heat, often Internet connection, access to “clouds”, etc.
In order to ensure stable operation of the country’s energy system, DTEK Energo transferred its thermal power plants to an isolated mode of operation, meaning that part of the production personnel essential for ensuring continuous production of electricity now work in strict isolation. This also means that they temporarily live at stations
CONCLUSION 2: CHECK THE READINESS FOR WORKING FROM HOME
Next, it is important to check the readiness for working from home. This includes testing the necessary equipment (the necessary hardware), namely PCs and laptops, availability and installation of all necessary services and software, and access to the necessary storage. Since all meetings and negotiations have transformed into online calls and online conferences, it is important to check the availability of a PC or laptop compatible headset (headphones with mics).
However, the most important task is to make sure that a high-quality Internet connection is available or can be quickly arranged. It was one of our key focuses. When an employee works online from home, then, most likely his/her spouse, as well as a child studying online, are also using the Internet. And this is happening all over the country. This generates a huge load on the communication services providers, data centres, and cloud services
CONCLUSION 3: IT SUPPORT WHILE WORKING FROM HOME
After checking the technical details, one needs to deal with remote administration. We must be prepared for the fact that not all employees are able to cope with the installation and configuration of some programs, for example, sharing the screen, making an appointment via Skype, etc. We will have to assist them and do it remotely
What are the steps taken by our IT service? As soon as we realized that working from home could become a reality, we developed a fairly simple, but extended step-by-step instruction for using the basic services remotely and sent it out to our employees: how to connect to the Internet, backup means of connection (i.e. mobile phone), how to connect a laptop to the internet at home, how to use services like Skype or SAP, etc. This allowed us to buy some time and reduce the potential critical load on our contact centres in the early days of remote work.
However, despite being prepared, the number of requests submitted to the IT team has significantly increased. In recent weeks, the number has doubled. There are days when the number of daily requests exceeds 2 500. In order to respond promptly to these requests, our IT service is building up its capacity and adjusting its work schedule.
CONCLUSION 4: ADAPTATION AND COMMUNICATION
Under the present circumstances, the human factor, collective and individual responsibility and adaptation play a vital role. People are different and everyone has different skills. Some have experience of working from home, and to some people, it is the first time. It is important to make lists of anchor employees and distribute them to the teams: whom to contact and on which matters. When working “home alone”, clear instructions and contacts will save a great deal of time, or, to put it better, won’t waste it.
As part of remote work, one has to conduct training, familiarize employees with the principles, provide them with information on the key issues, warn them about potential work, and share some lifehacks. Our IT team regularly makes FAQ-mailouts to employees, answering the most-oft asked questions, sharing instructions on settings, and reporting on potential engineering operations on the servers. This already helps reduce the number of requests for IT support.
CONCLUSION 5: GET FEEDBACK FROM EMPLOYEES
One can think out everything, but miss the obvious. Therefore, it is important to regularly collect feedback from employees working from home. One phone call can save time otherwise spent on the request, its processing and solving the problem. At DTEK, calling employees is a common practice, as well as asking about problems they face, whether everything works well, and whether there are any issues. We’re not waiting around for them to turn to us with an already existing problem; we get ahead of the curve and try to clarify everything in advance.
The important part is also to configure service monitoring. We have a round-the-clock dispatch centre monitoring the status of all IT services. That is, we always know what works and how. Plus, there are hourly reports on the “health” of IT remote work services. That is to view real time current load, to understand which and to what extent channels, servers and key information systems are loaded during this period of time.
Remote work is also a test run for the technical capabilities and preparedness of the company teams and specialists for extreme conditions. Under these circumstances, one needs to be patient and go through these difficult times gracefully. The quarantine will be left behind; however, the enormous and unique experience gained under difficult circumstances will remain.