Coronavirus: technology helps, but it’s people that make the biggest difference

A photo of a father working at home, on his laptop, being hugged by his son

There is no way to sugarcoat it. The coronavirus pandemic is the most disruptive global crisis in decades. It will change every industry, every business, every employee and most of all, every human being on this planet.

So, what can I, a CEO of a technology company, say in a blog about this?

My natural leaning is, of course, to talk about technology. In many ways, it is glueing the world together right now. It is helping a lot of people continue their work, keeping the wheels of business turning.

But really, it’s about much, much more than that. So, I’d like to talk about the thing that is at the heart of all technology: People.

Helping teachers teach, and students learn

The most significant effect of the pandemic that we’ve seen on the people we serve relates to education. We help some 4,000 schools and education establishments with their technology – and right now, among all the other support that this community needs and deserves, is technology that helps teachers to continue teaching.

It is no small undertaking to meet that most critical of challenges.

After all, our youngsters need their developing brains stimulated and nurtured. They need routine. And even with the best will in the world, their parents and families cannot do this alone.

At the same time, our teachers want desperately to teach. They want to give their students as much as stability and continuity with their education as possible.

I know this, because not only am I a parent myself but because AdEPT has worked with the education community for a long time. And so, I’m proud and honoured to say we’re playing our part. It’s where our own people have come to the fore.

For example, working with organisations such as the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) and Virgin Media Business, we’ve been able to massively strengthen Freedom2Roam. This service allows school staff to remotely connect to school servers from their own devices and locations. From there, staff can access essential files and information – such as lesson planning documents, marking assessments and management reports.

In the wake of the pandemic and school closures, we’ve seen such a huge demand for the Freedom2Roam service that we have made it a top priority, putting the best brains from our back-end infrastructure and our front-end UX and UI teams onto this service.

We’ve expedited our normal, ongoing work; boosted its capacity to meet the 1,047 per cent increase in demand we’ve seen; and introduced a browser-based interface to make the service easier and quicker to use. Because – perhaps more than ever – no teacher or education professional wants to spend time downloading, installing and figuring out new software.

Of course, Freedom2Roam is only one tool to help – and it’s no substitute for face-to-face classroom time – but it is helping teachers get on with their job. One of them recently described it as a ‘godsend’. It is a real privilege to hear such praise.

I should also say a big thank you here to our staff here for working with the experts at LGfL to help develop guidance for schools around safeguarding. Through this work, we’ve contributed to official government guidance available here, under the ‘Children and online safety away from school and college’ heading.

Helping community healthcare communicate

Another area of work we’ve been doing in response to the pandemic pertains to public healthcare. I wish I could say here how we have somehow swapped our engineers’ day jobs for making testing kits, personal protective equipment for our fantastic NHS, or ventilators for those suffering from coronavirus.

I can’t say this. We are not specialists in any of those things. But we do specialise in helping public health organisations use technology to communicate. It is a less obvious and less pivotal aspect of the response to the pandemic, but still an important one.

One example of this is a recent project by our Wakefield team who work with a local GP practice. Like all primary care organisations right now, the practice needed to tackle a seemingly-impossible, threefold, challenge: respond to a surge in calls from concerned patients, maintain everyday community healthcare, but at the same time protect staff from exposure to coronavirus. 

Among our considerations was the sense that if primary care organisations like this cannot continue working, then there would be even more pressure on our NHS. So, for this practice, our Wakefield team set up a cloud-hosted soft phone system meaning staff could use their own mobile phones to answer practice calls while working from home.

Through this phone system, patients still dial the same number and get the service they are familiar with – a reassuring kind of continuity that is especially important right now. From the practice’s viewpoint, calls are recorded in the usual way, the setup adheres to NHS technology and data protection rules – and most importantly, staff can protect their own health and in turn keep community healthcare running.

Again, I am immensely proud of our team to have helped this practice, because they have played their part in protecting the welfare of health professionals, and ultimately, the public.

Adapting to increasing and changing demand

Away from public sector organisations, we’ve seen an enormous increase in demand from commercial businesses and some fundamental changes in the nature of those demands. One indicator of this is the 85 per cent increase in calls to our general helpdesk.

One way we’re responding is to use our own remote access and diagnostic technology to resolve queries. But such tools are the tip of the iceberg: in truth, the real difference to our clients is our people. They have genuinely shone – working longer hours and doing things that are over and above their day jobs.

For example, we’ve moved staff who would ordinarily be working in sales – or visiting sites to install equipment – into helpdesk roles. Not only does this reflect our culture of rolling up sleeves and getting stuck in, but it is also a real testament to having a workforce with breadth and depth of technical knowledge.

We’ve seen clients requesting products and services for temporary periods. Under normal circumstances, we’d work to long-term contracts, but this is not the time for red tape. For instance, a customer asked for extra phone lines for a short period and we’ve pulled together to solve this unique challenge.

Another sign of the times is the rise we’ve seen in orders of laptops. And here’s where I must thank our suppliers – it’s because of them that we’ve been able to honour every order. And I must thank our customers too – particularly the one who requested toilet paper, paracetamol and a few G&Ts with his laptop order. We very much value this humility and humour during this difficult time.

Working together

There are other, additional steps we are taking in light of the pandemic.

At the risk of being pests, we’re overcommunicating with our clients. In many ways, because we help organisations in technology, we get to see those organisations’ inner workings. We’re seeing the challenges and the repercussions of the pandemic first hand, every day. So, that means when we reassure our clients and say ‘we understand, we’re in your corner’ and ‘we’re available to help’, we’re saying it because we genuinely empathise.

When it comes to our staff, we keep in mind that, as technology specialists, we’re classified by the government as key workers – rather like the fourth utility. So, we’re not going to do anything at all that compromises the health and safety of our workforce.

Of course, we’re doing all of this with the incredible help of our partners. These are businesses and organisations like the LGfL and Virgin Media Business, which are facing and meeting demands on them from left, right and centre. There’s Gamma, whose staff are doing a lot of fancy footwork to increase voice capacity for our clients. And there’s Avaya, which is doing brilliant work to support our clients in remote-access technology.

Protecting people

There is little I can say to mitigate the challenges we’re facing now and will continue to face. Right now, it’s all hands to the deck and we’re busy – and in some ways, working from home is a novelty. But there may be a point where loneliness kicks in. I say that from experience as a regular home worker. So, among my responsibilities is keeping company morale buoyant.

There are a million articles out there about best practices for working from home. So, I’ll only offer a few tips.

Be flexible and adaptable. Be prepared to get involved in activities that are generally not part of your job role. Of course, those tasks should not be an unreasonable diversion from your usual work, but adopting a can-do attitude helps your own self-preservation and the spirit of your colleagues.

Overcommunicate. As mentioned above, we’re already doing this with clients, but it’s equally important to do that with colleagues. Calling or messaging a teammate to share a joke might not feel as spontaneous or natural as banter across office desks, but it matters. It’s ok to laugh among all of this.

Maintain the regular cadence of business. I’m still having my regular Monday review meeting. And my Friday sales meeting. And I’m still meeting investors. Even if all those meetings are virtual and I’m getting tired of seeing my head on the screen.

Thank your teams. You really can’t thank colleagues enough at this time. I hope I’ve highlighted the fantastic work of my colleagues in this blog, but in case it isn’t clear: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of all, take the government instructions seriously and follow them to the letter. At the heart of all of this is our collective responsibility to save people’s lives. There is no other responsibility to take more seriously. After all, it’s people that matter before everything else.

Written by Phil Race

CEO - AdEPT Technology Group