The Coronavirus COVID-19 has already affected millions of people and although there is still a high degree of uncertainty with regards to how it will continue to evolve it will no doubt continue to have a major effect, not only from a humanitarian viewpoint, but on global economies and on all types of businesses.
One of the things all companies should be prepared for is potential widespread travel bans and/or self isolation of employees. This may hurt many startups more than most as startups, by their very nature, tend to have less resilience in their staffing so business continuity can quickly become a problem.
Here at Storage Made Easy, we have operated a distributed global team, many of whom work from home, for several years. In addition to this one of the strategies we adopted to run our business was ‘Communicate don’t Commute’.
I would love to be able to lay claim to the phraseology and ethos behind this statement but it is actually fairly old being coined by Arthur C Clarke back in the 1960’s:
“It has been obvious for a very long time that such audiovisual devices could complete the revolution started by the telephone. We are already approaching the point when it will be feasible — not necessarily desirable — for those engaged in what is quaintly called “white-collar” jobs to do perhaps 95 per cent of their work without leaving home. Of course, few of today’s families could survive this, but for the moment let’s confine ourselves to electronic, not social, technology.
Many years ago I coined the slogan: “Don’t commute — communicate!” Apart from the savings in travel time there would be astronomical economies in power and raw materials. Compare the amount of hardware in communications systems, as opposed to railroads, highways and airlines. And the number of kilowatt hours you expend on the shortest journey would power several lifetimes of chatter, between the remotest ends of the earth.”Arthur C. Clarke May 1977 issue of Creative Computing
Clarke’s message was focused, even back then, on being climate friendly, something very applicable in today’s climate challenged environment, but at Storage Made Easy I used that message as a means to dictate the ethos behind how we wanted to build our company.
We would, as far as possible, conduct the sales process not by jumping on a plane or a train but by using a combination of phone, Slack, Skype, GoTomeeting etc. Why ? Because as a startup we could interact with more prospects and service more customers this way. When jumping on a plane or a train a person could maybe do 1 to 2 meetings in a day whereas at home / in an office +10x this number could be achieved.
Similarly we optimised our Application and Services so that all trials, proof of concept, deployments, support etc could be conducted / deployed / maintained remotely.
The most satisfying vindication of this for me was when we closed a contract with a large American Telco in which the sponsor said to me, “its pretty amazing that the storage vendor is just down the road and when I get in touch with them it can take them several hours to respond and you guys are nowhere near local to us and yet your team get’s back to me within the hour.” – locality and being there in person has little to do with responsiveness and service.
This is not to say we don’t have an office, of course we do, but even there we have some staff who sometimes work from home and are sometimes in the office. Of course it helps that the Enterprise File Fabric software that we build and sell facilitates remote working so we ‘eat our own dogfood’ from that viewpoint.
Remote working does of course have its challenges, lack of human interaction being one of them, so its key to use the communication tools available to you to keep in touch with co-workers, have regular scheduled touchpoints, in addition to scheduled Head Office visits, corporate events etc.
In truth I had never really thought about the ethos of how we setup our business in ‘business continuity planning’ terms but sitting here thinking about how we would optimize our business to cope with the potential CoronaVirus disruption I realise that a lot of what we need is already endemic in the way we run our business.
With the duality of the Coronavirus and global warming never has Arthur C Clarke’s slogan has more resonance than it does now.