The path back to the office

As our leadership team planned for and rolled out our back-to-work initiative for more than 30 employees at NetCenergy LLC, we recognized we liked to be together in one office. But we wondered what the staff would say.

When the pandemic started, we knew that working from home would be seamless for our staff. As information technology professionals who spend time both in our office and in clients’ physical space, we had the skills and know-how to make that work. In fact, in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, we limited our in-the-office staff to only one person per day. While we all missed the live, real-time collaboration, our video tools and remote access helped us feel like we were together.

In the spring of this year, as signs of the pandemic-designated restrictions were lifting, we began the discussion about bringing employees back to the office. We believed communication was key. The leadership team met one on one and in person with each employee to assess their readiness to return to our workplace. Given three months of advance notice, could they arrange child care, commuting and other facets of daily in-office life? Did we need to offer a hybrid schedule?

We were thrilled with the consensus to return to our office, and we put a plan in motion to make that happen on July 6, discontinuing all work from home. (We were also heartened by our teams’ overall confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine.) That first day was marked by lots of COVID-safe elbow-bumping, a catered reception for our entire crew and a companywide meeting at our Cranston office.

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We put a plan in motion … discontinuing all work from home.

While some of us are resuming pre-pandemic office hours, other companies are still remote and/or moving to a hybrid model. Our pro tip for businesses in these situations is to ensure remote access to your IT systems are secure.

Basically, working remotely isn’t just about gaining access. It has to be secure access. As we saw in the headlines, when Colonial Pipeline was forced to connect its network to the internet for work-from-home employee access, their sloppy security protocols left the network open to attack and an eventual shutdown. It was a very expensive lesson.

Like many IT providers, we were busy at the start of the crisis securing remote access for our clients’ critical team members, first in a hybrid model … but that quickly escalated. As the pandemic worsened and appeared to be lasting longer than anyone expected, our clients increased the numbers of remote workers requiring additional support.

For our clients, most of whom we work with via a managed service contract which did not cover launching a remote workforce in fire-drill mode, we decided not to charge for this additional work. We felt we were all in this together; we needed to step up and help our clients leverage IT to solve their pandemic-created business challenges. Our employees rose to the challenge and got the job done.

Now, as we resume our face-to-face client meetings, it’s been interesting and informative to learn firsthand how our clients have survived this ordeal. We are happy to report no breaches or downtime or other crises in our family of clients.

Those of us in business understand two things: you are only as good as your team and don’t be afraid to go the extra mile for clients.

Your professionals on the front lines who personify your entire organization are key to your success. We know that demonstrating our heartfelt appreciation for our employees in our return-to-work approach aligns with our overall philosophy and results in a solid team with low turnover.

Our clients have expressed their immense gratitude for our unswerving support amid the fear and crisis of the pandemic. We are happy to be back to work – both to collaborate with our team and to support our clients. Now more than ever, we are all in this together.

Donald Nokes is the president and co-founder of NetCenergy LLC, an information technology support firm in Cranston.

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