On being an MSP during the coronavirus pandemic

These last few weeks have been difficult for IT professionals. They’ve been full of long hours helping users get set up to work from home. I own an MSP, and during the coronavirus crisis, my staff has been working 14-hour days, seven days a week to get all of the workers we support back to work and our clients’ businesses back on their feet. We’re in a stay-at-home order and so are all of our clients.

My staff has always worked from home. Not 100 percent from home like they are doing right now, but about 70 percent from their home office and 30 percent from our clients’ offices. Shifting to 100 percent remote was just a matter of not getting in the car. We shifted to 100 percent remote-only work two weeks before the stay-safe-at-home order was given by our governor. Seeing the writing on the wall, we also encouraged our clients to prepare for remote work too, but few did. So, when the order came to stay home the avalanche of work hit us.

It’s been very stressful on my staff. Not just because of the long hours but more so because of the monotony of the work in combination with the stress of the urgency of getting it done.

Strike one

working from home

Typically, we don’t work with home computers. But now we’re having to deal with slow, junked-up often very old and out-of-date computers. We spent hours updating a single decade-old Mac to get it to the point where it was capable of using today’s remote access software. That just makes our job that much harder and the work experience for the client’s employee unsatisfying.

Some of our clients have resorted to making an emergency purchase of laptop computers for employees to use at home. Others have allowed staff to take the work computer home. Most often it’s because the employee doesn’t even have a lousy computer at home. They have no computer at all. It’s nearly unimaginable for us as IT professionals to understand. But many people simply have content consumption devices like phones or tablets or reading devices. While that may be fine for adults, it really is a problem for children in these households as our education system is unable to provide learning because of equality laws.

We pride ourselves in helping make businesses great. It’s in our motto in fact: IT exists only to make a business great. We have many services that focus on this exclusively including, proactive security and updating, end-user training, modernizing business processes and more. We find this situation depressing.

Strike two

msp coronavirus
Flickr / Elijah van der Giessen

Our success in providing value to our clients’ businesses in this time of remote work is, however, not only being hampered by these old computers but we’ve also found, much to our surprise, that some people don’t have Internet at home. Either they live in the sticks where the Internet is not available or sometimes, they’ve made the lifestyle choice not to have the Internet in their home. In both cases, the people in these situations think that their cellphone Internet service should be sufficient. It isn’t.

That’s two strikes against business productivity.

Cellular service is not capable of sustaining remote computer connections for extended periods. The bandwidth available does not compare to broadband internet services. Sure, it can be used in a pinch and often I do while traveling, but it cannot be used as a work-equivalent service.

Strike three

While many businesses have moved significantly into the cloud and are using SAAS apps, just as many have not. The use of SAAS apps and online data storage reduces dependence on home computers and remote access solutions. It also often makes work more asynchronous, accounting for what that home Internet is so slow.

Businesses that have moved into the cloud aggressively have a huge advantage during this crisis. Their people are much more likely to be able to work productively from home, even if they haven’t done so before. Highly productive people come to us to help them be more productive. Low productivity people to us with questions about how to get their VPN working, again and again again.

Strike four

Speaking of working from home, many businesses do not have a work-from-home policy that defines what makes up an acceptable home office nor have they adopted modern ways of measuring work productivity. In the office, everyone knows who the slacker is and eventually that lack of productivity results in a pink slip. But many management styles are based on a feeling that is later backed up by empirical numbers to substantiate it. Managers that haven’t moved to modern ways of measuring productivity are now floundering.

This is also true for many MSPs. There is a set of IT service businesses out there that keep their staff separated from clients. They force all communication through the business phone system, rotate technical staff so clients don’t get attached to a person, and otherwise work to make sure that their clients are kept at arms-length from their support.

I’ve never been a fan of this management style and I fear that those businesses will now struggle to maintain the service level that their clients will now demand. All business is personal and while in good times some look just to call a random person to fix the thing, in bad times, like during the coronavirus crisis, they are looking for confidence, calm, and leadership from their MSP. That’s difficult to provide from an arm’s length away.

It can be very depressing to see your clients struggle when you know that there are better solutions available, if only they had listened and taken action to “get modern.” It just adds to the stress level. We really want to provide our clients with a secure, resilient, flexible, and modern work environment. Not for our own gain but so we can watch their business soar! That’s our goal. That is why IT exists and that is why we work these long hours.

How do we move forward from here?

Microsoft Teams

We can provide continued support for migrations. Enabling the adoption of cloud technology beyond online meetings will be critical. Today, I’m offering Microsoft Teams training for users. It won’t be about meetings, but instead, it’s going to be about using Teams to replace all internal communication, using Office apps instead of remoting into the office, storing files, keeping private data private, and more things that they may not have thought of yet.

The goal will be to provide the vision of what is possible. Now that they are working from home perhaps more will be open the change. We have to provide that guiding hand and realize that our clients are not in the same frame of mind that they’ve always been. They will be closed to some things that may have seemed feasible and they will be open to things that we don’t expect. We need to approach them with solid recommendations that provide an immediate return on investment because cash flow is going to be a problem for them for the foreseeable future.

There certainly is a lot to gain from migrating to the cloud right now. Businesses suffering from low productivity can blame the virus, blame IT, blame the lack of many things, or decide to make the right decision and enable their workers to maximize their productivity.

When you take an established business and throw an instant 100 percent mobile workforce at it, without any advanced planning, everything changes.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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