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How 4D Data Centres is supporting staff through the 2020 pandemic

14 April 2020

Given that there’s not been a pandemic of this size since the 1918 Spanish flu, no-one was truly ready for the speed and scale of the Covid-19 outbreak. The challenges this posed businesses, therefore, were significant. However, for companies whose job it is to manage risk, Pandemic Response Plans (PRP) were dusted off and put into action.

Supporting Data Centre Staff through Lockdown

We’ve put a significant effort into maintaining and adjusting our business operations, however it’s been just as important to support our staff throughout the lockdown period.  Here’s how we successfully transitioned to 90% remote working and what we’ve done to help keep our staff motivated, reassured and supported during the Covid-19 outbreak:

Becoming a remote working company almost overnight

By virtue of the business critical role we play, the data centre sector preoccupies itself with challenges of this nature. Like the internet itself, we are designed to be suitably flexible in the face of rapidly changing circumstances and the pandemic outbreak was no different.

Even before the UK government mandated remote working for everyone where possible, 4D had already completed (weeks beforehand) a trial-run of sending everyone home at short notice. Not everything went 100% to plan – but that’s why we test – and the fact we did it decisively meant we were able to fix all of the issues we encountered.

[The details of our tests: Is your system ready for mass working from home?]

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the majority of our technical engineers had no issues whatsoever working from home. But for non-technical staff, we had to make some quick fixes. This included making some tweaks to the firewall rules so all applications could continue to run whilst logged into the company VPN. Some members of staff required faster PCs for the type of work they were doing at home, so some new laptops were also bought, configured and tested in time.

When the scale of the crisis became apparent, we were one of the first in our sector to start tweaking customer engagement policies and we were early adopters of internal social distancing, or ‘social segregation’ as we called it in the early days. We also brought in strict hygiene policies throughout all our facilities and even went so far as to replace our ‘push to exit’ door buttons with contactless infrared sensors.

When the government finally decided to instruct all non-key workers to work from home, we were already more than 80% of the way there, so completing the remaining 20% overnight was relatively simple.  One member of staff commented internally:

“I feel very proud that 4D acted so quickly to keep us all safe. Installing hands-free door releases, hand sanitizers on loads of workstations, restricting client access and a test afternoon working from home are all little things that made us feel safe and valued.”

Just keep us in the loop

Aside from making sure everyone had the right tools on the technical side of things, the most challenging aspect of managing all that change as we transitioned to remote working turned out to be clear communications and reassurance.

We made it very clear that everyone was going to be allowed significant flexibility, particularly those who had vulnerable family members to look after and (with the closure of the schools) children to educate and entertain.

When communicating be frank and honest with your staff – if you need to change what you’ve said because there’s been an update or you’ve made mistakes, own them and learn from them. Also, make the communications clear but don’t worry about making it too polished – done is better than perfect and your employees will understand that there isn’t time to get comms 100% right.

The importance of keeping your employees informed

Before the lockdown, we held monthly all-staff meetings, but we’ve raised the frequency of these to make sure the whole company is well informed (it helps that these can now be organised with relatively short notice since people’s calendars aren’t as full as they used to be). Understandably, a lot of people are concerned right now about the potential for redundancy or furlough, and these all-staff meetings go a long way to provide comfort in these uncertain times. A member of staff said:

“Jack and our board took early decisive action with a plan that was constantly updating, whilst keeping us all informed, engaged and safe.”

Thankfully, we are as close as anyone can be to business-as-usual, but if the situation changes, everyone will be kept up to date. We don’t want any of our staff worrying about the financial situation, so we encourage them to come and talk to the senior team if they have concerns, and we’ve promised them that our updates will make sure no one is ever surprised by any big changes.

[Read the details of our covid-19 response plan]

What’s the best way for the company to keep in touch?

The same as how our all-staff meetings have been increased, there has been a company-wide increase in the amount of meetings being held, now all done safely online. People are regularly catching up with the rest of their team, and different departments that work together have regular meetings scheduled. For example: the sales and marketing teams now have twice-a-week meetings so that everyone is on the same page.

But you cannot ignore the social side of office meetings, and how it’s been disrupted by everyone now being the other side of a screen. To try and bridge the gap between everyone’s desks, we have organised several different activities.

The daily 10am Cuppa Club, is an opportunity – for anyone who wants to – to take a break and chat about non-work related subjects. It’s a great way to start the day, and helps anyone who otherwise won’t have spoken to anyone that morning.

“The daily cuppa club is a great, and much needed, chitchat with our colleagues that lifts my spirits every time I attend.”

Silly hat Fridays has brought some silliness and fun to any Friday meetings. The concept is simple: log in to your scheduled Zoom call with your webcam turned on, and a stupid hat on your head. It really helps capture the more relaxed mood normally experienced in an office on a Friday, and shows off all the best bits people have in their dressing up boxes.

The silly hats also carry over into our Friday games and quizzes. At 4pm on a Friday people are invited to clock-off early, and instead get onto a video call to play some party games and get competitive in a quiz. These game sessions are organised by our CEO, Jack, and it’s purely coincidence that he chooses the quizzes and then often wins them!

Our most recent Silly Hat Friday call:

Silly Hat Fridays Screenshot

While keeping all of our business critical processes going, 4D have kept a careful eye on the well-being of our employees. The exec team have done a lot to make sure that, in this difficult period, our staff are kept safe and comfortable, and I know I speak for the whole company when I say I feel very lucky to work here.

If, like many companies, you are looking for advice on how to handle these difficult times, read 4D's Business Resources page, complete with our resources which provide insight on how to handle your computer system in a range of ways to minimise disruption, as well as a collected list of useful and reliable sources of information.