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Mobilizing a 100K+ global workforce during COVID-19

A Q&A with Steve Olsen, Executive Director, Enterprise Operations at Allegis Group

May 5, 2020 |TEKsystems

Man working on a laptoop from home with using a headset

Navigating the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Our first and foremost priorities are ensuring we’re supporting our employees, consultants and clients across the globe. As a full-stack technology and talent partner, we want to share our experience and offer support on how to alleviate the uncertainty around workplace services support as many businesses shift to a primarily remote workforce for a period of time.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been talking with our clients as we support them through this dynamic time. The most frequently asked question: How are other organizations handling this? So, we thought we’d share our own experience by talking to the Information Services leaders at Allegis Group, our parent company, about their experience in mobilizing a 100,000-plus workforce.

How did you begin mobilizing a large global workforce in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Allegis Group Information Services supports applications and infrastructure for a workforce of more than 100,000 across the globe. That’s everything from network services, to telecommunication, messaging and conferencing, to identity and access management, to hardware and enterprise application management (including Salesforce and legacy homegrown applications). We have a mix of applications and infrastructure hosted on the cloud and in data centers.

In early March, as things really started unfolding with COVID-19, requests for desktops to be replaced with laptops started coming in. Luckily, many employees already had laptops. For those who didn’t, we closely aligned with our business partners across operating companies to equip those employees—provisioning a laptop, wireless mouse, networks and a docking station—to be able to work from home just as they would in the office, so they’d be prepared if and when the remote-work order was made.

Since a large portion of our workforce is contract-based, we utilized the scaling capabilities of TEKsystems Global Services’ Dynamic Workplace Services team to provision technology for our consultant workforce, including the service desk agents who typically work out of our solution centers.

Beyond equipment, what else was critical to a smooth transition?

A device is one of three major pieces needed to ensure our team members could effectively work from home, the other two being a virtual private network (VPN) and communication/collaboration tools. These things give employees the ability to access everything (cloud-based and on-premise systems) that they need to do in their day-to-day job.

We have capacity to support 100% of the global Allegis Group remote workforce via VPN and virtual desktops. And now in our second month of full-scale remote working, we’re seeing an average of 49,000 WebEx meetings and 2,100 Microsoft Teams meetings a week. From March 23 through April 10, we saw over 400,000 telecom/Jabber calls each week. Plus, an average of 8,000 channel messages daily in Microsoft Teams, where pre work-from-home orders saw an average of less than 1,000.

In terms of business continuity, what helped the most in this process?

A couple of years ago, we moved a lot of our network infrastructure to support exactly what we’re dealing with right now. The tools we put in place—conferencing (Cisco), VPN (Palo Alto), communication/collaboration (Microsoft Office 365)—enable folks to seamlessly work from their desktop, laptop or mobile device from home.

Part of our global network program was to bring in new remote access technology, which we deployed in North America last year, and it has been a saving grace through this time. Utilizing two enterprise set tools—Cisco and Microsoft—strengthens us from a business continuity perspective. Microsoft Office 365 allows people to access their email pretty much anywhere, even if they’re not connected by VPN into our networks. Using any device, they can access their web version of Outlook, as well as Salesforce.

Our ability to respond quickly and almost seamlessly was due to the planning and work to get the right technologies in place, ensuring resiliency in our network and having the right enterprise-level agreements over the last several years.

We have an electronic run book that keeps getting updated. We’ve done exercises quarterly to prepare for situations where we’d have to adapt quickly—from a data center perspective, or an asset deployment perspective out of our warehouse. I could see us, and many other organizations, having more periodic testing in business continuity planning moving forward.

Now that everyone is working remotely, what’s the next thing you’re focusing on?

Consistency and adoption. How can we ensure consistency around the tools we're using and the rhythm that we have in the office can be replicated while we’re all at home?

The technology’s there. However, from a leadership perspective, we’re probably a little bit behind on managing a fully remote workforce. Are our leaders effectively trained and prepared to handle and guide their employees remotely? I think many companies that have mobilized to a remote workforce recently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are encountering the same challenges. We’re actively working on a training program to help managers and leaders be effective remote leaders.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll look at productivity levels and make sure that equipment continues to operate correctly, and that employees understand how to use them. While we’ve had a lot of this technology in use for some time, our employees are relying more heavily on the tools now more than ever.

From a collaboration perspective, those tools saw an over 50% uptick in usage from a network perspective in the first two weeks of remote working. We’re continuing to track volume on a daily basis but are seeing similar significant upticks in many of our collaboration tools: Jabber, Microsoft Teams or WebEx.

Steve Olsen is the executive director of enterprise operations at Allegis Group, the global leader in talent solutions. He has over 30 years’ experience in information technology and has been with Allegis Group Information Services for six years.