Ballard Chalmers (BC) has been using Microsoft Office 365 and the Azure cloud as our primary resource for managing our business and our development work for a few years now. All of our development work takes place there, and most of our admin work as well.
Our usage of the cloud in this way means our teams can work pretty much anywhere. To keep the teams together, every morning at 9:30 we have a stand-up progress video conference meeting with the whole team. Those in the office collect in the main conference room which has a camera, microphone and a large screen. The rest of the team join the stand-up over a Skype for Business conference call, allowing everyone to participate where-ever they are, whether at home or a client site.
Business Continuity Plan
BC’s Business Continuity plan relies on our use of the cloud. If our team is unable to function fully in the office because of internet connectivity issues, power or heating or travel problems, then the plan is for everyone to go home and work from there.
All of our team have good internet connectivity from home, and everyone has access to the cloud services and servers they need. Our minimum downtime is the time for everyone to get home, which is less than an hour in all cases and a lot less in most cases.
We also have a few 4G mobile phones available in the office, that can be used over WIFI to connect to the internet. These allow a few staff members to stay in the office if absolutely necessary.
Most of the team, work a couple of days a week from home on a regular basis, and so the Business Continuity Plan is continually tested.
So, when Covid-19 lockdown came on 24 March 2020, we were prepared, everything needed to work from home was ready and had been tested many times. So, the whole team just switched to working from home and the office was empty, except for an occasional visit by someone to check the post etc.
This worked pretty well, for the first few days at least. Then as more and more companies geared up for remote working, the strain started to show on the cloud. In some cases, it became more difficult to create new Virtual Machines (VMs) in the cloud or even to start existing ones that had been shut down. Presumably because the cloud usage rocketed in the crisis.
But the biggest issue was that online conference calls became overloaded and the streaming and voice quality would degrade, and calls would just fail in some cases. Skype for Business was not running the larger online meetings very well and so we switched over to Microsoft Teams but even that was struggling in a lot of cases.
So, we spread the load by using Skype for Business for one-to-one calls, Teams for smaller group calls and Zoom for our full team stand-up meetings. One of our delivery managers resorted to using Slack and Google Hangouts for some projects as well. This strategy largely worked, and we are still using it now, even though each product is generally working a lot better now that we are a few weeks into the crisis.
This must have been a huge challenge for the main providers such as Microsoft, Zoom and Google, as the amount of usage increased enormously in a short time. I read that Zoom was doing 10 million meetings a day before the crisis and are now doing circa 200 million meetings a day during the crisis. How did they ever cope with that?
At some point, the Covid-19 crisis will come to an end, and at the time of writing, things are starting to ease somewhat already.
However, I don’t think the Ballard Chalmers team will suddenly all start working from the office again. Yes, some people will return, but I think the development team will continue to work more from home most of the time. It saves on travel time and allows them to concentrate on what they are doing. If they need to discuss things with others, then they can use Microsoft Teams.
Maybe at the start of a new project, the team will meet in the office, while everything is being sorted out, but once development is underway, I expect they will go back to working from home again.
With companies such as Twitter allowing staff to continue to work from home from here on out, we can see there will be a sea-change in working practices going forward. And that is certainly the case for us here at BC.