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Uncharted territory

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Niall Looney summarises his business experience to date in dealing with the current Covid-19 pandemic, from a network design consultancy’s point-of-view

As a society we're in uncharted territory with the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the challenge for any company at this time is to ensure the health and safety of its workforce and their families while maintaining business continuity and workflow.

We are taking all measures possible to ensure we continue to provide a first-class service to all our clients in the delivery and maintenance of telecommunication infrastructure that will facilitate remote working and incident responses, all while being under increased demand.

Network Capacity

With so many workers now being forced to work remotely, it puts extra demands on the network. The reports from the operators look positive, with Siro, which operates a FTTH network covering 300,000 premises in Ireland, saying it has sufficient capacity for an increase in traffic.

‘Each 1G Siro service is capable of managing 400 times the average user speeds observed on the network to date, so while we do expect to see increases in traffic (like we saw during the snow event in March 2018) the Siro network is dimensioned to carry many multiples of the current data traffic,’ the company said in a statement.

Flattening the curve

As a company, we have been tracking Covid-19 in earnest since the beginning of February. One of the first steps we took was to activate our incident response team (IRT), which is a key mitigation measure in our business continuity plan. This team tracked Covid-19 as it spread across our European operations and began implementing incident response measures such as travel registers, employee communications, hygiene practices and restructuring of project teams set up to ensure team continuity in the event of an employee presenting with symptoms.

As part of our disaster recovery planning, we had previously established the capability to work remotely. However, we had not tested the system at full capacity and – given that we have seen a 30 per cent increase in headcount since the beginning of the year – this was an area in which we invested some thought and preparation. We completed user testing and then scheduled a full remote working day for the business on what turned out to be the day that the schools were closed in Ireland. Thankfully, we had a successful transition and we have had a minimal headcount in our offices ever since.

At present, 95 per cent of our office-based staff are now working from home and we have protocols in place for all our field engineers to ensure they are not sharing vehicles and following hygiene and social distancing guidelines. Our IRT has also deployed a reporting procedure should any employee display Covid-19 symptoms that uses our parent company’s 24/7/365 Global Service Centre (GSC).

Understand client needs

We have liaised with all our clients outlining our incident response plan and conducted risk assessments on all projects to ensure we have the correct working practices in place. Now more than ever we need to understand our clients’ priorities and ensure we are dimensioned and aligned to support them in achieving these.

Business continuity

Job security ranks highly on our hierarchy of needs, so by implementing these new work practices and organisational set-ups we aim to protect staff jobs and incomes. Based on data from other countries, it is likely that we will see an increase in cases in Ireland and the UK and we are prepared for this eventuality to ensure that we maintain project run rates. We all need to stay well or at least not become ill at the same time in order to support the work that needs to be done.

Internal communication

Anyone with an internet connection will have been subjected to ‘fake news’ surrounding the spread of the virus. That is why it is key to communicate verified information and share trusted news sources with all employees. Our IRT meets daily to discuss the current state of the outbreak, how our current practices are working and to discuss the queries staff have raised. Following on from this we host a weekly Microsoft Teams call with all staff to keep them informed with any new developments and to have to open questions and answers.

Key Messages

  • Hand hygiene - wash for 20 seconds
  • Social distancing of 2m is paramount
  • Proper cough/sneeze etiquette
  • It is critical to follow government and HSE/NHS guidelines
  • No movement between buildings if your office has more than one premises  

Best Tools

  • Email
  • Microsoft Teams - Use video!
  • Microsoft Forms
  • Phone
  • Laptop
  • iPads

What does the future hold for the industry?

Most people are playing a bit of a guessing game, but we are in a fortunate position with our parent company, Indigo Telecom Group, sharing useful insights from other countries that have been impacted by the virus.

I believe that the telecoms sector will be identified as a critical industry and even if further travel restrictions are implemented, we will be ready to support our clients to maintain network uptime and expand their network capacity which is even more critical by having the necessary permits and work practices in place.

We advise any company who will require their employees to travel in the near future to put similar contingencies in place, as we need to be ready for any eventuality. I hope our experiences of preparing for Covid-19 can be of assistance to others as we battle this once-in-a-generation event. Our key message is that we are all in this together and the telecoms industry will have a vital role to play in supporting current work practices and paving the way for the recovery that will come.

Stay Safe.

Niall Looney is operations director at 4site

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