The following is a transcription of an episode of our podcast, Where’s The Any Key? Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have in response to this recording. You can find our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are available.
Welcome to Where’s the Any Key? The podcast where we talk about anything IT related and even some topics that are IT adjacent. I’m your host Ryan Bacon, the IT Support Engineer at JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®.
Just a quick note here, Cody and I talked for quite some time and had a really good conversation, got a lot of good content out of it, so we decided to split this into two episodes. This is the second part. You can check out part one here.
Standardizing to Improve End User Experience
Ryan: So, I’ve had mixed luck, and my biggest concern, my biggest hurdles I think, going into this work was all the different disciplines in a single office. You have a lot of engineers who want their dual monitors where one’s portrait and one’s landscape so they can do their things. You have other people where they just work from their laptops and other people that just like a single 27” monitor or whatever.
Cody: That does bring an interesting challenge though. In my mind, do you standardize on the most complex case you can imagine, which is engineering? All of these desks outfitted with two monitors on a monitor arm and make them so they’re turnable so that anyone can sit there, even if they don’t use two monitors, they have two monitors. So I think that, in my mind, every desk should be the same, because if you put two monitors on one and one on the other, now you’re grouping people into that old way of ‘you should sit here, you should sit here,’ whereas standardizing, I’m very much with you on standardizing, because when you find a product that works, and you know it works flawlessly, you don’t have to worry about the support side of things.
You know some monitor brands that don’t work well with Macs, and you have all these constant issues, so when I find a monitor model that works, I want to buy only this and especially ones that have USB-C in them and provide power. They’ve got USB ports on the side of the monitor; those are my favorite. There’s a model from Dell that I really love, 27”, it’s got USB-C power, and it’s affordable as well, because you know a lot of PC monitors have just been outrageous in price, and they’re coming down and it’s becoming more normal now. Then you’ve got the nice, one cable on the desk for someone to sit down and plug in, and they’ve got their video, power, they’ve got their USB ports on the side of their monitor… seems like a great experience.
And if you want to level that experience up, something that I did at a previous company with those USB-C monitors: I wired them into ethernet. So in the back of the monitor, I plugged in a USB-C to ethernet converter/adapter, and then plugged them into ethernet. So, when they plugged into video, power, ethernet, they were wired up. They were like ‘our WiFi is so fast!’ They didn’t even know that they were on wired. So there are interesting things there that bring back that kind of experience of the wired connection.
I think in the office space we focus on wireless a lot. I’m going off here into office technology, but something I personally believe is that if you can wire it, wire it up. Bring wires to everything you can because it will help take that load off the wireless network and just leave that for people that are roaming around or devices that really can’t be wired in. So this concept of this hot desk / hotel desk situation, where there are ethernet ports to each one, you plug them into the monitor and someone just sits down, plugs in one cable, and they’re all wired. It sounds amazing to me, like a utopia where things are going to work really well because there’s no issue with wireless or signal. There’ll be a lot less load on the wireless network which is better for video calls and everything. So I’m excited about that. And you can do that now with current desk situations, but just like you said, with the non-standardization of equipment, it’s hard to do that. You need adapters. You have 700 cables coming from those docks and adapters… yeah.
Supporting Remote Users
Cody: This brings interesting challenges from the working from home (WFH) side of things. I know we talked briefly about WFH setups, we have these challenges in IT where it’s much easier to support someone in an office when you’re physically there with them. They’re like ‘oh, my sound isn’t working.’ Okay, I’ll take a look. It is much harder remotely to support those problems, especially if it is an urgent situation. We had someone who was presenting in a webinar. They called me five minutes before and said ‘Hey, my camera isn’t working; I’ve restarted, and now I’m like ahhh!’ Remotely, it’s so hard to troubleshoot those things because you just can’t put your fingers on the keyboard and get going. You have to tell them what you’re doing or get in a Zoom or a screenshare…
Then we’ve got other issues with WiFi. In the office environment we can control all of those variables. The channels that they’re on. We can map out the coverage so we’ve got really good coverage. You can’t do that in someone’s home. It is hard! You’ve got some people whose houses were made over 50 years ago with walls that are two feet thick. You’ve got some people in newer construction where it’s not as bad and the wireless signal is great. You’ve got some people who buy the cheapest router out there; they bought it for $50 at Best Buy, and those we know are not going to work well in these situations where you need video calling. We’ve seen from our perspective and from other people in the industry that this is kind of a challenge. If you’ve got 100 employees, helping each of them with their home setup is really difficult.
So what I found helpful is to create a guide: This is what you’re looking for if you’re having wireless issues. Try these things. Change your admin password, of course. Go into your router; don’t leave it at default. Make sure you’re using WPA-2 security. All the best practices, and then run a speed test. Also, people have expectations if they bought the gigabit plan on Comcast, then they should be getting WiFi. ‘Why’s my WiFi slow?’ What we know as tech professionals is you’re never going to get the full gigabit WiFi. It’s more possible nowadays with the latest technologies, 802.11ax, right? Not a lot of people here have that yet, so I think it’s really helpful to create a guide of what their expectations should be, and I always recommend that if you can wire your laptop into your router, do it. It will make your video calls better. So giving those best practices, that’s something every company should do. Send out to their employees, really highlight all that. It’ll make everyone’s lives much easier because you’ll get less calls like ‘Well I’m not getting gigabit.’
Ryan: Right. I think that, I’d imagine there’s a lot of IT professionals out there whose companies transitioned to a remote workplace, they weren’t expecting to be troubleshooting people’s home networks. It was one thing when you’re sitting at your desk and someone’s like ‘can I ask you a non-work related question?’ Those non-work related questions have become work-related questions. It’s definitely increased how difficult it is to support a remote workforce.
I’d say the silver lining is that usually that turbulence gets figured out at the beginning of the transition, and then it gets pretty smooth, and then your concern is how are your remote support tools. How am I going to get hands on somebody’s system? First off, do you need to get hands on somebody’s system? What are you going to do? I know one thing I’ve started using more that I never used before we transitioned to remote work is in Slack: the screen sharing and calling feature in Slack. I found that it has a little tool where you can draw on somebody’s screen on their screen. So instead of me having to be like ‘let me go here’ I can draw and say ‘go here’ and indicate the button where they’re going. It works surprisingly well.
Another thing, I’m really big into the customer service side of IT, building that rapport. It seems to me like, when doing that, you’re teaming up with the user to solve their problem. They feel more invested, and also, they’re learning, too. I’ve found that the more hands-off and the guided approach to troubleshooting is really a good thing.
Cory: Yeah I think people really like when you tell them what you’re doing and you explain things, I’ve found most people love to learn. They’re like ‘what did you do there? What is this command you’re typing in here?’ that kind of creates that rapport and that connection. You’re kind of on the same level with them, whereas you’re right, when you take over and you just do it, they feel like they don’t know what you did. It was all foreign to them, it’s all like ‘I don’t know what you did!’ I feel like that’s really important as well. I don’t know if you guys have seen the uptick in support cases.
I think people have become a little bit more self-sufficient in a lot of ways because they can’t just come by your desk anymore, and they don’t know what you’re doing or if you’re on a call, so people are trying to fix things more themselves, which I think is good because they’re learning in the process. I’ve seen a lot of that. Or they’ll Slack, and I’m in the middle of twenty other things, and they’ll say ‘I need help with this thing’ and then five minutes later say ‘actually, I figured it out, nevermind.’ So that’s where things are good, whereas when you’re in the office, they’ll always come to your desk. ‘Oh, I need you to do this for me.’
Ryan: That’s something I also noticed in that at the beginning of the remote work transition for us, we were slammed with helping people, people who were having little problems that were easily ignorable in the office environment, but became showstoppers in remote work. Stuff like VPN issues, stuff like that, tools that they never really used when they were in the office. We spent so much time solving that, but I think you’re right that, not only the one-time fix problems got solved, but also people figured it out.
We try to be very communicative of best practices in WFH. Our IT team put out a thing: Here’s some neat tools, some things you can do to help your WFH experience. I think having that sort of stuff, just tons of resources that they can access, I think you’re absolutely right. They become more self-sufficient, and really, we’ve been getting messages about people being able to do all this extra stuff.
The Effects of WFH on Work Schedules
Ryan: So, I think you’re right, and then of course, that means that when we don’t have all of those drive-by support requests and all those problems have died down, and also we don’t have all of the office infrastructure-related issues to deal with, we’ve had time to work on projects to improve efficiency, increase automation, all these… it’s been, honestly it’s been great. I keep track of our workload, the number of support requests that come in and stuff. We’ve still been having a steady increase of these requests, but it feels like we still have more time than we had in the office to do more than just putting out fires.
Cory: Yeah, do you see yourself, I’ve seen a lot of my, because we’re not going to the office and WFH, I’ve seen a shift in my work hours just in the way that there is no line anymore. It’s just kind of blurred at both ends, which I’m okay with and in my opinion, it’s only temporary. With the COVID situation and not being able to go hang out with friends and do the things you’d do outside of work in the normal world, you’re just stuck at home anyways, so let me continue working on this because there’s nothing else better to do than watching Netflix or cooking dinner.
So I’ve seen a lot of people that have no lines, it’s just blurred between when they work and when they’re not working. For some people, that shift is really healthy. They feel like they can do some work, go have lunch, go for a break, go back to work, cook dinner, have a little bit of a break, and they’re kind of working the whole day with longer hours, but it’s not really like they’re working. It’s like very broken up. Other people I’ve seen stick to the hours they’d normally be working in the office. That just works for them; they have kids. So I think there’s a different strategy for everyone.
The Importance of Dropshipping
Cory: For me, supporting our team in Australia and China, it’s easier to do that in the evening, so I may take bigger breaks in the day because I know at night I’m going to be supporting them and helping them with the things they need. I think it’s funny; I think the big winner here is FedEx because I have shipped more things. FedEx, UPS, USPS, they are our lifeline right now because with people working remotely, and even people that were located in our Bay Area office, some people have moved to different states just temporarily or staying with family, and then just across the city or the East Bay, and normally, in the office, when someone goes ‘Oh, my computer’s broken, can you fix it? Can you get me a replacement?’ Well, normally, you could just hand it to them in the office. Now I dropship that. New hire stuff, you’re shipping it, even if it’s just two cities away, you still ship it because driving is a mess plus social distancing. So I think FedEx is winning, UPS, USPS, they are the lifeline right now. I’ve shipped more things. Sometimes I think I’m just a logistics manager right now.
Ryan: I know what you mean. We have, for regular IT supplies, a dock or cables or stuff like that, when we eventually ran out of supply in the office, we started using Amazon as a dropshipper. We’re like ‘give me your address, I’ll punch it into Amazon, and we’ll ship it directly to you.’ So yeah, it’s doable and it’s not difficult. We lucked out. So our IT team is two people. I live about 45 minutes away from the office. Our other person is like, 10- 15 minutes away, so he became our de facto inventory person, but he brought a stack of laptops home, so if something needs to go out, he images and ships it out like you were saying. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a solution long term, because that gets so invasive, you’d need a home warehouse, essentially, to manage all this stuff.
Cory: I live in a studio apartment in San Francisco, which is already small, so to that point you said, this is my living room and it’s just packing supplies and we were shipping boxes out. I have this giant box of FedEx laptop mailers that takes up half my living room. I have a label printer at home to print FedEx labels since I print so many, so it’s nice to have the label that you peel and stick rather than taping it on the boxes. I have all this equipment: I have laptops, we have our own access control reader, so we send them to new hires and people. I have all this stuff that I’m actually moving to a bigger apartment. I have a second closet in my new apartment and I’m just like, half of it is devoted to work stuff, with shelving to put it all and I’m okay with that because I’d rather not have to run to the office everyday to grab laptops to ship out. It just adds to your day, so having it at your home is convenient. You get it out on the same day.
I’ve been using FedEx same day delivery for this intercity stuff. FedEx officers come to you and then deliver it like a courier service. I realize that there’s shifts in costs, and even if we downsize the office, we are going to see an upswing in other costs. It’s just a strategy shift there with mailing more things. We did have someone whose laptop was broken and they live in another country. There’s no official post stores there so they had to go to a third-party reseller or authorized service provider to get their keyboard fixed. It’s kind of a mess. I thought about just shipping them a loaner laptop while theirs was getting repaired, but customs is a nightmare in some countries. By the time this thing gets through customs, they could have already fixed the laptop, and then you’ve got import duties, and it’s kind of a challenge.
I don’t know about you, but I wish there was a company that, and maybe there is, maybe I just haven’t found it yet, that maybe could handle this on a more international level. With US domestic, it’s easy to just ship a loaner laptop, but as soon as you cross any of the borders, things become very difficult. They question you. Is this a repair? You have to mark it on the form and then they call you and question it. Some countries, Australia’s really easy. You can just ship anything and they’re like ‘cool, whatever.’ Some other countries are more difficult, but that’s a challenge I’ve seen.
When you move to this remote strategy, it allows you to hire people from anywhere with this new acceptance of WFH / work remote. I think companies will stop looking to specific cities to hire people near their HQ or whatever. In San Francisco, companies are welcoming that. They don’t want to continue to have to hire in a market that is just so competitive. Housing prices are insane here, so allowing people to work from Minnesota or wherever, it’s a great shift for everyone. Companies can maybe spend a little less on office space and other resources, and people can be happier and have bigger homes. So I think that’s an interesting shift. Do you know of a company that does international?
Ryan: I’m right there with you. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with a lot of international shipping… yet. I’m sure that it will come in the near future. We do have some international teams, but they tend to deal with purchasing locally there. There was one time we had to do shipping between them and it literally took a month to get from point A to point B. So I’m right there with you. If it was something I had to do on a regular basis, it would be a nightmare. People listening, here’s a startup idea for you. I don’t envy you in the logistics of making that startup, but maybe make a company that facilitates… even global loaners, you know, something like that.
Cory: Yeah! That’s really what I needed in this situation. I just needed a loaner so that their regular computer could get repaired. So, that is a great startup idea or someone to get into that market. Because if you‘re one person in a country, there’s no way to stock loaners in that country. It’s just not economical to do that, so there’s a good startup idea. Someone who can really focus on the remote international side of things, getting equipment, even swag like t-shirts and other things. I think there’s really disruption there. Even hiring local companies to make that stuff for you, and small businesses going through resellers and giving them the business, but going to a portal and saying ‘I need this, this, and this in Romania, now’. That’s the technology we need to enable.
Ryan: That’s one of those things where I know it’s coming for me. I’m not particularly looking forward to it.
Cody: It will get easier and easier. That is one of those things they’re working on. Apple makes it pretty easy if they operate in the country, you can order directly from Apple… it makes it a little easier but there are still some countries that they don’t operate directly in. I remember having to ship things to India. That was a challenge because Apple doesn’t have an official presence there. But they are working on that. The world is changing.
Legal Issues with Reopening Offices
Cory: One thing I wanted to point out, I forgot to mention this in the workplace chat (part one), we’ve got these legal challenges now around coming back to the workplace. It’s been a topic that’s become very interesting. There could be lawsuits if you’re not supplying masks and gloves and sanitation. Companies are kind of scared that if they don’t do it right, they’ll face lawsuits from their employees and the approach I see there is supplying PPE. Cohort one of people that return to the office are people that voluntarily want to go in. So you’ll allow people that are like ‘I’m cool with it. I want to go back.’ Some companies are making them sign waivers, which is kind of like… you’re presented with a waiver; that makes you feel there’s a risk. You’re like ‘there’s this waiver, they must be a reason they want me to sign this.’ There are challenges around that, and I’m interested in solutions there.
Is it any different than any other type of illness that can be transmitted? You know we’re at risk during flu season, right? There hasn’t, that I know of, I don’t know that there’s any lawsuits around the flu, probably at least one. Business Law 101 in America: you can always sue. I just wonder, in the normal flu season, people are sick, they come to the office. There’s not really the challenge. Companies try to send those people home or clean things up if they know there’s been someone who’s ill, but it’s not to the same level that we’re experiencing today because this virus is so much different than what we’ve seen with the flu, but now we’ve got legal challenges of coming back. I think that’s going to be a big challenge for companies because I think that’s why a lot of companies like Google have said ‘we’re not coming back until 2021 because we don’t want to deal with any of that, and we know by then, or we think by then, things will be a lot better, or we’ll have figured it out, or there will be a vaccine, and then we can come back knowing we’re protected or we’re not going to get sued for endangering employees.’ What are your thoughts on that topic?
Ryan: I think that I agree with you. As you mentioned, we are such a litigious society that if it’s not a concern for your organization, it should be. You just don’t know, and especially when it comes to people’s health, frankly, they’re afraid to come back into the office because it not just affects them, it can affect their loved ones and everything like that. You have to be super careful. JumpCloud, we’re very fortunate in that our transition to remote work and our ability to remote work has been very successful and is very easy, so we can, as with Google, take it really slow and keep watch how things are going. Our leadership is doing just that. They’re not going to gamble with our health. They’re just watching how everything goes and we still don’t have a firm office open date. Unfortunately, not every organization has that luxury. It is a big thing, and I don’t have a good answer, but I agree that the legality side of things is going to be very tricky.
Cory: I think this is why companies are looking at thermal cameras and cough sensors even. They know if they do everything they can, it’s going to protect them from the wrath of ligitiation, like ‘well, we did all of these things. We enforced mask wearing. We moved the desks six feet apart. We did all of these things.’ At a certain point, they can’t do any more. They’ve done everything that they can, so I think that’s why it’s important for companies to invest in these technologies. It will help them with that. And, we want to keep employees safe; there’s two sides to that. They want to protect themselves from the risk and we want employees to be healthy. We want everyone to feel like they can come back to the office. It’s going to be a little bit weird; everyones’ going to have to wear masks for a while. It’s not going to be the same place, but we’ll get back to that normal. That will help us move to the next step where people don’t feel like they’re locked in their houses anymore. We can start that process of getting back to… a different place than we were before, but a more normal society where we can eventually get rid of masks and go back to eating dinner at a nice restaurant or go with our friends to the beach.
I think that time is coming. I think we’re starting to see more cases here and there coming up in certain states, so it’s unclear where we’re going from here, but hopefully we get through this and it’s not a lot. I think there’s a lot to learn from what happened. We weren’t really prepared as a nation. We’ve got things to fix there. Companies, from what I learned, I think that we had some PPE in stock, you know, wildfires are natural in California so we had some masks, but we didn’t have a big supply. We had some gloves. We had some sanitation stuff, but just not a lot. I think companies now are going to have a closet full of this waiting because it was really hard to get that kind of stuff as soon as it hit. Companies like Apple had like 10,000,000 masks; it was crazy. That’s because they have to because of the wildfires; there’s a California law that companies have to provide a certain amount, and a certain amount of days worth of those materials.
But without laws in certain places, companies may not stock enough of that, so I think that’s another thing to think about going forward. We’ve got to store enough and be ready. I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be facing this. We’ve got every, what five, ten years, there’s some virus outbreak that’s new to humans, whether its SARS or MERS or even ebola. This is gonna happen again; it’s inevitable in the timeline of history, so we’ve got to prepare.
Opportunities for Tech in Sanitization
Cody: But I think it’s a good experiment. We know we can work from home. We know we have tools. We can keep investing in these technologies and it’s a safer way forward for everyone. So I think that that’s interesting.
I’ve seen UV… UV is another technology that they’re starting to put in everything, and I think for the office, I’m thinking why didn’t we do this ten years ago? That technology existed then, why is it only now that, UV lockers, so when deliveries or packages are placed into that personal locker, there’s a UV light that kills anything on the outside of the box. You’ve got phone and tablet soap boxes that you put them in and UV light… the other day I was thinking, why don’t elevators, you know at night when no one’s riding them, they just lock down and ten minutes of UV light, right? Just clean the whole office surface. Why did we wait until now to start thinking about all of these technologies we can use to passively sanitize all these spaces that are used? It’s just interesting to me.
Ryan: I think one of the answers to that is that there really wasn’t a huge demand for that, so you didn’t see very many companies, but any time there’s a big global crisis or something, people will start thinking of that. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start seeing products come out over the next ten years that do that sort of thing. You see these new industries pop up, or spin-off industries, so I’m really interested to see what kind of technology and stuff comes out as a direct result of this pandemic.
Cory: Yeah, and it’s not going to help us in this pandemic, but it’s going to help us after, like regular flu season, the common cold, any surfaces that people touch are going to be sanitized if you have those technologies. It’ll just be a better way forward altogether. Public transit’s another interesting one… to keep those train cars clean, I do not envy the amount of cleaning that has to go on there. Maybe we’ll have UV lights in all of our train cars, and they’ll shut down for ten minutes and do a full sanitization and get back in service. These technologies will just be better overall for the world. I think we’re learning a lot. When you’re just shifted into this thing that we had no choice, we’re on the rocket ship. Launch happened. We can’t stop it. It’s just this massive experiment for us. No one can get their way out of it. You just gotta ride with it, go with all the changes and learn a better way forward. It’s been, for humans, one of the biggest experiments in the last, at least decade.
Ryan: Exactly. Well, we’ve had some good conversations and our time shows that. We didn’t even really use our little backup talking point, which I didn’t think we would, but before we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to touch on?
Cody: I think we touched on a lot of the important points, and I think the biggest obstacle, like I said before, for returning to the workplace is figuring out what technologies and what things… we’ve gotta back them with science and data and say ‘these things really work’ because if we do that wrong, if those technologies aren’t, and testing and whatnot isn’t as effective as we thought, the antibody testing, then we can risk taking a step back. We’ve really got to know those things, so hopefully the medical community and the science community are really pushing forward to help us know what are the right things to do. We’re working on that in our own projects to make sure that everything we recommend and put out there is backed by some of that.
My advice is just, everyone hang on. We’re getting somewhere. Just wear a mask, continue to stay healthy.
Ryan: Wash your hands.
Cody: Yeah, and help out other people. We’re all human. Help your neighbor; check in on your neighbors if you can, and just reach out to colleagues. I’ve done that and that’s good, just saying ‘how are you doing? I haven’t from you a lot. Used to see you every day in the office, how are you doing?’ and really connecting with people because it’s so hard if you’re alone in this and not reaching out to people, just kind of staying at home, socially distancing… so just reach out to people, help people, and we’re all in this together.
Ryan: Exactly, exactly. Well, thank you very much, Cody. It was a great conversation.
Cody: Yeah, thank you.
Ryan: And again, our guest has been Cody Goodermote. He’s the IT and Workplace Operations Manager at Proxy. Again, thank you again for the conversation. It was very good having you.
Cody: Yes, thank you Ryan.
Ryan: It’s now time for everyone’s favorite segment, Ryan Rambles, where your host, Ryan Bacon, rambles on about something mentioned in this episode.
So I would like to talk about structuring your day when working from home. So a lot of things will be the same from when you were working in the office: keeping up with industry news, checking and working on things from the previous day, getting up to date on stuff that came in since the previous day. A lot of that stuff will remain the same.
But really, it becomes about how you separate your time from non-work time and work time because when you’re working from home, those lines become really blurred. What I suggest really is setting up your schedule in your head. So, you can say ‘I’m going to work from 6 AM to 3 PM,’ or whatever. Whatever hours you set, set those and do your best to stick by them. I know that’s easier said than done, but really try to do that.
What also helps is to have a separate work area, so whether that’s a home office, whether that’s a desk you have set in the corner of your apartment, whatever it is, have a separate work area. One thing that helps me is I unfortunately can’t follow that last bit of advice because I don’t have the space for it, but I have my personal laptop. I have my work laptop. When I’m done with work, I close my work laptop and I stick it in a drawer. Then I open up my personal laptop; I don’t have work apps or anything installed on it, so that’s my differentiator. I have to make an effort to go and jump back into work mode, so that really helps me differentiate between the two.
Another thing is make sure to take time for yourself. I’m fortunate enough that, with JumpCloud, they’re very big on letting us be flexible on our daily schedules, so I’ll take time out of the middle of the day so I can go for a swim, go for a walk. Do what I can to break up the monotony, but also keep myself from working a 12 hour day, every single day, seven days a week.
So to sum up, you’re going to be doing a lot of the same things, a lot of the same tasks in your WFH day. Just make sure that you do things to help you stop working from home at the end of the day, and also do things to help you break up the monotony through the day for your own mental health.
Thank you for listening to Where’s the Any Key? If you like what you heard, please feel free to subscribe. Again, my name is Ryan Bacon and I work for JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service, where the team here is building a cloud-based platform for system and identity management. You can learn more and even set up a free account at jumpcloud.com.
So until next time, keep looking for that any key. If you find it, please let us know.