How Interplay Transitioned to WFH (and You Can Too!) – Q&A with Sean Place, Operations Manager

As it stands right now, Governor Jay Inslee stated in a press conference on Tuesday, April 21, that stay-at-home orders won’t be lifted fully on May 4. He’s being smart about this. He wants to ramp up testing and contract tracing, and he says social distancing will need to continue. A likely contributing factor to Gov. Inslee’s decision is UW’s latest research, which recommends May 30 as the first start date for reopening (as of the time of this writing). 

All this is to say it’s likely that we’re going to have to stay home for a while yet. In fact, one year from now the working world will probably look pretty darn different than it did in January 2020. If your business hasn’t made the switch to 100% WFH capabilities yet, you’ll probably want to focus on that sooner rather than later. 

To help get you thinking about what’s ahead of you, here’s a brief Q&A with Sean Place, the Operations Manager for Seattle IT support company Interplay, explaining the steps Interplay took to become 100% WFH when the stay-at-home orders were issued.

Q: Does anyone work in your office right now? 

Sean: No. Everyone has actually been working from home since March 11th. Our office is still used for mail collection, deliveries, and to set up new workstations, but that’s about it. I think this might be a surprise to some of our clients that we transitioned that long ago. This may sound silly, but the best feedback we receive is when they’re surprised our team is working from home – it was our goal from day one to provide our exceptional service with minimal disruption to our clients. I’m proud of our team for all of their hard work and tremendous focus during this unusual time.

Q: You’re a bunch of tech experts, so this WFH move was probably like flipping a switch for you.

Sean: (laughs) Well… not exactly. It took a lot of time and preparation to make it “easy.” It’s a priority of ours to test out new technologies on our team before we make recommendations to our clients. So, we were very fortunate we had already started to transition a lot of our physical tools into secure, cloud-based options a while ago. In fact, Microsoft tools have made all this possible for us. We just didn’t expect this event would have been the reason to finish the transition.

Q: Why did you start transitioning to cloud-based tools so early? 

Sean: We’ve been focused on mobility and security for the last couple of years. As most business owners already know, security threats have become more prolific and sophisticated. We also think there’s a huge quality of life improvement if you’re able to be productive and secure from anywhere – not just an office. Most of our team commutes in Seattle traffic 1-2 hours a day, which isn’t unusual or, frankly, sustainable. We had been looking into this as a way for them to securely work from home more often while being just as productive as if they were in the office. Turns out the timing really worked!

Q: Which Microsoft Tools does Interplay use, specifically?

Sean: Whew! A lot of complex tools! Let’s see… over the past couple of years we moved all of our critical servers (RMM & PSA) to Microsoft Azure, and we’ve had a steady plan going to replace our on-premises tools with cloud-based ones. For example, we switched over to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), so we could use OneDrive and Teams for cloud-based collaboration. 

About a year ago, we replaced our phone system with Teams, which eliminated a lot of complexity and made it so anyone was available anywhere for a phone call… oh! and we set up a system a while ago where we standardized our laptops. For us, we gave our staff Surface laptops, but there are a lot of laptop options available that would have been just as successful.

Q: Did you run into any issues with your hardware or software when you went 100% WFH?

Sean: All the tools worked great, which we expected because we’d put them in place so everyone could work from anywhere. The one thing we decided we had to modify instantly for our WFH environment was the computer screens. So, we bought a bunch of 27” screens and shipped them directly to our employees’ houses. We’re really glad we thought of that. 

Q: Wait. You bought a bunch of external monitors, so everyone on your team had one to use at home? 

Sean: Yeah. There have been studies for years showing how much multiple screens enhance productivity, so that was a factor, but I think the real reason the larger monitors help us is because larger screens save your back and eyes. No one wants to hunch over a laptop keyboard staring at a tiny screen for hours, and we wouldn’t want to put our staff through an ordeal like that.

Q: Smart. What other measures are you taking?

Sean: Let’s see. We’ve also mandated video calls, so no one feels disconnected while they’re stuck at home, and we’ve instituted daily video check-in calls with each team member to make sure they’re on track. Also, since support ticket counts have dropped a bit, we took some time to schedule things that team members could work on instead of their typical support work. That’s kept everyone busy and not-so-bored during the stay-at-home orders.

Q: What other kinds of activities are team members focusing on now? Building cool puzzles for Interplay?

Sean: (laughs) In a way, yes! Everyone is focused on things like training, maintenance, clean up, planning… stuff like that, so Interplay can come out of this period stronger and better than we were before. That’s our goal, at least.

Q: That’s great! Since your team transitioned so well, do you have specific tips for other businesses as they adjust? 

Sean: Well, of course I’ll recommend that business leaders focus on building the tech capabilities that help their teams work securely from home or on the go. That work would include setting up the right cloud hardware and software to make it so that WFH operations don’t require weird workarounds. That’s stuff is a given. But the biggest thing we’ve figured out is that you have to be creative in your teambuilding activities too.

For example, one of our team members, Garrett, has been occasionally sending people surprises. He sent another employee, Blake, a Popeye’s chicken sandwich yesterday for his birthday and then the whole team got on a video call in Teams and wished Blake happy birthday. We’ve also been scheduling weekly teambuilding exercises like multiplayer videogames on a Friday afternoon, and that’s been awesome. 

Of course, every team is going to like different activities and videogames won’t work for everyone, but I seriously recommend taking the time to figure out some fun activities to keep everyone on staff engaged and involved. That way, you can keep that team cohesiveness even though you aren’t all hanging out all day together at the office anymore.

Q: Good advice. One last question: Did you run into any surprises along the way as you transitioned to WFH? 

Sean: Hmmm. Other than the emotional impact of changing to WFH (we really miss visiting our clients), there wasn’t anything big. We didn’t really run into any giant technical snags because we’ve been thinking about how to better work from anywhere continuously over the past several years and the cloud-based tools have finally caught up. 

Q: Well, you probably also avoided technical snags because you’re one of the only true managed IT service providers in Seattle, so you spend every day solving tech issues.

Sean: (laughs) I’m sure that had a lot to do with it. You are 100% right. But hey, because we’re an MSP [managed IT service provider], we’re also the tech expert everyone else calls to help solve their tech issues and requirements. So, if we experienced no massive technical snags in our transition, that’s a good indicator that our clients wouldn’t face big tech snags either! Shameless plug there, I guess. Sorry about that. 

Q: No worries. Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions today, Sean! How can business leaders get in touch with Interplay when they’re ready for more information? 

Thank you! It was my pleasure. You can reach Interplay’s team of experienced IT experts, no matter where they’re working from, if you visit our contact page or call us at (206) 329-6600.