COVID Surprised and Lessons Learned

“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”

Boris Pasternak

Until the pandemic changed everything, I was a regular attendee at in-person IAUG chapter meetings across the country.  Most of the time I presented a topic, but on a few occasions, I was simply there to listen and learn.   Although I have never been a fan of business travel, I loved meeting Avaya customers and business partners and was willing to suffer the airports and rental cars required to get me there and back again.  Thankfully, most, if not all, of the chapters went virtual and in the past year and a half I have been able to engage with folks from the east coast, west coast, and no coast at all.

A little more than a week ago, I attended a session sponsored by the Michigan IAUG and was able to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a long time.  I was impressed by the turnout and how engaged everyone was.  Despite being stuck behind our monitors and webcams, folks are finding ways to be present when physical presence is not possible.

Getting to Know You

As many of the chapters have been doing, this one opened with an ice-breaker.  I am a big fan of these questions because they give everyone an opportunity to check-in and share where our heads are at.  In this case, the question was, “Besides the obvious changes and disruptions, what is something that surprised/pleased/amazed you about your business and COVID.”  The following are a few of the answers that caught my attention.

“There is still so much old technology out there”

This was a common theme for many attendees and was especially apparent when it came to old telephones.  They discovered a ton of ancient phones that were not useable for remote or hybrid workers.  This put any move to SIP plans they had on steroids.  This is true for SIP trunks, but especially true for SIP endpoints.

“Subscription licensing saved our butts.”

This one was expressed by several attendees.  Without subscription licensing, it would have been nearly impossible to move as quickly as companies were required (forced) to move.  Additionally, the cost of perpetual licenses would have been a non-starter.  Subscription licenses allowed for an agility not previously possible.

“Headphones rule.”

Companies went from headphones for contact center agents to headphones for everyone.  One attendee said that his company completely eliminated all physical telephones and now uses headphones (and consequently softphones) exclusively.  Personally speaking, I haven’t used a traditional telephone in years.  Give me headphones or my Avaya B109 speaker phone or give me nothing.

“Being nimble is essential.”

This is true for both individual employees and departments.  It was especially true for the IT department.  Changes were coming at everyone fast and furious and being nimble was a requirement for success.  Those who couldn’t adapt quickly enough failed.

“The resistance to mobile is gone.”

In the past, you had to practically twist the arms of too many employees to get them to install and use softphones on their mobile devices.  COVID turned mobile communications applications into essential business tools and employees couldn’t get the software up and running fast enough.

“Hybrid is here to stay.”

If COVID were to suddenly disappear overnight, companies and their employees would still embrace a hybrid approach to working.  Even when offices do open up, working from home will exist in many different forms.  COVID has taught us that we need to stay flexible if we want to succeed.

“Older people are often more willing to go on camera than their younger coworkers.”

This was my personal observation.  I entered the age of the never-ending video meeting thinking that older guys like me would keep their cameras off and the millennials would be more than happy to share their shining, happy faces.  I quickly learned that the opposite is true, and the twenty and thirty somethings are the camera-shy employees.  This is anecdotal, of course, but it has been my experience for the past year and a half.

“IT departments need skills in new areas”

It’s no longer enough to know how to configure routers and switches.  Overnight, IT departments needed to become experts in Bluetooth and earbuds.  The sudden move to the home office required them to develop skills in consumer devices heretofore unseen in the workplace.

Mischief Managed

I hope you found these observations as insightful as I did.  I’ve found that if you want to take the pulse of an organization, talk to those that do the day to day lifting.

One day in the not-too-distant future, some IAUG chapter meetings will return to being in-person events.  However, I expect that many will either stay virtual or offer virtual options.  Despite all the horrible stuff, COVID has shown us that we don’t have to get into cars and planes to connect with like-minded people for worthwhile discussions.  The lessons learned from tragedy are often the most important.

2 comments

  1. Rob Yousey · · Reply

    Great observations and commentary Andrew! Totally agree! I find it funny that I am frequently the only one with my camera on!

    1. Thanks, Rob. I have one young coworker that hasn’t turned on his camera in the year+ that I’ve been working with him. Like you, I always turn my camera on and usually leave it on even when no one else is willing to do the same.

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