05 Feb 2021

Adapting To The New Normal: Key Discussions from the iMasons UK Chapter Meeting

As a foundation partner of Infrastructure Masons, Kao Data has the privilege of hosting its UK Local Chapter meetings once a quarter. These are well-attended affairs, bringing together thought leaders, engineers and senior business leaders from across our industry. Before announcing the date for our first meeting of 2021, I’d like to review some of the outputs from the last chapter meeting, where we discussed the unprecedented changes that both our sector, and the world has experienced over the previous eleven months.

Despite the challenges experienced since March, by December there was some interesting and positive dialogue around how the ‘new normal’ was beginning to take shape. Our industry had quickly adapted and evolved in response to growing demands for resilient digital infrastructure, connectivity and to support the pressures on businesses.

Throughout the turbulence of last year, it was clear that a firm emphasis had been placed on company culture, and while it was generally agreed that there was an initial period where employees were working longer hours, the importance of our sector had never been more apparent. Indeed with professionals being named key workers, business continuity for the most critical of applications became paramount, and many operators worked tirelessly to ensure that customer applications remained safe and secure.

Taking care of each other

Within many businesses, younger team members appeared hardest hit by lockdown, whilst proficient in digital skills, the strain of isolation was maybe more acute to them. New processes were developed and put in place to allow rapid on-boarding of new staff that ensured they were integrating well with the existing teams. A key requirement was to ensure they were not isolated, and at times additional pastoral care and mentoring was needed for younger members of staff such as graduates or apprentices. The transition into a working environment was anything but ‘normal’ for the newest into our industries.

The Chapter audience was in general agreement that creating a more ‘people centric’ culture had positive effects. Structuring daily schedules so that staff could tackle much-needed breaks between meetings, and offering the flexibility to help with home-schooling became key focal points. This enabled a greater sense of belonging within the team, whilst ensuring that homelife continued with some normalcy.

There’s no doubt that an increased level of remote working is now here to stay, and while there may have been some uncertainty at first, the additional time that people gained from not commuting everyday allowed them more time with their loved ones, or gave them the opportunity to pursue other interests that simply would not have been possible before. Indeed, for many people, the grind of daily travel to and from work has been firmly laid to rest.

Many also agreed that this has tended to improve the positive work-life balance, but the in-person interaction with professional colleagues is still sorely missed. I believe that professionals within the industry still look forward to the days of face-to-face meetings and networking, which we hope will begin sometime later this year.

Productivity, efficiency and how they are measured was also back on organisations’s agendas, and although work levels have largely remained the same, being able to strike a balance so that work didn’t become too invasive or too onerous will be key to maintaining a productive and collaborative digital workplace.

Uptime and continuity

As companies transitioned to remote working a greater emphasis was placed on how information is managed, where it is stored and how it is kept current. Leveraging systems and data when you couldn’t always leverage people became a focus, while operational continuity and resilience were topics that surfaced repeatedly within customer discussions.

For those that had their own facilities, protecting the on-site team and the customers’ infrastructure was a key priority. Changes to shift patterns, increased cleaning rosters, and social distancing measures all needed to be implemented. Minimising site visits and reducing footfall throughout the year allowed less human interaction, which in some cases was beneficial and resulted in less on-site disruption.

Customer demands increased quickly and unsurprisingly, most were keen to engage online. Although, there were often changes in approach required to address due diligence concerns and questions from procurement teams from some overseas clients.

In some instances certain individual’s longstanding reputation and professional achievements within the industry had helped bridge the physical gap, and at Kao Data we leveraged virtual tours to help demonstrate the capabilities of our world-class facility and guide customer decision-making.

Across the board, customer deployments became more urgent, often with compressed delivery timescales, whilst many smaller requirements have been transacted without site visits. Projects that had previously been met with resistance where actioned, moving more workloads to cloud, colocation and software defined platforms. Where it has become acceptable for deployments to be made without a physical site visit – and providing a successful installation - then it will be interesting to see if this mode of contract implementation is continued when travel or government tier restrictions are lifted.

Looking forward

The pandemic has illustrated how firmly digital technologies are woven into the fabric of modern life and how dependent we have become on them - placing data centres and the services we provide at the heart of the digital economy. As we continue through lockdown 3.0, I’m sure that there will be more challenges ahead and processes will continue to evolve.

Our sector has consistently proved resilient in the face of adversity, and key threads include uptime, resilience,sustainability, and precision engineering. Amongst all of that we must not forget about the very people that make all of that happen – the ones that keep the lights on and make sure that everything works. Because today’s economic reality is that our industry, and the professionals within, have truly become mission-critical.

The next Infrastructure Masons UK Chapter Meeting takes place on 4th of March 2021. The key topic for this session will be how the UK Chapter and its members can best support the four strategic industry priorities; to enhance Education opportunities, champion Diversity & Inclusion, promote Innovation and Technical Excellence, and inspire Sustainability. Specifically, the session will cover :

To register or join us, click here.

Paul Finch

Paul Finch is COO at Kao Data and has had a 30-year career designing, building and operating some of the world’s finest data centres.


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