Webinar Transcript: How Marlette Funding Managed the Quick Switch to Remote Network Monitoring

How Marlette Funding’s CTO Managed the Quick Switch to Remote Network Monitoring

In this webinar transcript, Shamus McGillicuddy, VP of Research at EMA, and Brian Conneen, CTO at Marlette Funding, a financial services company, discuss managing the unique network performance demands facing WFH remote users.

Webinar Transcript

Greg Ness:

You guys all recognize Shamus from EMA and then TechTarget. He has been in the IT industry for a long time. He’s covered a lot of trends. He had the opportunity recently to talk to Brian Conneen, who’s both CIO and CTO at Marlette Funding. Brian’s got a little bit more gray hair, as I learned, than in this picture, but he’s been around the block as well with [inaudible 00:01:13], Oracle, and a lot of large organizations, but he’s been at Marlette through some pretty heady growth periods since 2013. 

Greg Ness:

NetBeez was founded in 2013, really focused on remote and on-premise network monitoring with more than a hundred customers, inspired by, you see the slide to the right, the shortcomings of the existing network monitoring place, visibility limited to device status. So a lot of time was lost on root cause analysis, no insight into user experience, depended on reporting delayed and fragmented user reporting. You were at the mercy of users to find out the problems. And then oftentimes having to deliver specialized skills needed on vacation, which drives up travel costs and wastes resources.

Greg Ness:

So Stefano and the other two co-founders basically developed an architecture very much focused on user experience with obviously getting raw data for insight and then allowing the network engineers and help desks teams to diagnose problems oftentimes even before the users would notice them. So Shamus, why don’t you take it from here?

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Okay. Greetings, everyone. The premise of this webinar to some extent is just looking at the fact that it’s been a tremendous growth in a number of people who are working from home on a part-time or full-time basis due to the pandemic. I do four or five market research studies every year where I survey network engineering and operations professionals about a variety of topics. I’ve asked them a couple of times over the last six to eight months, what is going on with their work from home population, the people who they have to support in home offices as opposed to campus and branch? And we found the majority of enterprises definitely experienced a spike in the number of employees who are working from home during the pandemic. That’s not going to be a surprise to any of you.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

But we also found that most of them expect that spike is going to be permanent to some extent. They admitted that some people might go back to full-time on site employment, but many more are never going back to the office or only going back to the office occasionally for meetings, to collaborate on certain projects, things like that. But in terms of day-to-day work, a lot of people are going to be permanently situated in a home office.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

There are a variety of reasons for that; they’ve seen that productivity is not negatively impacted by working from home. In fact, many people become more productive. They tend to spend more time working because they don’t have the pressure of commuting. They’re not trying to get out and beat the traffic, they’re already home, they’re comfortable, people are just more productive. And it’s related to that, there’s a work-life balance that might make some of your employees just more relaxed and happy and being able to fit their job into their lives more.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

On the flip side, with fewer people in the office, I’ve talked to many IT organizations who are changing their corporate networks in response to the fact that their company is retiring real estate, they’re consolidating or they’re changing the way they use the real estate. But when you have to maintain fewer desks, you can save money on the amount of floors you have in a building. I’ve talked to people who’ve closed some of their branch offices and focused most of their real estate spending in their corporate headquarters. There’s a lot of opportunity there.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Now, I talked to this one network architect at a hundred billion dollar bank a week or so ago. He acknowledged that working from home has created a visibility gap for him. This quote is from him. He says, “I don’t think we have enough visibility to support working from home. We need to fix monitoring for everyone, but instead we’ve been focused on fixing monitoring just for one person at a time.”

Shamus McGillicuddy:

One guy told me he’s been turning on… He had a VPN agent that could produce NetFlow. And so he was turning that on in certain cases, on a case-by-case basis, to get some visibility from the home office. But everyone is trying to figure out what are going to be the new tooling strategies if you go from monitoring a few corporate locations to try and to support the end user experience of thousands of home office environments? It’s a totally different situation.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

You might find yourself with some blind spots because in most cases, you can’t pull those home office environments with SNMP. You don’t have any network hardware in place. Despite what one guy told me about turning on NetFlow on a VPN client, most people do not have options for generating NetFlow from an office to give you a traffic insight. You’re not going to have packet capture appliances in home offices, you need new tools. And we’re finding in my research that there’s a lot of interest in tools that can generate active test traffic, synthetic traffic, to test the networks and see how the network is supporting end-user experience instead of pulling stats on device state, or trying to understand traffic from a passive point of view. Also a lot of interest in endpoint monitoring, what’s going on at the endpoint.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

My research has also asked people recently what kinds of network operations work from home performance insights they need for these home offices. And these are the four that rose to the top, that emerged as really important to them. They want to know how the application is performing at the center of the network, whether that’s your data center or your cloud, but they also need to know about ISP availability and performance, VPN concentrator utilization performance at home, Wi-Fi performance.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Now, two of these, app performance in the data center and the cloud is mostly addressed by your existing tool sets. If you have a lot of SAS applications, that’s a different story. And VPN concentrator utilization and performance generally can point whatever performance monitoring tool you have in your data center at that and get the visibility you need.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

When it comes to ISP availability and performance and home Wi-Fi performance, you probably don’t have tools to address that right now for the home office environment. This comes up in conversations over and over again with network engineers and architects and network operations managers. They tell me that the thing they need to be able to do is to know, is it the ISP or the home office Wi-Fi? They can’t answer that question. And trying to answer that question across hundreds or thousands of people is killing them and it’s killing user satisfaction.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

With that in mind, we’re going to go and pivot towards Brian now and talk about what our conversation entailed in terms of what he did to address these issues. First, I’m going to let him talk about Best Egg/Marlette Funding, give you an introduction to where he’s from.

Brian Conneen:

Shamus thanks for the invite. I appreciate getting a chance to speak to everyone today. Just quickly about myself, I am the CIO/CTO… they wouldn’t let me put Chennai Grandmaster in my title, so I had to pick something a little more established for Marlette Funding, which is the company behind Best Egg personal loans. Best Egg personal loans was launched in March of 2014, so a little over seven years ago. We are an online personal loan business expanding into other credit facilities and financial health offerings as well.

Brian Conneen:

In the last seven years, we’ve done 11.5 billion dollars. And as of this morning, across 650,000 unique customers. It’s a very simple unsecured personal loan, customer applies completely digitally, and that’s up to five-minute to 10-minute process and they can get the proceeds as little as the next day. That’s all you guys have to hear about Best Egg. I’m not trying to sell you on a personal loan, although if you’re interested in one, definitely check out the website.

Brian Conneen:

But since founding, we grew to about 250 people and full-time employees pre-COVID, and primarily 95% of them were working in the Wilmington, Delaware, office. And 95% of them were going into the office at least three or more days a week. We were a very office-centric culture and company prior to pandemic. So you can imagine that was a huge shift for us as we switched from then to work from home.

Brian Conneen:

Anyway, we had 250 employees. We are very dedicated to over-investing in infrastructure. I think about network speed and access and availability like oxygen. No one complains about it until there’s not enough of it, and we always wanted to stay ahead of that. So our office network for what is a medium-sized company was incredibly advanced. Multiple gigabytes up and down of internet, super high speed internet, Wi-Fi repeaters everywhere.

Brian Conneen:

We were always very focused on, “Don’t make that a problem.” We don’t want the person’s problem with the data be, “The internet at the office isn’t working correctly.” We felt very good about where we were pre-pandemic. We had a great system, great service levels. Our help desk was helping people whenever there was an issue. And then we quickly had to switch from that one centralized office to what essentially became 250 people working from home in the course of about seven days.

Brian Conneen:

And so, what that looked like was about 150 employees who we typically call strategy employee, so what you typically think of a full-time employee at any business, and then a hundred employees, our call center agents, using cell phones. These all were in the office previously through multiple floors of our building, and now every single one of these folks was working remotely from home across every ISP possible in the tri-state New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware area with every combination of Wi-Fi brand and repeater and router and every type of living situation from having a one room in an apartment that you’re sharing with three other people to being in a 3,000 square foot family home, and your office is tucked in the basement because your wife won’t let you come out of it. I’m not talking from personal experience at all.

Brian Conneen:

That was the gamut of the transition that we made. And what happened to us immediately was exactly what Shamus was referencing was, oh man, we have no visibility into what is happening. All the employee would tell us, it would be a call center agent and they are on the front lines fighting the fight for us every day with the customers, giving the customers that great experience. They’d be like, “I don’t know why it’s not working. My cell phone isn’t working. I can’t take calls. I can’t log into the application to check the customer’s account.” All sorts of issues. And the only thing the employee told us, and that’s totally valid, is, “It’s not working. Fix it.”

Brian Conneen:

And now I have this group of help desk folks trying to do their best with no visibility into each of their customers, which is our employee situation. So we’re using tools like, “Can you open fast.com or speedtest.net? Do you know how to run ping?” And the employees would be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I was sitting here scratching my head going, “We can’t solve this problem one employee at a time. We were doing best, and I felt like we were doing better than most probably were, but it was still not a great employee or overall company experience. And that’s when we found NetBeez.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

One question I have is, you mentioned trying to get your employees to use something like ping or Speedtest or something like that, were your team using anything on their end before they looked at NetBeez?

Brian Conneen:

We had some basic monitoring. Obviously, all of our devices were centrally controlled with all the different levels of security and infrastructure we had, but almost all of our infrastructure prior to the pandemic was focused on optimizing our office network and obviously giving employees the ability to VPN in. But the VPN use case was a very limited use case. And if an employee had problems, it would be transient and it would only be a couple at a time. And so we had insight, but limited insight, and a lot of our tools focusing on the local land versus individual employees.

Brian Conneen:

So that’s really the wall we kept running into, is we found ourselves… The help desk themselves saying, “Can you take a screenshot of the results of fast.com? Can you open a Command Prompt and write this?” And then still, even with that information, they’re sitting there scratching their head going, “I don’t know if it’s the ISP, I don’t know if it’s the Wi-Fi signal, I don’t know if it’s the computer, I have all these different things that I have no insight into.”

Brian Conneen:

Previously, they would just walk over to the employee and say, “Hey, let’s sit down and figure it out together.” Now, even if they wanted to, even if we allowed them to interact, they literally couldn’t because of the pandemic. So everything was remote and distant and we were really struggling to figure out a solution. And that’s when I started Googling my fingers off looking for a solution and I ran across NetBeez.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

In one of my research projects recently, I asked what kinds of tools they’re using to support these home workers. And one of the top responses was remote desktop access. IT ops is individually logging into each user desktop remotely, probably to run the ping test or to maybe force quit an application or whatever. Troubleshooting remotely, it’s not ideal.

Brian Conneen:

I would say that the thing that was most frustrating was that we went from a company who used video conferencing, similar to Zoom, that wasn’t the product that we used but that we’re all using today on the webinar, occasionally for the remote employee or the person dialing into a conference to being completely on video conferencing in a meeting centric culture where there is no tolerance for, “I can’t hear the person, they’re breaking up.” “What’s going on?”

Brian Conneen:

What would happen is we would get reports of, “I was in a meeting and it didn’t work.” But by the time we got to the person, a transient issue might be gone. So not only the tools we had were barbaric and limited, they were not historic. There was no trending, there was no analysis. So even by the time we finally got to the person, maybe the problem was gone, maybe it was transient.

Brian Conneen:

We’d find ourselves in arguments, not necessarily arguments because the customer is always right, but internal arguments in our head going, “Is it our problem? Was it the user’s internet? Was it the third-party video conferencing software?” Because the quick answer everyone just said was, “Conference software X is broken.” Every ticket was, “The conference software isn’t working.” And that became the bane of our existence because you have a meeting center culture, everyone is trying to use video meetings and the only feedback you get is, “The conference software isn’t working.”

Brian Conneen:

I don’t blame the users. Once we got the cell phone issues figured out for the agents, that was the next biggest complaint. And without any sort of historical look back, man, we were in trouble because a lot of Wi-Fi and network issues are intermittent; they’re not consistent. And that was another thing we were really looking for, was the ability to trend over time and then go back and synchronize a ticket. And the time ticket happened to the actual performance and not the user’s device.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Brian, that was such a CIO thing to say, “I don’t blame the users.” Because you go further down the reporting chain and that response is different [crosstalk 00:18:48]

Brian Conneen:

Absolutely.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Anyway, let’s talk about how you got into using NetBeez. What prompted you to take a look at them, and what value did you see when you were checking them out?

Brian Conneen:

Absolutely. As I was saying, I was Googling my little fingers off because on my disposal, on my personal desktop that I was working from, I had things like PingPlotter, and I understood websites I could go to, and I understood latency, and I had complete visibility into my networks. So even when I was having problems, I felt like, “I have all these tools at my disposal, but I don’t have them collectively for my organization.” And yes, I think my help desk folks were definitely using remote desktop as much as they could, but it doesn’t give you a collective holistic picture. And it only is in reactionary instead of proactionary. So we were reacting to incidents and issues after the user complained about them versus proactively monitoring things.

Brian Conneen:

So I was stuck in my head going, “There has to be a better solution.” I don’t know, I said, “Two or three hours Googling, trying to figure out.” Everything I ran into was more around network infrastructure in a data center or it’d be like, “You could install Speedtest on everyone’s device,” but it was not aligned to this idea that I wanted to be able to do speed test, ping, packet loss. I wanted to be able to do it to arbitrary servers and also known servers, because it would vary… For a call center agent, it’s really important for me to know, how is the connection to our cloud-based dialing system? Is that a good connection? Or how is the connection to our conferencing system? Two totally different systems. How is the connection to our software that’s sitting in AWS?

Brian Conneen:

I wanted to be able to monitor all of those so I could isolate, is it an issue to the local network? Is it a systematic issue? Is it an internet issue at a backbone? et cetera. That’s when I found NetBeez. I believe when I found you guys, it was very early days for your individual device user software being configured, and we were probably one of the first users to deploy it.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Cool. So you saw the value of being able to get remote user experience from it. There was obviously an interest in raw data feeds and obviously NetBeez also offered a central management console that allowed you to see all your users or the users of interest and see who is having trouble. Can you elaborate on that bit?

Brian Conneen:

Exactly. We set it up that we had, what we consider to be roles or groups. And so our agents taking phone calls were in one group and had one set of things we were checking and monitoring against; overall speed, latency, ability to connect to certain servers. Our executives were in another group. They had different concerns and issues and we were highly sensitive to if an executive was having a problem, to make sure that we were in front of it because they don’t have any time to spend trying to help us diagnose it. And then finally it was the general user base.

Brian Conneen:

We then split those three groups into two modes of operation; there’s reactionary, like research and diagnosis, “We just got a ticket that they were having a problem with conferencing. Let’s pull up NetBeez and look at what was going on during that time with their connection. Does the connection look good? Connection looks good. Let’s go open up a ticket with the video conferencing solution because…” By the way, every video conferencing solution in the world was getting slammed and it was just as equal to be a user problem in their house as it was actual video conferencing solution problem because of scaling and demand. And so that would help us narrow it down in a reactionary.

Brian Conneen:

Proactionary, we had users going in and logging in and looking at, “Hey, who’s trending and having problems just with the stability of their connection?” So then we could reach out to them. Sometimes the answer was as simple as, “Here’s a 100-foot ethernet cable, can you please plug your laptop directly into your router?” And that would solve the problem. Other times it would be, “Hey, we’re going to give you a stipend. Can you please upgrade your connection?” Other times it might be literal device problem or something else.

Brian Conneen:

And so we balanced our efforts to manage these 250 distinct environments both reactionary to problems but proactive. I made up the word proactionary. No one called me on it, which I appreciate, but proactively to balance the thing so we get out ahead of it. And obviously, certain users we kept a very close eye on. Someone who had a problem in the past, we would check in every so often to see if that problem was resolved or was it reoccurring again?

Brian Conneen:

I’m sorry. I don’t know if this is a common CIO problem or not, but my CEO doesn’t know what our ticketing system looks like. His ticketing system is he texts me every time there’s a problem with anything in our infrastructure whatsoever. And he says, “Brian, I don’t want to bother you, but here’s my problem.” That’s how it always starts, “I don’t want to bother you, but here’s my problem.” And that’s his ticket system. It’s definitely something we’re paying close attention to.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

So now, when you have the conference set up, you’re able to not only create profiles for different types of users, but also individual users of importance. You’re probably also able to see applications that are critical to your business or websites that are critical to your business?

Brian Conneen:

Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, we have a conferencing provider, we have a voiceover IP provider for our agents taking calls from customers, we have our own custom apps sitting in AWS, and we monitor connections to all of those; different profiles of different collections. And we can make sure that there’s not a systemic problem for that user getting to that endpoint. And by the way, this was something we did for COVID in the pandemic, but we’re looking, I told you earlier, that we were 95% working from an office three days or more a week.

Brian Conneen:

Our best estimates are we’re opening our new office in July. Our best estimates going forward are going to be 50-50. 50% of our users might come into the office three days or more week, and 50% of the users are probably going to work from home three days or more a week. And that’s fine. We don’t have a problem with that. We understand that’s the new normal. And so this is not a temporary solution to a problem; this is an ongoing approach that we need to take as we go forward.

Brian Conneen:

I got in front of the slides again. That’s how I do it. This is an ongoing approach that we’re going need to take forever. We don’t believe that this is changing. Maybe after a year or two, it swings back up to 60% of people going into the office three or more days a week. But we believe that for lots of good reasons that Shamus talked about in the beginning of the session, there’s lots of benefits. The way I’ve been describing to folks who’ve been asking me, because you can imagine any time you talk to an employee, one of their first questions these days is, “Hey, what’s going on with going back to the office? What’s our plan? What’s our strategy?”

Brian Conneen:

And what I tell them what we’re aiming for is I want an employee to be able to wake up in the morning, pick up their phone, look at their calendar and go, “Is this a good day for me to go in or to stay home?” And that can be for a variety of reasons, “This kind of meeting, I love to be in the office for, or I need to get this work done. So I’m going to stay home. Leave me alone. My son has a soccer game. Staying home would be easier. Or I have to go in later today.” I think that used to be a very weighty decision for people. “Hey, if I’m going to decide to stay home today, I better have a good reason and it’s probably going to impact other schedules.” And I think what we’ve learned over the last 13 months is that actually it doesn’t need to be a weighty decision and that flexibility is going to be an important cultural component going forward for all businesses.

Brian Conneen:

And so we’re trying to design our future both in our physical office and our network infrastructure and the virtual employees so that that feels like a very easy decision that an employee can make on a day in, day out basis of, what’s best for me today to get my job done? And then we just empower them to make that decision. So that means investing in what their home office looks like, the kind of equipment they have, investing in tools like NetBeez for monitoring, and then proactively working with employees as we detect problems.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

You mentioned a new office. What’s that office going to look like? I imagine the new office it’s going to look much different than what your original intent was when your company started planning for it [crosstalk 00:26:52]

Brian Conneen:

Absolutely, Shamus. I would say if you want an example of some of the world’s worst timing is we signed a 10-year lease a month before the pandemic sent us all home on a brand new building to be built. And so obviously, there was a little consternation that we didn’t know what the new normal is going to be and we just signed this 10-year lease, but I and the rest of the data is incredibly happy that we signed that lease because this new building gives us way more flexibility than our previous one. And we are designing a very fluid office setting where I think of our office as half office and half conferencing center.

Brian Conneen:

Meaning, there are definitely employees who have clearly told us, “As soon as the office is open, I’m going to be back in the office.” For a variety of reasons. Some of them have no suitable place really to work from home, some of them just can’t get work done from home, some would prefer the office, they prefer the socialization. There’s lots of good reasons. So we will have employees who are there in assigned cubicles or assigned offices three to five days a week.

Brian Conneen:

And then there’s a population of employees who told us, “Hey, I want to come into the office, but I can’t commit to which days I think it will be. I would like a little more flexibility.” So we’ve designed another… The rest of the office, and by the way, it’s all commingled. There’s not a floor by floor… Everything is commingled together. We’ve designed the rest of the capacity to be incredibly flexible. We’re using technology so you can reserve it. Every spot that you could sit in has a little visual display of whether this is reserved and how long it’s reserved for. And then obviously we’re doing investments in sanitation and health where the reservation is over, we don’t free the resource up again until it’s been cleaned and sanitized.

Brian Conneen:

It’s those kinds of investments in the new world where lots of collaboration space with open air collaboration and meeting rooms, lots of flexibility in being able to book space, including rooms and desks and collaboration. And we really want employees to feel like this is the mothership they can return to at whatever period of time they want. And obviously, some of our employees are going to be distant remote as well, where that’s a trip. So if they’re going to come visit once a year or once a quarter or whatever the right ratio for them to come back to from wherever in the country they are, we want them to feel that it’s a warm, inviting place to come collaborate with their peers as well.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Something just occurred to me, these people that be coming to the office, working from home, they’re still going to have the NetBeez agent on their computer whether they’re in their home office or coming into your HQ. Have you figured out whether or not you’re going to be leveraging the NetBeez agent on those laptops when those people are in the office?

Brian Conneen:

It’s a great question. We actually have spent some time thinking about it. Obviously, because every employee can be working from home at any point in time, the agent will continue to be played on everyone’s device whether they plan to be in the office or not. Because even though our CEO might be there five days a week, he also might hit a problem on a weekend that we want to understand or a weeknight or he’s on vacation and he’s saying he’s having issues. So whether the person’s plan is to be physically in the office or not, the agent will be there.

Brian Conneen:

We’ve been trying to figure out what we think the right… Obviously, I don’t necessarily know that I want 300 devices all pinging the same server from the office. So we’ve been thinking about profile wise, do we want to activate and deactivate, for instance, if the device detects our device, we hand out the texts that we’re on a work Wi-Fi network, do we want to slow down the rate of ping or the rate of test? Or do we want to just pause until we’re no longer on our work?

Brian Conneen:

And so that’s the kind of conversations we’re currently having. We haven’t exactly landed on what our solution will be, but that was a really insightful question in that I did have this moment of panic where I was like, “I’m going to have 400 people in the office and every single one of those machines is going to be pinging the server every five minutes.” And that did make me a little nervous all from the work network.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

I’m sure you can configure it so that you can have just one person, one part of the Wi-Fi network ping at any given time, or just have some default that shut off. Could you talk a little bit about what you’re doing in this home office environments from an infrastructure perspective? I remember you telling me about installing some Wi-Fi and some LTE gateways here and there. What’s the status [crosstalk 00:31:05]

Brian Conneen:

Sure. Absolutely. The first thing we did, and obviously, there’s a lot of power in being a medium-sized business with only 250 employees at the time of the pandemic, we could act incredibly quickly. So the minute we thought there was a possibility of shutting the office down, we immediately bought 200, 300 monitors so that people could have identical setups at home as they have in the office. We bought docking stations, we bought cabling. So that essentially as we… Over the seven to 10 days that we rolled out from being a fully in office workforce to a fully remote, we had a whole process where we gave every single person, “Here’s two monitors for home. Here’s a docking station, here’s an ethernet cable in case you need it.” And we started then a baseline. So that’s where we started from.

Brian Conneen:

And now every new employee we’ve added since the pandemic has gotten that same kit; they have two monitors at home, they have a docking station, if they need a desk or they don’t have a desk, we can give them that as well. If they need a chair, we can give them that. So we have a standard issue that we can give employees. And then we have what I would call a tree for debugging. So, hey, we’ve got everything. We’re seeing that they’re having problems. In some cases, we’ll give them an eero type Wi-Fi system. “Hey, we think it’s just your Wi-Fi. You’re in the corner of the house, the Comcast router is and the other corner of the house, your connection is really bad, but you probably have a good internet, but your Wi-Fi is bad. So we’ve solved some cases by giving them better mesh Wi-Fi.

Brian Conneen:

Sometimes employees just live in a place where the high speed internet is not great. So we’ve used backup LTE gateways as well. And then the tried and true way has been, “Hey, if you’re really stuck and nothing else is working, here’s this a hundred foot ethernet cable that no spouse likes running through their house.” But if everything is… if we can’t figure out a better solution, that’ll get us through the hump until we figure out how to move forward. So that’s our bag of tricks.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

All right. Anything else you want to talk about before we open it up to questions?

Brian Conneen:

No, I think that was pretty much everything. I’m sure it was a lot. No one’s ever accused me of being too quiet.

 

Brian Conneen:

When people were collecting the questions, the one thing I don’t know if you agree is that I think that the one silver lining of this entire last 12-13 months is I think the cultural shift to remote work for a lot of companies, they’re getting over the mental hurdle of it being less productive or less efficient. It has accelerated, I think, probably a decade, at least. I know some companies have always been very remote friendly, but I think a lot of the companies, at least especially in financial services where I come from, had always been very hesitant to our largely remote workforce. So I think it’s really accelerated that openness to it that we’ve seen the reality that it really…

Brian Conneen:

There’s definitely been downsides, don’t get me wrong. Working in a pandemic is not the same as working remotely. There are some slight differences for sure, but I do think it’s gotten us over the hump of this being impossible to do.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

There’s a cultural piece here. I talked to a network architect who was in the middle of changing jobs. He’s going from one mid-sized regional bank to another. The bank he was leaving, they said, “The day the pandemic is over, everyone’s going back to the office like it never happened. We’re all going to be… And not only that, but we’re going to an open office environment where everyone’s going to be sitting in a row at a table with only two feet separating them, if that, and no one’s going to have a cubicle anymore,” which is horrifying for people who’ve been maintaining social distance for more than a year.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

He said, “The new company is going to another $20 billion, $50 billion bank was embracing what you’ve done. We are never going to make anyone come back to the office again except for retail banking part. We need some people in the bank branches, but we’re giving people total freedom to work in the way that they need to.” 

Greg Ness:

Looks like we have some questions that have come in. “Seems like remote work has been very popular with financial services firms especially. Any thoughts on why these firms may be the biggest adopters of remote work?” 

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Well, I haven’t noticed that. I think there are multiple industries where it’s happening. Technology companies, for instance, have really, really embraced remote work as well. I heard from one high tech company with 5,000 employees who ordered 5,000 SD-WAN gateways for 5,000 home offices with LTE radio backup. It’s happening in a few industries, but I don’t know if Brian has any thoughts about his own industry that he wants to add.

Brian Conneen:

Sure. I would say that I think it’s relative. It was surprising to me how many of the giant money center banks quickly adopted it and even have made statements like, “We’re not making any decisions for all of 2021 as to what we’re going to do going forward.” I think historically that was super surprising just considering how culturally the office was important. The skeptic in me says it has to do with the fact that there was an opportunity that they view that if this works, that they can really reduce their costs as far as real estate and office and space like that so that there’s a huge credit.

Brian Conneen:

The one trend that you saw pre-pandemic was a lot of these companies were taking their large swaths of employees and moving them to less expensive areas. Just even within the United States, a lot of banks were moving out of Wilmington and moving to Northern New Jersey or in some cases like Austin, Texas, tax incentives were driving… real estate prices also were driving them to move to other areas where they could get lower cost basis. And I think the pandemic just gave them an evolution of like, “This could be another way.”

Brian Conneen:

I’m not saying that’s the only reason they did it; I think they did it because it was the right thing to do to keep their employees safe. But as they looked at it and said, “Wow, our cost basis for giving all these employees a place to work is incredibly high,” and so I do think that there’s a little bit of a self-serving, “We can lower our cost base there as well.” And I think that they were the ones I expected to be the most resistant, and the fact that a lot of them quickly moved really did surprise me as well. It made me feel like, “Wow, they are pretty flexible.” 

Greg Ness:

We had some local press isolating… they were talking about the neighborhoods that had been so depleted during COVID. And lo and behold, the financial services area… Some of the nice high real estate areas of San Francisco were seeing a massive depletion in terms of people just moving out. So, that’s interesting. The other question I see, do you see a return to pre-COVID? I think you’ve already answered that with your slide, Talking About This Whole Flex Work Mentality, but I think we’ve answered that. I think you also answered what it was about NetBeez that caught your attention. You were doing Google search, you were looking for user experience, monitoring. Anything else?

Brian Conneen:

Yeah. I said that when I did my research, it was few and far between. I’d find companies who had, “You can buy this piece of hardware or if you have this already, this will work.” The thing that really drove me towards NetBeez to reaching out was the idea that I could just install an agent on individual machines, individual pieces of hardware, laptops that we’d give out to people, and that agent could quick… We could easily roll that out using our existing tools for rolling out software. So the ability to quickly roll it out, the low upfront investment, it really got me interested and was able to make our deployment go incredibly fast. 

Greg Ness:

When you first made the pivot to remote, what really kept you up at night when this thing was underway, and what drove you to that Googling and looking for… What were your top two or three, I would say worries as CIO?

Brian Conneen:

Sure. I think this is very aligned to what CEO’s worries were because I think he’s defined a culture that I’ve bought into a hundred percent and that we have a culture of what we call productive conflict. So this is we challenge each other and we have arguments and we stay collegial and we’re not doing name calling, but conflict is a big part of our culture. We’re encouraged to challenge each other’s decisions, to hash things out in meetings. And so that means those meetings are incredibly important to our culture. We like to have communication and always be face-to-face as possible. So our video conferencing system was a critical part to maintaining that culture. We also do things like weekly all hands meetings with every single employee with a topic.

Brian Conneen:

And so the ability to have everyone pay attention to that and log in, that was what was keeping me up at night. You’d think it would be like the ability to make phone calls, and that’s all important. I knew we would solve that, but our CEO was worried about it, which makes me worried about it, was, “Hey, how are we going to maintain our culture during this time?” And when you’re relying on something like video conferencing software that is so relying on stability of network connections and bandwidth and all sorts of things you don’t control, that really is what had me the most worried, was, “Hey, we have to maintain everything we’ve built over the past six years while we’re doing this.” And that’s what drove me to the decisions that we made.

Greg Ness:

Interesting. Well, it looks like we have one more question and it’s really a speculative question about how companies will fare that’ll push everyone back to the office and say, “We’re going back to the normal and you’re just going to have to live with it.” What do you think about the fate of those types of companies?

Brian Conneen:

It’s a very great question. I literally was just in a conversation this morning about that. And I said that I believe the ability to work remotely will be a company advantage and attrition will directly correlate to companies and flexibility in the new world. So, assume that the pandemic is no longer a concern health wise, but we’ve opened this Pandora’s box of remote work. And I think it’s a good box that we opened. I think companies who refuse to allow people to work remotely are going to lose employees and you’re not going to be able to compete. Some companies’ culture and benefits will overcome that, but I feel like, especially in certain areas in technology, it’s going to be a competitive disadvantage to not allow people to work remotely.

Greg Ness:

Yeah. I agree. Shamus, what do you think?

Shamus McGillicuddy:

I agree too. You think about it, there’s a mental health aspect to this. There are a lot of people who have been very careful for well over a year now, who have maintained social distance, sheltered at home as much as possible, worked from home productively during all of that despite all the stress and distraction. And any company that tries to force those people to come back to an office setting before they’re comfortable, before they’ve had a chance to get comfortable being around people again is making a huge mistake. You got someone who’s been working from home for well over a year who has found a way to make themselves feel safe doing that. And then you’ve got to tell them they have to go back into a cubicle setting where hundreds of people around them are breathing.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

I think about this… I remember flying a lot for work and seeing there’d be maybe one person on the plane wearing a mask pre-pandemic. And I’d think to myself, “What’s that person scared of? What are they doing?” Now I know that they were, one, trying to protect themselves from a legitimate concern, which was disease. And or two, trying to protect the people around them. There is more awareness of the danger now. Every year, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people around the world who die of the flu. There was no massive casualties to loss of the flu this year. The flu did not happen this year because everyone was keeping each other safe. Everyone was masked. Everyone was staying away from each other. We just accepted that there was a certain amount of risk that we were willing to live with, whereas a certain number of thousands of people die from the flu every year.

Shamus McGillicuddy:

Now, we just went through this event where this one country, the United States, lost half a million people and counting to a disease that was novel to us, but has changed our perspective on what it means to protect ourselves and the people around us. And I think even after the pandemic is over, that is going to be a thing that people are thinking about. Like, “From now on, is it worth it going back into the office when I have comparabilities that could also let the flu kill me?” So, flexibility is going to be a major competitive advantage for employers moving forward. And the ability to provide a good user experience for people who are trying to be productive from home is going to be really important moving forward.

Greg Ness:

Well, I want to thank both of you guys for participating in the webinar. Shamus, Brian, your input was invaluable. For anyone that wants more information, you can obviously come to our website and at netbeez.net.

 

Contact our team for more information.  info@netbeez.net │ 1-844-NETBEEZ (638-2339)

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