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Lessons From Moving 2,800 Support Engineers to Work From Home

World War IISponsored post

One of my favorite museums in the world is Churchill War Rooms, which is the underground bunker complex where Churchill and his staff ran war operations, safe from the bombs that pummeled the ground above. In the midst of the crisis, engineers had to reinforce the ceiling to ensure bombs could not penetrate the bunker. Not only is this museum one of the best WWII museums in the world, it also provides an inspiring view of how a committed team can successfully execute while they move to an entirely new and unplanned work environment on the fly.

I’ve thought of the cabinet war rooms often during the COVID-19 pandemic: how operations moved to protect the team and how the team responded. While shelter in place may feel like we’re cut off from the outside world in a bunker, the invisible virus is quite different from bombs falling from the sky. And while Churchill’s team used rotary phones, switchboard operators, typewriters, and giant maps, we have the benefit of collaboration tools like Quip and Zoom, and technologies like cloud-based applications and automation to help us stay connected and productive, even when we are apart.

Even after 20+ years of working in customer service, I would have never guessed that we would move completely out of the contact center in a matter of weeks — and that the entire world, together, would be going through this with us.

Salesforce customer support is an operation of 2,800 Salesforce and outsourced engineers around the globe in 12 countries, supporting customers in 11 languages. Prior to the rise of the global coronavirus pandemic, only 216 worked from home. But then the world changed forever.

Moving service teams to work from home at scale

With a strong sense of urgency, commitment to the goal, and dedication to our customers, amazing teams across our company moved almost 2,800 people to work from home in 16 days.

But, we did face some challenges along the way.

During those 16 days, we did two things to help our contact center:

  • Reduced backlogs: A lower backlog is integral in setting customers up for success in periods of risk and uncertainty. With an uncertain time frame to be at full capacity and the possibility of offices closing, people getting sick, or other unanticipated reasons, we immediately started running overtime.
  • Moved quickly: Starting earlier brought us some time to iterate, considering the complexity of doing this at scale.

Get creative with outsourcers working from home

For our Salesforce employees, the move was relatively smooth. We had the systems, home internet, and VPN access already in place to make this work. What we quickly learned, however, is that we were not in such great shape when it came to our outsourced workers. We had never previously considered having outsourcers work from home. They were not set up from an equipment or access standpoint, so we had to get creative. On the equipment side, 80% of our outsourced team had desktops. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a shortage of laptops, we asked them to take their desktops home.

Give your team access to information

The other problem our outsourced team faced was access. Because we had virtual desktop environments set up for our outsourced engineers, our network team recommended our outsourced personnel get VPN access through their employer. As an alternative, we also tested providing some engineers with Salesforce provisioned laptops that could be connected directly to the Salesforce VPN.

For everyone to have access, we needed to make sure home internet connections were fast, systems had enough memory, everyone was set up with the right kind of headset, and network access worked. A critical piece of this phase was troubleshooting latency for individual engineers, which will continue over the coming weeks.

What’s next?

The next scenario we are actively planning for relates to capacity. What will we do if COVID-19 impacts more engineers and their families? What would we do if we lost 10% of our capacity? 20%? 40%? 60%?

We have three contingency plans, but we hope that we don’t have to use them:

1. Upfront capacity notifications: We plan to post notifications on our support portal, being transparent with customers that our capacity has been impacted, and asking customers to hold on any low severity issues. This is exactly what travel companies did during the initial surge of mass cancellations and rebookings.

2. Internal help from other teams: We have a plan to solicit other experts within Salesforce to help with support, notably our product engineering and professional services teams.

3. Allow more overtime: Increasing overtime is always an option, although some may not be able to work overtime due to their situation. However, we have been exploring this option to help reduce the open cases.

Keeping the team connected and supported

It’s critical that our team feels supported and cared for, especially during this time of change and uncertainty. Salesforce has done three key things to help: communicating early and often with all of us, showcasing empathy and embracing change, and allowing for flexibility with everyone’s schedule.

Don’t forget to have fun

We are all living the joys (and stress) of full-time work from home. It is more important than ever that we all stay connected and have a little fun. For example, our friend and customer Nick Mehta, from Gainsight, introduced our pets to each other.

I’ll leave you with Churchill’s words of encouragement that apply during this global crisis: “Never give in, never, never, never.” It may be tempting to give in to stress and uncertainty, but we can also find many opportunities to adapt.