For almost a quarter of a century now, the React Computer Partnership in Woodbridge, Suffolk, has acted as right-hand man for small to medium size companies in need of an IT department. Specialising in the supply, installation and support of business IT systems, last summer the family behind it, the Pledgers, were anointed Family Business of the Year at the East of England FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards.
The sudden move to home working following lockdown wasn’t a problem for those companies that already had Microsoft Office 365 at the heart of their operations.
But for those that didn’t, well, at least they had companies such as React Computer Partnership to turn to.
The period immediately after Boris Johnson’s announcement was hectic, said director Francis Pledger. “In our own case, we just had to have a couple of people go into the office, collect the telephones and distribute them and, hey presto, our whole team was up and running from home on the Tuesday morning.
“It’s just as well as it was a very busy period for us, because everybody else was trying to do the same! We took a week’s worth of calls on that Monday and Tuesday alone.”
The Microsoft Teams part of the 365 package – the communications hub that so effectively supports collaboration and, yes, teamwork – has certainly come into its own.
A significant portion of React’s work recently has been focused on helping clients get the most they can out of it.
There are two strands to Teams. Francis said: “One is a chat facility where you can have very unstructured conversations, updating each other about what you’re doing and life in general.
“And then in the other section, that’s where you build your team and hold meetings.
“You can segment the conversation based on which customer contract or project you are working on and have different conversations in different channels.
“You can be talking to your team in one channel and a customer in another. We did that just this morning when we had a conversation with one of our customers who wanted a licence change.”
The host could hold audio meetings in which the screen was shared by the participants and, if they had the right type of licence, they could use Teams to run events such as webinars too.
“If you need to go back and double-check what somebody said in a certain exchange, you can do that as well,” he said. “A record is kept of meetings.”
In addition, a built in ‘tasks’ function makes it easy to both divvy up and keep track of duties and responsibilities, leaving no room for doubt over who’s doing what.
While it is the breadth of social interaction allowed – the formal and the informal – that has made Teams the success it is, accessibility is key to Microsoft 365 as a whole.
With all documentation automatically stored and then separately backed up to the cloud, staff can draw down whatever they need, wherever they are.
He said: “I have spoken to people who have conversations on WhatsApp, video meetings on Zoom and store their documents in Googledocs, but 365 has all of that in one package, so you don’t have to come out of one system to go into another – it’s all in one place, it’s seamless.
“Something that managers also need to be aware of is that when people are working from home, there is a bigger tendency for them to store documents on their PC rather than on the server, because they are easier to retrieve, but then how many copies do you end up with and who’s backing them up to the server?
“It’s simply not an issue when everything is automatically stored in Office 365”
Going forward, business people needed to be prepared for perhaps more evolutions of the cycle, said Francis.
“We don’t know if coronavirus will come back, but at React we have said for a long time now, your office can be taken out of commission for any unforeseen reason.
“So having the right systems in place and being able to simply transfer home is a very useful backup to have, certainly if you want business to continue as close to usual as possible.”