During this pandemic, tech is a lifeline to keep us connected

June 7, 2020
Marta Novovic‑Mlinaric​
Microsoft Azure
Cloud Data

“Thankfully, Byte had already helped set us [CBLA] up to work from home from a technology perspective—the challenge is how do you get four teams to work together at a distance when you’re used to having everyone right there in the office? And we want to make sure our people have their mental health in check while working in isolation. It’s a big cultural change.”Raph Tripp, ICT Systems Manager at Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment Trust (CBLA).

CBLA’s digital transformation

CBLA is a venture between Cambridge English and Box Hill Institute. It runs the Occupational English Test (OET) that assesses and qualifies English proficiency of healthcare professionals across the globe.CBLA went through a rapid growth period between 2017 and 2018 when a series of national health authorities recognised the OET as a valid proof of English proficiency for workers in healthcare organisations. This quickly increased the number of candidates wanting to take the test to meet requirements for working abroad but CBLA’s infrastructure at the time simply couldn’t cope with this sudden growth: onsite servers were running out of capacity and backing up to hard drives was inefficient. CBLA took the decision to begin a move into the cloud, bringing Byte on board to guide the process right from the start.As part of a planned office move late last year, Byte supported CBLA’s installation of a TPG network that could handle a new cloud-driven approach and performed a server migration to the cloud. New collaboration tools were then introduced from the Microsoft suite, such as Teams and Sharepoint, which have proven to be lifesavers during COVID distance working. Byte also supported the upgrade of CBLA’s old VOIP and Polycom handsets, implementing Telstra Calling for Office365 (TCO365) across the board.

A focus on people power

CBLA sees its people as its most important asset and focused heavily on improving the digital workplace as part of their digital transformation, setting up employees for flexible, mobile working with the collaboration tools Byte helped implement. Employees can connect through 1:1 and group chats, easy-to-use video conferencing for internal and external, and effective document sharing for best cooperation—all with safety already baked in.Once a digital approach was rolled out, CBLA saw a big uptake in the use of technology to make day-to-day tasks easier and more productive. For example, TCO365 proved to be an instant success, with its ease-of-use helping to elevate the number of calls within the team and improve the collaboration culture. Prioritising calls over emails means there is more immediacy to the workday, and this has become even more essential during the COVID crisis. Byte helped CBLA roll out the solution to its entire staff, with each employee now having their own extension. This lets them easily separate out their work calls away from their personal number, answer work calls on-the-go from any device and pick up calls directly on their laptops to improve workflow. It also includes other simple features that make big differences to how employees work, for example, voicemail translation into emails to make follow-ups much easier.

The effects of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, CBLA’s digital setup meant remote working wasn’t a problem, but as with most organisations, it still had huge effects on both employee wellbeing and the commercial business. CBLA usually runs the OET test in over 150 venues across more than 80 countries but all tests for April and May have had to be cancelled, causing vast revenue losses. Employees are also suffering the effects of the lockdown: not only has it changed day-to-day work dramatically, but the lack of contact with colleagues, family, and friends has also affected everyone a basic human level.For both of these challenges, CBLA is again turning to technology to help drive the organisation forward. It’s giving customers the option to defer tests booked in the affected months for later dates to limit revenue losses and opening up prospective dates for new bookings to December, much further ahead than usual.In terms of the people aspect, CBLA has found that ‘work tech’ can be used for much more than work. To support employee wellbeing, it has started up a range of opportunities for social interactions including coffee breaks, lunches, and yoga—all through Teams. It has also fostered connection throughout the day using Yammer to share both work and non-work messages to boost morale and help employees stay connected despite the distance.

The silver lining

Of course, the situation still has trials and tribulations: flaky internet connection in some employees’ homes is something CBLA can’t fix, and suddenly supporting an office of more than 80 people remotely is still a challenge, regardless of having the technology in place; but there is a silver lining.This new way of working, remote work en-masse, does give us a window into each other’s lives in a way we didn’t have before. Employees are hearing dogs and kids in the background, seeing pictures in each other’s homes during video calls… It reminds us that people have a life outside of work, giving companies new energy to share and support work-life balance as much as possible, with the right tools, now and in the future.To find out more about working remotely with Byte.

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