How Greater Anglia’s IT team facilitated a company move to working from home during COVID-19

Published on: Monday, 8 June 2020
Last updated: Monday, 8 June 2020

  • Behind the Scenes

As the UK entered lockdown on 24 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people were asked to work from home if possible to help reduce the spread of the disease.

In anticipation of this, Greater Anglia’s IT team were tasked with facilitating as many of the company’s employees as possible to move out of the company’s main offices in East Anglia and London and work from home for the foreseeable future.

Head of IT Service Delivery, Himesh Patel, and his team of 10, had just three weeks to identify which job roles could work from home, what equipment they would need in order to be able to do this, and what upgrades would be needed to enable to the railway to continue to operate safely and reliably despite this huge change.

The first teams identified were the operator’s Train Planning and Rosters teams, together comprising 40 people, who were all either issued with laptops or received software upgrades to their existing laptops to enable them to work from home.

In all, 600 additional members of staff have been given the capability to work from home who couldn’t before, by being issued with laptops, and additional 70 have been issued with mobile phones.

For operational reasons, train companies do not usually have many employees who regularly work from home and it is thanks to the IT Team’s commitment to keeping abreast of the latest technological developments that this transition happened as quickly and seamlessly as it did.

To ensure that Greater Anglia’s systems could cope with the sudden increase in remote working, the IT team also carried out important upgrades behind the scenes in advance – such as increasing the number of users who can link remotely to the operator’s network at any one time, and reviewing and testing the company’s Business Continuity Plan.

As a result, the decision was made to activate part of that plan and split the train operator’s Control Room between two sites, to ensure business continuity in this safety critical area in the event of one of the sites being out of action due to sickness.

The IT team had also been ahead of the game in new features and functionality to Microsoft Office 365 for the business earlier in the year providing access to emails from anywhere and on any device as well as the ability to share documents easily over the internet, and brought forward existing plans to adopt TEAMS for virtual meetings as part of its ‘collaboration journey’ strategy.

This has paid dividends in terms of allowing people to work remotely, demonstrated by the massive uptake in the use of TEAMS and reducing pressure on the VPN connection to the network which can only offer a limited number of people access to the network at any one time.

Himesh says, “We’d been watching the situation in Italy with lockdowns being enforced and so we knew that it was likely to end up being the situation here too. So, it was all hands on deck to identify every key worker’s ability to work from home, get them set up, make sure we were in a stable position and that there weren’t any critical outstanding issues that had to be dealt with.”

“We also had to check that our suppliers were still in a position to help us if needed - such as our fault reporting desk and mobile phone and laptop providers. They all reassured us that they were prepared and Dell were great, offering to go to out to our employees’ home locations to fix laptop faults in a socially distanced way should it be required.” This received positive feedback from various staff that had home visits.

“My team has put in some long hours to prepare the business’s IT systems and keep everyone working so that the railway can keep running safely. This also included performing due diligence that all our stations IT infrastructure was stable, supporting our front line colleagues to ensure minimal disruption to the tools and technology deployed at stations allowing them to continue to provide the excellent customer service they do.

“The IT Team have done an amazing job and are all now continuing to do that from home. Of course, we still attend office locations for critical failures and faults that must be dealt with and we are still providing support and regularly reminding staff about IT security and to stay vigilant for security issues like phishing emails so that we don’t run into any unnecessary additional problems during this time.”

For many job roles on the railway, working from home is not an option.

We are very grateful to those frontline staff – drivers, conductors, station, depot and cleaning staff, for example - who continue to turn up to work everyday to keep the railway running for those who cannot travel another way.