Lockdown diary: Warren Hero, Webber Wentzel

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Warren Hero, CIO/CDO at Webber Wentzel.
Warren Hero, CIO/CDO at Webber Wentzel.

Warren Hero, CIO and CDO at law firm Webber Wentzel, shares his lockdown diary: from gained productivity and being patient with slow tech adopters, to new-found connections by getting into people’s homes and sharing Spotify lists.

ITWeb: How have you organised your operations during the national lockdown?

Hero: We made sure to focus communications on employees and clients – reiterating our intent to deliver on client requirements and employee clarity with what the performance focus areas are, almost on a daily basis.

We focused our IT team to enable user mobility and simultaneously conducted business continuity tests by functional area – to understand the operational requirements, establish demand patterns and accelerate the learning of managers and executives so they are prepared to run their teams remotely.

ITWeb: What technical considerations did you have to get right? Laptops and connectivity for staff, improving your VPN, beefing up security?

Hero:The importance of being able to provide a good user experience on core applications meant we stress-tested firewalls, VPN, etc, to ensure we could match the transactional experiences. We piloted a vision of our modern workplace and through the BCP tests confirmed the other key capabilities that would be required for finance and lines of business to work remotely. The digital signing of artefacts was a key aspect to ensure the minimum level of governance compliance with internal financial mandates. Expedited decision-making, prioritisation of acquisitions and a focus on getting into lean execution. The testing and retesting of disaster recovery, including improving mean time to recovery of core systems.

ITWeb: What HR issues did you have to consider? How many of your staff are now working from home? Have any staff been put on leave?

Hero:We had to educate leaders and managers on how to facilitate employee engagement while working remotely.

Then, up-skilling employees on our collaboration toolset as well as the acceptable usage policy – with specific emphasis on maintaining the firm’s cyber security posture. We ran simulated phishing exercises.

95% of our staff work from home. Our drivers have been put on special leave.

ITWeb: Which platform are you using for virtual meetings?

Hero:Our modern workplace strategy is built around Microsoft Teams. We employ the use of planner and for enterprise-wide projects MS Project. We operate from a position of trust and engage employees about pro-active tasks to improve data management for our client relation platform. We developed etiquette for the use of teams and assigning tasks. The ‘presence’ aspect has been an adjustment for team members. (There is a status or presence indicator that shows if a team member is available or busy or otherwise. No guessing if someone is available to consult.)

ITWeb: How have your clients adapted to the new normal?

Hero: Feedback from clients has been positive as it enables participation in their legal matters. The use of Teams, the recording capability and the transcription service in Stream means that direct reference can be made to a conversation and the artefacts that are being prepared for clients.

Most importantly, we have found this system of collaboration decreases the delivery time of artefacts due to the co-editing functionality and the transparency to clarify common understanding of what has to be delivered.

ITWeb: What have you learned since the lockdown began? What has been a pleasant surprise, and what has been the biggest challenge to overcome?

Hero: The compassion and willingness to learn has been a catalyst to accelerate our digital adoption and consumption rates. Being invited into team members’ homes and learning about them and their kids is, in my opinion, creating other social connections. The curation of Spotify playlists is becoming a way to share the music and seminal moments that these soundtracks are linked to in our lives.

[Supporting] slower adopters has been a study in patience. At our weekly stand-ups we share hacks and horror stories and this provides some comic relief.

The cadence of communication is focused on engaging teams and some teams have reported almost three hours a day gain in productivity per individual.

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