Answering Your Questions: Facing Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

Answering Your Questions: Facing Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

On April 30th Rackspace held a virtual roundtable event about common technology challenges surrounding COVID-19. During the roundtable, we ran out of time to answer questions posed to our panelists, so we have asked them to answer your questions here!

Click here to watch the recording on demand.

Cost Optimization:

Q. What are consumers’ changing expectations now that everything seems to have been turned on its head? And how can we meet their changing expectations so we can get our business back on a profitable track?

A. “The number-one topic on the minds of Rackspace customers over the past two years has been digital transformation. This crisis seems to be accelerating this move. While we don’t have all of the answers yet, we do have several strong indicators on where the future of business is going. For one thing, consumers are likely to rely nearly 100% on digital experiences in the near future. Take online shopping as an example. Even those who didn’t shop online before the COVID-19 crisis are doing so now. This will result in a permanent change in consumer behavior. This means that to stay competitive, companies must deliver a seamless and easy digital experience, a great online purchasing experience, and marketing that supports new ways of engaging with customers.”

— Matt Stoyka, Chief Solutions Officer, Rackspace

Q. How should we approach cost optimization at a time when we have to direct the majority of our resources to dealing with an ongoing emergency? When we’re struggling to put out fires just to keep our business operational, is it even possible to achieve cost optimization in IT?

A. “Cost optimization requires dedication, discipline and consistency. There are a couple different ways to get there. Organizations can create their own well-defined programs and expected outcomes, which they have to then commit to everyday. They can also partner with companies like Rackspace that have dedicated, focused teams with experts in cost governance, who spend every waking moment optimizing customer spend. Often the cost of these services is easily recouped in the cost savings created.”

— Matt Stoyka, Chief Solutions Officer, Rackspace

Getting to the Cloud:

Q. What will the future of the cloud look like? In this environment, should we accelerate our long-term plans to transition to the cloud or abandon them altogether? And how should we start planning now to be better prepared for the next crisis?

A. “Companies around the world are realizing that they need to rapidly change the way they work to address today’s business challenges — and multicloud technology is one solution that can help them. Cloud computing gives organizations an infrastructure that’s always on, scalable and reliable, which allows them to focus on delivering great customer experiences. To successfully use a multicloud solution, companies must develop a strategy, design the applications, build out processes, manage the operation and optimize their environments to take advantage of the strengths of each cloud solution. Doing this requires thoughtfulness and know-how. Working with a company like Rackspace can be part of being better prepared; as the multicloud expert, Rackspace helps companies execute these steps and leverage all types of cloud technologies to meet their businesses’ goals.”

— Matt Stoyka, Chief Solutions Officer, Rackspace

Security Risks:

Q. Are we facing greater network and data security risks now that COVID-19 has entered our world? What are we looking at with risk and what do we need to do to protect our organization now?

A. “In general, any problems that organizations were dealing with before the COVID-19 event have been magnified and intensified by the crisis, including security. During the crisis, we’ve seen an increase in the nature, volume and magnitude of the same security threats we faced before the event — phishing, ransomware, fraud and social engineering. These are standard attacks — we see them every day, but they’ve increased now. The fundamentals of cybersecurity have not changed; they just need to be more stringently enforced. It’s critical that organizations adopt a preparedness mindset that includes heightened vigilance and continuous monitoring of their landscapes. They need to ensure that the connections between user and customer infrastructures are extremely secure.”

— Karen O’Reilly-Smith, Chief Security Officer, Rackspace

Remote Working:

Q. How is everyone handling end-user compute during this pandemic? Are most companies deploying laptops, or are companies allowing employees to use personal devices (BYOD)? If so, how are they being supported?

A. “Our clients are employing a number of solutions. The easiest are where employees had laptops and took them home. Others have rolled out BYOD solutions, enabling employees to use their home computers for work. A few allowed their employees to take their work desktops home. Some have deployed thin clients. Each solution presents unique challenges related to availability, cost, security, performance, productivity, support, taxation, etc. Companies need to consider employing all of these options as they decide which deployment works best for them and how they can support that solution.”

— Subroto Mukerji, Chief Operating Officer, Rackspace

Q. One of our biggest challenges with a new fully remote workforce is that many employees are struggling with the reliability and speed of their home internet providers, and maintaining their home workspace. This is not something our internal IT department can directly fix, and for many of these employees, working from home is new for them. What are some ways you’re enabling efficiencies for remote workers and addressing issues with their personal internet providers and home setup?

A. “We found that a small number of employees had two main issues. First, they did not have the right setup in their homes. We offered to courier items to them, such as monitors and chairs. This made a big difference. Secondly, we had some employees with very poor internet connections. If there was an option to upgrade, the company offered to pay the difference. When that wasn’t an option, we arranged for 4G mobile connectivity to the VPN.”

— Kieron Nolan, VP of Technology, GoCompare

Supporting Employees:

Q. We have found that while working from home, many of our staff members have faced challenges from a mental health perspective. How have your teams managed this challenge, and what strategies are being put in place to ensure you’re staying on top of it?

A. "With a global rise in uncertainty that leads to increased anxiety and stress, Rackspace proactively expanded and implemented programs to support our employees’ well-being. For example, we implemented weekly manager meetings and regular all-hands meetings led by the executive leadership team to deliver frequent and transparent communications on the current state of the business, as well as future plans and support solutions. If you are needing help building a program around well-being, you can borrow from some of the initiatives we have rolled out including:

  • Created a five-point COVID-19 response plan with employee health, safety, and wellness as the top priority
  • Established a COVID-19 resource portal to provide all employees with information and resources quickly
  • Provided employees with a wellness day (one additional day of paid time off) to focus on their health and wellness, and to recharge
  • Shipped non-surgical face masks to all employees’ homes at a time when we knew they would be difficult to obtain
  • Ensured every employee has access to an EAP (employee assistance program) around the globe
  • Launched the Global Wellness Speaker Series with mental health professionals who discuss topics such as resiliency and self-care
  • Initiated engagement programs to keep employees connected, such as the team fitness challenge, an expanded online learning resource and virtual experience activities
  • Launched a digital well-being tool to help employees reduce stress, increase resilience and improve focus"

— Subroto Mukerji, Chief Operating Officer, Rackspace

Q. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on employee morale in regards to empowerment. Do you feel that employees perform better if they’re given the authority to make decisions and to be proactive in their jobs versus if they’re only expected to perform specific tasks given to them? Do you have any ideas on how to use the creativity of our teams, communicate new ideas internally and keep morale high, especially during COVID-19?

A. “There’s abundant evidence that people thrive when given permission to use their best judgment, such as in addressing a customer issue or developing an internal opportunity. Further, the front-line team members who can say to a customer, for example, ‘We did not live up to our own standards here. Let me put a credit on your account as an apology for the inconvenience,’ creates a positive customer response that’s greater than what’s achieved by saying, ‘Here’s an 800 number you can call for an adjustment on your bill.’ Owning the problem, instead of creating a new problem, is the difference."

“To make this a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle, it’s important to make the solution automatic. When someone does something novel and/or inspirational, there should be an automated process in which the action gets reported inward and upward, triggering a workflow that asks, ‘What did you do, how did the customer respond, who helped you and how can we do it even better next time?’ Will mistakes be made? Yes, and it’s the job of leadership to create a shared conviction that mistakes will be evaluated with the goal of learning rather than punishment. If that’s done, great things will happen.”

— Peter Coffee, VP of Strategic Research, Salesforce

Returning to the Office:

Q. As the head of Admissions and Marketing at a small, Texas liberal arts college, we know we need to find a way to have students return to campus this fall, while ensuring their health and safety first and foremost. Without testing, tracing and isolation strategies, it will be extremely risky to have students living on campus again. How can universities partner with technology companies to implement tracing software?

A. “Contact tracing relies on a combination of technology and community that will be different in varied settings and cultures. Salesforce has announced a suite of new services, including contact-tracing tools, under a repurposing of an existing Salesforce brand ( We’re now using that name in a new way to deliver a combination of capabilities that we believe almost every organization will need in some form.”

— Peter Coffee, VP of Strategic Research, Salesforce

Q. Do you foresee a time when Rackspace will return to having a 100% in-office workforce? What is your stance on continuing to allow most or even all Rackspace employees to work remotely, while keeping ‘The Castle’ as the home for hardware and support personnel?

A. “Our experience with this unique pandemic will change some aspects of our future approach to our employees’ work locations. I don’t think we will return to a 100% in-office workforce, or continue with 100% remote. What will emerge is a hybrid approach with location- and function-specific solutions, and a greater acceptance of remote work.”

— Subroto Mukerji, Chief Operating Officer, Rackspace

Watch the Roundtable On-demand
COVID-19 Roundatble