How a Hybrid-First Work Model Can Create Fantastic Remote Work
We have an award-winning culture at Moneypenny, and we had not considered a hybrid working model before the pandemic. Our people love coming into our stunning offices and we had built a strong in-office culture over the first 20 years of our existence.
For us—like many other companies—the pandemic upended our preferred way of doing things, and the company had to adapt to the reality of remote work. We could have gone with stopgap measures until the situation returned to normal, but as the pandemic went on, it became increasingly clear that it was important to embrace new ways of working. That meant rethinking our IT infrastructure—first to get through the pandemic, and then for everything that came after.
Going Remote in Less Than Three Weeks
Founded in 2000 by brother-and-sister team Rachel Clacher and Ed Reeves, Moneypenny are the call and live chat experts providing services for thousands of companies across the U.K. and U.S. Our first-class receptionists (PAs) answer thousands of calls every day. We also offer live chat and social media support that seamlessly integrates with our customers' existing tech.
Demand for our services has grown exponentially over the last two decades and in early 2020, we formalised and added specific roles in the company to deal with this growth. I stepped into the newly created Head of Infrastructure and Operations position weeks before the pandemic turned everything upside down.
Overnight, we temporarily shuttered our locations in the U.S. and U.K., and our 100% in-the-office work culture went out the window. Fortunately, we were quick to react. In less than three weeks, we put together a solution comprising Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Teams, and AWS WorkSpaces as our cloud-based virtual desktop solution.
With this setup, our PAs could answer telephone calls and webchats and log customer information into our CRM. However, we knew that to truly embrace the changing ways of working we needed to take time to review our technology more holistically.
Partnering to Implement the Perfect Long-Term Solution
We are always looking at the latest software, so we already had a tool in mind for the job: the Cisco Meraki Z3, a cloud-managed teleworker gateway with built-in wireless and VoIP functionality. It is a hardware-based solution that would allow us to create a secure connection to our corporate network. It would also ensure high-quality voice and video calling while providing better visibility into remote users' activities.
I'd also worked with Protos Networks, a Cisco Premier Integrator and network and security services specialist, 50 kilometres from our Wrexham head offices in North Wales. So, I was confident I'd found the perfect partner to help us deploy Cisco Meraki Z3 gateways to all our remote workers.
Our initial conversations with Protos quickly grew beyond the scope of rolling out a teleworker solution. Replacing and upgrading everything was an opportunity to future proof our IT infrastructure. We commissioned a full-blown audit of our wide area network (WAN), and Protos confirmed we needed to bolster our SD-WAN connectivity. They suggested implementing Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) to build a network that could accommodate our remote workers and serve as the foundation for an eventual return to the office.
Seamless Integration and Single Pane of Glass Security
We developed a plan and asked Protos to supply the equipment and run the project for us. Moneypenny has in-house network engineers, but Protos also sent three engineers to work along side us in deploying our Z3 gateways and roll out the SD-WAN solution. We were already using Cisco Umbrella, so adding ISE to the mix gave us complete visibility into our remote workers' devices with a single pane of glass—whether they were at home, in the office, or a hybrid of the two.
One of the key benefits of Cisco technology is seamless integration. Our Cisco SD-WAN infrastructure, including our Cisco Meraki MX and vMX virtual appliances, mesh perfectly with our Z3 gateways and VMware (running atop Azure infrastructure) at our U.K. and U.S. offices. This combination simplified managing our new and historic infrastructure.
We have adopted the 802.1X protocol on new and existing network devices and now use certificate-based authentication to connect our teams to our wired and Wi-Fi networks, which grants users instant network access at any of our offices without requesting new login credentials. This approach is valuable in a hybrid work environment where users come and go much more frequently.
We can now create guest credentials when we invite someone into one of our sites and revoke these access privileges at the end of their visit.
Securing and Supporting Our Remote Workers
Cisco has given us extra security for our remote workers, who now connect directly to our network through their Cisco Z3 device. They can only use company-authorised laptops with the gateway, creating a secure, encrypted pathway to our IT infrastructure. Uncertified devices can't connect to our network, reducing the risk of malicious activity.
Cisco has also reduced the burden of providing support to remote workers. Meraki Insight gives us deep visibility into our remote users' hardware at a glance. Instead of combing through logs for all the users to troubleshoot a connection error, we can log into the Meraki console and see the status of a user's Z3 gateway. We can determine whether it's online, see its uplink speed, and look for line noise and Wi-Fi interference. We have four pages of Z3 data in the Meraki dashboard, enabling our people to run comprehensive diagnostics to troubleshoot an issue. It's another benefit of Cisco's seamless integration across its product line.
A Transformative Solution for a Hybrid Workplace
The impact of adopting these Cisco solutions has gone far beyond IT. As the pandemic hit, Moneypenny had to reconsider our IT tools, and as a company we have embraced the idea of the flexibility a hybrid model using this technology.
"Adopting a hybrid first approach for our workforce has challenged us to rethink what we wanted from a corporate network," said Moneypenny CTO Pete Hanlon. "We needed a solution that could provide the same level of quality, security and reliability for people working in the office as well as people working from home. Partnering with Cisco has allowed us to build a highly flexible solution that ensures quality and provides a level of insight, allowing us to manage our environment as it grows."
This flexibility allows us to add people without spending more on real estate. We can look further afield and hire workers in other regions, increasing our talent pool and improving our capability to work around the clock. We can also take advantage of the opportunity to provide our employees with choices. We're considering using flex schedules, where people come and go at different times. We can experiment because Cisco gives us security and call clarity no matter our setup.
These are exciting times for Moneypenny. We've experienced tremendous growth as our customers are likewise embracing new ways of working. They're increasing their productivity and outsourcing their calls and live chats to us, and we've been able to keep up with the increased workload.
Cisco enabled Moneypenny to offer a fantastic hybrid experience and we’re also an example to other companies that previously required an entirely in-office work environment. Our IT team has the tools to deliver and support secure solutions for hybrid working, and when necessary, our teams can work remotely while giving us the power to scale as demand for our services grows.