In this episode, Paul and Dave introduce the podcast: Island Thrive: Conversations with Business and Community Leaders. They chat about both the opportunities and the challenges that the pandemic has created. Paul shares his experience on the rush to get Vancouver Island professionals working from home and the quick shift in his role as Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) to Lead Online Trainer. They raise key questions on digital transformation, cyber risks within the remote workforce, innovation and productivity. Dave highlights the results of the Business Outlook Survey and they tease the audience with what is to come in the first few episodes.
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Paul: Welcome to the new podcast, Dave Monahan, President of Smart Dolphins and myself Paul Holmes, the vCIO and lead training person at Smart Dolphins. Can I call myself the lead training person?
Dave: That sounds alright? We might work on a title, but yes, let’s go with that for now.
Paul: One day, I’ll come up with a better title. We’re doing this brand new thing. We’re actually really excited about it because we’ve had some interesting guests and they’re coming up in the weeks ahead and we need to come up with a name for this amazing podcast for the community. This has been a long-time vision, that’s come into being. Why don’t we start with talking about how we’ve come to where we are, what’s this all about?
Dave: Obviously Covid-19 rushed into our lives and after we got through the urgent part of that, of keeping our people safe, and our clients at home, we thought maybe we could play a role here in helping the business community by putting out a survey to find out where people were at and had been through and what they expected in the future, and just sharing ideas, and that type of thing. And, we had a really good response to that and it just felt like a natural outcome to that to start doing more of that by sharing the guests’ experiences, their ideas and resources and all that type of stuff.
Paul: Well, we’ve been talking about this for a long time, probably almost as long as I’ve been at Smart dolphins which is over five years now. We were like, “We should do a podcast one time” and it never hit the surface, but now we live in a stranger different world moving forward. It seems like the right time to create a new channel for communicating with people. And being really direct I think this is what is really neat, we can be ourselves, we can obviously present Smart Dolphins in a fun light, but also bring some real value to people in the business community, right?
Dave: In the next episode we talk to Victoria Shannon from Hansbraun. We talked a lot about communities being stronger through this and people really connecting locally and that certainly has happened for me as well, so I think that’s sort of natural outcome of this, to get people connected more with the people in the community through something like this.
Paul: So, let’s talk about the survey. It was really interesting to watch because I think there were some surprises, but a lot of things that we kind of did expect. When Covid-19 happened we were actually about a week ahead of everybody else in terms of getting people working from home and we could manage the anticipated rush for that, which was a great decision in hindsight, and I think then we jumped on the survey really quickly after that, put it together, asked a bunch of questions. I know the biggest one is what was the impact to your business or your organization? Was there a consensus there?
Dave: I like to reach out to other people to see what they are going through. We are all in our own little bubbles. So, I reached out to a few people to get a broader look at what’s going on. We are certainly doing that with our clients, but beyond that in the community. And, it really was quite diverse. There were a lot of companies that were disrupted and had to let a person go, had a little bit of revenue loss, had to make some cuts. But for the majority organizations out there, it was mostly business as usual, as best we could. But then there was a few, a minority that were really hit hard, an inability to operate, restaurants being the obvious example of that.
Paul: In-person events, that is an obvious one, a lot of the performing arts we talked a little bit about that earlier before we recorded the episode. A lot got hit a lot harder than others. But overall, I think the general sentiment was fairly good but people were still anticipating that there was a bigger impact that was going to come. I think it probably depended on when people filled out the survey because there were government programs that were being rolled out during that process. So, what is your feeling now? Are we still waiting for this bigger impact with the re-opening? Where do you think we’re going from here?
Dave: Well, I think, of course nobody knows, right? So that’s the power of surveying the general sentiment and just getting a feel because I think that’s more helpful than being in your own head. I think there’s more of a sense of a potential recession, as opposed to this shorter term, “What the heck’s going on kind of thing. How do we get through the next week or month?” And now it’s sort of looking at quarters, the remainder of the year.
I think from the survey, from people I’ve talked to, I think there’s some caution there, there’s a sense that there is some sort of recession coming, and it’s going be several quarters before we will really know and feel that confidence return. But again, I think that’s a muted sense of that. The sky is not falling, the world isn’t ending. We will come through the other side stronger but it might be to 2021.
Paul: I think that sentiment is still out there. I think the grand experiment was: can you hit pause on an entire economy and then unpause it a little bit later? I think that comes with some complications.
Dave: You mix in the government injections and their intents to bumps things along and that’s never been done right.
Paul: Yeah, definitely, a different world. I think the concerns that were mostly raised in the survey were fairly common. People were obviously concerned about team morale and safety, also of course, lost revenue being a major theme. And then the general sort of disruption to operations. Was there anything else that stood out?
Dave: Each business is a little different so everyone’s tackling unique issues for their business. Those were some of the themes.
Paul: I think one of the concerns was that communication piece, and this is where we had a real opportunity to help. We talked about this a little bit in an upcoming episode that we recorded with Ty where we jumped pretty quickly into doing a lot of online training, we even did some training around Zoom. I think the number of Smart Dolphins that had used Zoom, up to that point could be counted on a single hand, we dove right in because there was a recognition that Teams wasn’t for everybody and Zoom was a lot simpler to just get started, right? I remember the first time that I did the training for Zoom, we had over 50 people. It was quite the experience going through all that in hindsight.
Dave: Think about Zoom, it’s pretty straightforward, you log in. But even just getting that comfort level of somebody guiding you to this new world. I think we’re all looking for that comfort. So, I think there was a lot of help.
Paul: Yes, and comfort level around security. That was a huge concern upfront and there are legitimate security concerns. Everything you do, there’s legitimate security concerns, so sort of putting those in context for people. There is a big difference between clicking on a link someone sent you to join a meeting, and then organizing your own meetings. And how do you use licensing and all that sort of stuff? Of course, Microsoft Teams, most of our clients use Microsoft Office 365, and they use it with the hosted exchange. And so, Teams was a natural progression for a lot of them, but Teams is also one of those tools where if you don’t implement it well, you can really make a huge mess. And so, we did a lot of training on the fly around Teams, as well in response to that.
And then there is that mobility piece. There’s also the whole culture of the workplace. How does that translate from the in-person to the online? And obviously, that’s not a super simple equation for even businesses that are mostly already virtual. That would still be a challenge, right? If you have that weekly in the office meeting or whatever it is that brings your team together in a physical sense, right? Was there any culture, sort of stuff that stood out?
Dave: Yeah, I think just the whole shock of Covid-19 and this new environment. People just generally don’t like change, but the flip side of that was this inspired accelerated innovation that happened. Okay, “we’ve got to survive, we’ve got to all come together in this new world and Teams is new. Let’s get our training and let’s make this happen.” A lot of companies looked at their one-year plan, three-year plan kind of thing, and said, “let’s pick off some these things and do them now.”
Yeah, the world’s changed some of these things aren’t relevant. But I think really showed me for Smart Dolphins and other companies that I have some insight into is how quickly people can change a) when you need to and b) when you get inspired and you feel like you want to do more, and help your team, help your company, help your clients in the community.
It’s kind of like doing this podcast. We kind of talked about it, like you said at the beginning, we talked about it for a long time and we now see this great need and hopefully, some sense this will help people, so Boom… Let’s do a podcast, and here we are, we’ll figure it out as we go. It is clear as people will go through the first few episodes. We are definitely learning as we go as well. So that’s a broader trend that I see, and certainly tech is a big part of that.
Paul: Yeah, well, in the innovation I was going to say, isn’t necessarily around technology, it’s around their business processes and I think we’ve heard a lot of that with the upcoming guests where really the major effects they intersected with the technology they were using, but they had a broader impact in terms of their service delivery models in many cases, it completely changed. And so I think those trends are going probably continue.
Paul: I’ve recently started a “workplace of the future” talk series, and I launched it last Friday at a digital conference that used to be a physical conference and just talking about how the workplace of the future is shaping up, and in one of the slides, I prognosticated that ten years of innovation in terms of work-from-home and those sorts of mobile workplace things has happened over the last two months.
We’ve taken this quantum leap, and I think some of that is going roll back a little, but I don’t think it’s going roll back to the same way it was.
Dave: Yeah, what’s really interesting too is BC says, we have a restart plan. So, let’s all try to try to take some steps to go back to the new normal. And I told myself I wasn’t going to say that but anyway. It’s been fairly slow I guess from what I’ve seen. I don’t know if it’s caution, or if they are just thinking “we’re operating okay, we don’t have to freak out and try to rush anything.” I think there’s a lot of people thinking about: what does this mean for business in a year or two? At Smart Dolphins, we’re thinking about a hybrid operation: an office, but some people working from home part-time or full-time, and rethinking our office, and again, the technology always plays a part. So, we are though the panic of all this and thinking about the new trends and what it all means, and so people taking some time to do that, and again I think laying the foundation for that’s really important with people, like we said with Teams and not just rushing out and plugging your credit card in and trying to call it done right. To do well, you have to take your time and invest in it.
Paul: I think that you’re right and I think the big thing here too is communication, and I talked about this a little bit in my talk as well. The function of an office really is collaboration, right? Obviously, you meet with vendors and you meet with clients and that sort of thing, but that is a form of collaboration, right? The other collaboration you’re doing is over the phone or in meetings, right? And so all these things have existed for a long time and people are just discovering tools like Teams and obviously there’s competing products as well, but the one that we use the most and we use internally here at Smart Dolphins is so great because it does a lot of the same things that an office does, in terms of getting people working together. Only now you can record it and you can go back and look at your notes and you can search it and all those sorts of things you can’t do with a water cooler conversation or an edge of the doorway conversation, you can now do in such a, I guess such an efficient way. And so, I’m excited in terms of just in terms of the quantum leap in that collaboration piece. I feel like oddly and I hate to paint to silver lining on a horrible thing, but oddly I feel like I’m way more efficient, and way more organized and everything else that I was before all this started, right? I don’t know how many other people feel that way. And obviously people are going be all over the map… But I’ve heard that from others as well, even in other industries and stuff. Yeah, it’s terrible. And I mean people got sick and people died and there’s all sorts of horrible things out of this, but I still have a personal silver lining that was completely unexpected, right, and so I do think that’s not going change. People are going to use these tools. They are going to jump in. They aren’t just going to throw them away when they go back to their offices.
Dave: I do think there’s a deliberate decision to make there though. I think it would be easy to let go to the lessons of this. And so, I guess that would be one thing I would suggest to people. Put it on their to-do list for at some point before the year ends. What has this taught us as an organization and what do we carry forward with? And that, I think, acceleration of our innovation and using these tools. It’s that silver lining and let’s not waste that.
Paul: I think the biggest thing with the change is the security landscape has shifted so much too. We saw this in the survey, people brought this up. Security is a huge concern. When suddenly, Betty was working at her desk, she’s now going home working on a computer. Not sure, is there an anti-virus on that computer? If she downloading company files there? That kind of thing can be horrifying for an organization that isn’t set up really well. Obviously, we helped people through a lot of that process to get them set up well, but the landscape itself, I think has changed permanently in terms of that mobile workforce, and I know that was brought up almost universally as a concern, if I understand in the survey, like almost everybody kind of pointed to it. So, they recognize it’s a thing. And it’s weird because IT security even though we’re constantly banging the gong it, it’s hard to get people to even show up to come to a security awareness training session because they got bigger fish to fry that day, and we all do right? And so, where do you think we go from here? Obviously, at Smart Dolphins, we’ve given this a whole lot of thought and we have a whole series of best practices around this. Long before this started with most of our clients. But where do you think this is going and do you think this is going to continue to hit people’s top of the radar? Are people cleaning up the mess?
Dave: Yeah, well, from a macro perspective, this isn’t going away. Maybe in five or 10 years somebody will figure it all out for the world. But in the meantime, one of the best businesses to be in is being the bad guy. They moved from basements to high rises. This is a big business and so that’s not going away. On the micro, on the individual business level, it’s like anything that we need to build on our business. We need to be looking at the next thing that we need to be working. So it’s a plan. You need to identify the issues, identify where we’re weak, go for the lowest hanging fruit, make progress. But don’t just stick your head in the sand and think it’s not going to affect you. It’s going to affect every business.
Paul: Yeah, and the other big one was business continuity, one of the concerns from the survey. And I’m old enough and I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that people used to not think about that at all when it came to their IT. They throw on their back-ups and hope for the best. The sort of the “save and pray methodology.” And obviously now with the technology that’s out there, you can have far better business continuity in terms of technology but there’s also all the other pieces of business continuity, which I think so many people didn’t think about. I know a lot of the conversations I had before the pandemic we’re: “Well, if there’s an earthquake on Vancouver Island, it will probably just slide into the ocean anyway, so no need to worry about backups that much, right?” And now of course when we’ve been through this and a lot of businesses didn’t lose their business, they’re still in operation only now they realize there’s a whole lot more to business continuity than just the earthquake that’s going to slide everybody into the ocean. That’s actually pretty unlikely. Whereas a global pandemic apparently, is a far more likely scenario. So, I think there’s going to be so many lessons on that as we move forward. And thinking about business continuity, not just in terms of “can I restore my data, if my server dies?” But “how can we make this work under weird circumstances right?”
And, obviously, certain industries have very different challenges like restaurants, business continuity is: can we flip over to a delivery model tomorrow? Not always reasonable to do right. Is there anything that struck you?
Dave: Humans don’t assess risk very well and they don’t value it enough, unless they’re really conscious and maybe had some hard lessons around that. So, this ability not necessarily predict the future, but to think about it in different scenarios, being adaptable and flexible, but in an anticipation of unknowns, I think. What’s the book? The Black Swan talks about blacks swans being these really irregular but big things that happen that have a negative impact on the world. And the pandemic being one of those things. People just don’t do well with those in terms of planning for them or anticipating them. So, it’s recognizing that that’s inherent weakness in people, and so we need to sort of invest it in that in advance.
Paul: So, let’s tease everybody a little bit on some of the speakers that are coming up, and we’ve touched on a lot of the topics. I’m excited about the one that we recorded with my colleague Ty Hedden from Smart Dolphins. We actually started to talk about security a little too late into the conversation, so we’re going to bring him back and we’re going to have another episode down the road more in depth on security. That’s going be actually a bit of an outlier because most of the people that we’re talking to are business and community leaders. So I know we had Victoria Shannon’s coming up next week, and as she is from Hansbraun and so she’s talking about all of the various difficulties she’s experienced over this period with managing several retail buildings and office buildings. So, I think that was one of our most fun conversations if that’s still allowed. What was your takeaway, what are you going to tease people with?
Dave: I love Hansbraun. They’ve been great landlords for us. And they are such a principle value-led business, right? So this thing hit and they didn’t have a playbook they just went to their values and their principles and that really led them and they did some unique things. And so that really speaks to a lot of things we’ve already talked about today. I think they’re a great example of quickly adapting and she’s a fun person to talk to. So I enjoyed that.
Paul: And then we have Sheridan King, an attorney from Ramsay Lampman Rhoads. We have an episode coming up with her and her specialty is HR, and so, she talked quite at length on that episode about some of the peculiarities that we are going through right now. Remember that the rules don’t go out the window when you’re in the middle of a pandemic. And she had some really I think keen insights on some of the stuff that people need to be conscious about. We are down the pathway a bit but we led a little bit into that work-from-home transition back to work-from-work, and what that looks like as well with her. So that will be a good episode as well. Your thoughts on that?
Dave: It’s interesting that the different episodes that we’ve had really to capture what I’m hoping the podcast is going to be. Sheridan was very tactical and kind of went through some really practical things as well. I learned a lot from that too, that was helpful. And then you think about Victoria Shannon was sort of like this inspiring conversation and you got to join or a little bit on her journey through this, and kind of relate and take some lessons from that. Yes, it was great.
Paul: Dave, this is your vision, coming to life and I’m excited to be a part of it. I always love to be on audio and I always love to be on video, even though I have a face for audio. You all have a face for radio.
Dave: I got the hair for audio. Nobody should see this.
Paul: If anybody is seeing the video right now Dave put out a challenge in April for a fundraiser, where if the staff contributed enough to the fundraiser that Dave would wear a mullet for all of May. However, we are recording this in June, so I have no idea why you still have that hairstyle.
Dave: I have no excuse other than that no hairdresser will see me at the moment.
Paul: So this is, I think you touched on it already, the vision, we’re going include some very diverse voices. We’re going to have a bunch of very interesting and not necessarily connected topics. We’re going talk obviously about technology, because we’re in that business, but this isn’t a technology podcast, this is a podcast for the community and we’re going to learn together, we’re going curate some good information, share some best practices and experiences. I’m really excited and just the episodes we’ve already recorded, we’re starting to release. This is going to be a really exciting project. Speak a little bit more Dave to the vision, where do you see this going in the future?
Dave: Well, there’s a reason we haven’t named it yet, because I want to see how this evolves. Again, you’ve touched on some of what I’m hoping for. Isn’t that what business is about? It’s about seeing what the market wants from you, what are your strengths? Are, and so, I think of putting ourselves out there in writing, some people in that we think are interesting and valuable and just having conversations and see where it goes. Not to make it sound too loosey goosey. It’s obviously about the business community and less about basket weaving.
Paul: Well, it’s not just the business community, it’s the broader community too, non-profits.
We have some scheduled coming up where we’re talking about the impact on non-profits with the pandemic. Obviously the business community is a huge part of the community, and I think that’s what I’m most excited about is really connecting with and helping to find ways we can strengthen that community locally on Vancouver Island.
Dave: And Vancouver Island is so unique. And maybe if you only live here, maybe you don’t see it as well, but if you travel. In my case, I’ve got a peer group of people in the very same business all over the world, and certain things they do there, don’t work here. And certain things we do here, don’t work there. It’s very unique. There’s sort of a lot of lifestyle kind of businesses here and… And again, yeah, it’s a very unique. So I kind of want to capture that and I think there’s just a lot of interesting things we could talk about it in that respect.
Paul: I grew up here and I spent most of my most every day of my waking life on Vancouver Island and it’s shocking to me everywhere I go around the world, just how different it is. We truly do live in paradise and we’re so fortunate to have an opportunity to be here and we have something we need to preserve and strengthen and I really feel like we can be a part of that and I have felt that for most of my career. I know being part of the Smart Dolphins’ team when all this started, and people were panicking to get home, we felt a real sense of mission in terms of getting people working from home and flattening the curve and all that, and the way our staff came together to raise some funds for the Covid-19 relief fund that sort of thing. Just giving back to our community. I know I get a real sense of pride being part of a team that does that, and I hope we can really encourage that in a broader sense, as well.
Dave: And in the world changing quickly, I think Vancouver Island literally had a bit of moat as in around the castle kind of moat.
Paul: Filled with orca.
Dave: Yes, orcas and sharks.
Paul: Don’t forget about the Dolphins.
Dave: But the world is changing. Geography and those boundaries are collapsing and technologies accelerating and everything else around all that that we all need to tackle. And so that mission for me is really about preserving this amazing place that we have by and the quality of life we have this so much is driven by the business community and the broader community as well, and so hopefully we can play a part in in making that a better.
Paul: Well, I’m excited Dave. I know we have three recorded under a belt and this is going to be a lot of fun and I would welcome if anybody has listened to us this long, let us know. Say, “Hey Paul, you know that part in the podcast, where you said, if you are still listening, say I was still listening!” I’d love to hear that, but more importantly than that (haha), give us some ideas. What would you like to hear on this? What are some topics maybe some really interesting speakers in our community or just people we can have a conversation with. This is really about having good conversations.
Dave: Can I just inject? “Anything is Paulsible.” Sorry, you’re on a roll closing this up and I had to that throw that in there.
Paul: What is it a one million dollar prize for the person that comes up with the name?
Dave: I can’t remember the exact number.
Paul: No one is listening, Dave.
Dave: One million dollars.
Paul: No, no, there’s not a million dollar prize. However, if you help us come up with a really cool name for our podcast, we will be eternally grateful.
Dave: Yeah, definitely.
Paul: That’s all I have to say.
Dave: Thank you, Paul, for join me in this and Meghan in the background. She does a ton.
Paul: Our super producer.
Dave: And all of our guests. Thank you.
Paul: Yeah, awesome, Take care.
Dave: You too.