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How Telus International addressed remote work challenges

Telus International CTO Jim Radzicki credits Google Cloud for the firm's rapid deployment of remote work technology, like virtual desktops, in the face of the pandemic.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Telus International made use of Google Cloud -- and the services hosted on it -- to address remote work challenges for its employees.

The company, which provides call center and digital IT services and is a subsidiary of Canadian telecommunications firm Telus, has almost 50,000 employees worldwide. Fewer than 500 of its employees worked from home when the outbreak first started, forcing the company to set up new options to accommodate remote work. Currently, more than 30,000 Telus International employees now work from home.

Telus International CTO Jim Radzicki said the company, in response to the crisis, was able to accomplish "22 in 22."

"We deployed 22,000 people working from home in 22 days," he said. "It was a very quick, rapid deployment for us."

Jim Radzicki, CTO, Telus InternationalJim Radzicki

Radzicki said the business used Google Cloud to continue operations, working with such partners as Itopia, a desktop-as-a-service product and Google Cloud premier partner, and Thrio, a contact center-as-a-service provider, to ensure its workers were able to remain productive at home. Telus International, he said, had a preexisting relationship with Google, moving many of its operations to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) years ago.

"Essentially we've been a cloud organization for quite some time now, leveraging Google almost completely in that sense," he said.

Onset of the crisis

As a global business, Telus International saw the effects of the coronavirus as it spread throughout the world.

"It really started to happen region by region," Radzicki said. "The first instance I recall was the Philippines operation, where they really said, 'Hey, we're locking down.' It was one of the first 'stay-put' orders that was put in place."

That order, Radzicki said, spurred Telus International to get ahead of the situation as much as possible. He said the firm looked to its partnership with Itopia to tackle remote work challenges and was able to deploy a fully configured virtual desktop environment in 24 hours.

"We set up the zones around the globe -- seven GCP data centers across the globe," he said. "We spun them up in a very short period of time, just to get it up and running. We started moving some of the internal folks onto the system, and some of [our] clients onto the platform."

The flexibility of the cloud has proven useful during the pandemic, Radzicki said. As performance is better when a data center is closer to an employee, he said, the ability to set up data centers around the world has been positive for the company's users.

In the early days, Radzicki said, it did prove challenging to ensure connectivity across all regions of the globe. Telus International, he noted, operates in many countries, and the quality of the available infrastructure can vary.

"We ... had some people running these solutions off an LTE card, off their phones," he said.

Such circumstances, Radzicki said, meant traditional issues with cell networks -- like service interruptions -- were dramatically heightened.

"It's not just an inconvenience now -- it's impactful," he said.

Over the weeks, the company has been able to ameliorate some of these remote work challenges by getting a broader sense of which employees have high-speed internet capacity at their homes.

Maintaining operations, looking forward

Although the company ensured employees could work from home, Radzicki said, its task was by no means finished.

"Now, it's really important for us to actually perform well," he said. "We knew it was important to reengage with those employees that are working from home as well."

Radzicki said Telus International still had to look at the interactions employees had in the office -- like one-on-one conversations, coaching sessions and training -- and determine how to deliver them in a remote environment. To that end, he said, the company has been using software like Google Hangouts and Google Classroom to simulate in-person exchanges as much as possible.

"I think it was a Tuesday when we sent [one group] home," he said. "By Friday, they already had 'Dress up Friday.' They were sharing, over their Google Hangouts sessions, what their home office was like, they had bow ties on -- all the things that they would try to do in the regular office environment."

There are certainly interesting challenges ahead, Radzicki said.

"Planning for what the future is going to look like has definitely been the more difficult situation to get a handle on," he said. "Nobody has a crystal ball."

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