Having only a vague idea of what IoT (‘Internet of Things’) really is, I learned that it is the concept of connecting any device (the ‘thing’) to the Internet and to other connected devices.
As Josh explained, IoT can include anything from a smart bin – that tells you it needs emptying, to a self-driving car- whose sensors detect objects in their path.
I received some incredible insight from Josh in regards to the industry and how it has fared in the pandemic over the last several months. And of course, we chatted about everything remote work.
Question 1: Could you tell me a bit about yourself and the work that you do at Thinxtra?
Currently, I am working as the National Network Operations and Expansion Manager at Thinxtra. Thinxtra is essentially an IoT solutions and network provider based out of Sydney. We are a small company, operating in three territories; Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.
Basically, we do two main things- we operate and maintain a telecommunications network dedicated to IoT and provide IoT solutions for businesses to improve their business operations.
To explain IoT, it is a bridge between the physical world and the digital world. It extracts real-world data and gives data-driven insights to businesses and helps them optimize and reduce the cost of daily operations.
I am responsible for two major things at Thinxtra. First, I manage the team involved in expanding the network across Australia and the second role is to ensure that the current network that we have in place is maintained. At present, we cover around 83% of the Australian population and we aim to expand it further.
Question 2: What does your normal day look like- from Monday to Friday?
Since we are a small company and are lean and agile, most of my day goes into meetings and phone calls. I liaise with a lot of people- so internal and external project managers that are rolling out IoT solutions to different companies, contractors who are maintaining our network, multiple network operators internationally and also hardware and software engineers who are involved in the different devices and cloud infrastructure on the network.
My team is responsible for the radio planning and deployment of future sites to ensure that the large scale IoT projects run smoothly. Our business model is B2B and most of our clients are large organizations with large fleets.
Question 3: What did remote work look like before and after the lockdown? Did you see a change in your work set-up?
Since we are agile, we were used to working remotely one to two days a week prior to the lockdown. Most of our infrastructure is on the cloud so everyone has access to the data and could work from anywhere. Another good thing about this is the company has complete control over the data. Moreover, it is environmentally friendly as well.
So, after the lockdown, there weren’t a lot of differences except that we were working remotely five days a week instead of two. We never experienced the migration phase as did other companies.
The only concern we envisioned was a decline in productivity. But, on the flip side, we saw productivity increase due to no commute time and more time to sleep in.
Question 4: What are your thoughts on the mental well-being and productivity of employees during remote work? Were the productivity levels consistent throughout the lockdown?
During the initial phase, we experienced both sides of the spectrum- people who enjoyed working from home because of lower commutes and had enough time to balance personal activities and people who weren’t enjoying working from home due to extended periods of isolation.
After a period of time, there was an increase in the latter half, so there was a slump down in productivity later.
To make up for the missing social interactions, we set up chat rooms using Google Hangouts for social interactions that you can join during lunch hours, we have daily stand-ups at 9 o’clock every morning and we also encourage our staff to get dressed and ready to get into the work mindset.
These chat rooms helped a great deal to people who are living alone, and even led to brainstorming and sharing new ideas. We also encouraged people to participate in virtual team building activities or to take up a new hobby outside of work. All these measures helped us eliminate the drain from the work-from-home aspect.
Question 5: What are the tools that you use to ensure things run smoothly?
Thinxtra is heavily reliant on Google Suite which forms our core cloud infrastructure. It provides us document control and accessibility. I see a massive boost in productivity with Google docs and slides because of shared documents and collaboration. Everyone can comment and edit the doc at the same time which is a great time-saver.
As I have already mentioned, we use Google hangouts, which is a part of the Suite for meetings.
Talking about my team, we use a wide range of tools for different purposes in addition to the G-suite that is company-wide. We use Slack to create different communication channels for different projects, WhatsApp to share team achievements in groups, and to get quick responses, and Freedcamp for project management so everyone can view and update their projects and schedules.
Monday.com is also used for specific workflow processes that are iterative, we use Calendly for scheduling meetings and Docusign to create digital signatures. This is the overall view of the tools that form our cloud infrastructure.
Question 6: Does using so many tools ever overwhelm the team or sometimes even create ambiguity?
I think using tools for specific tasks has been quite effective for us. There is a clear distinction on what tool is used for what work.
In fact, contrary to multiple tools creating confusion, I believe if everything is done on one solution, there will be more confusion.
If one tool stores everything, it will get convoluted and cluttered. Hence a wide range of tools is more clear-cut and effective.
Question 7: Is there a guidebook in the firm to help everyone understand the use of different tools?
We have an IT infrastructure policy that is well-documented and is a part of our various other company policies. So we hand over this book to the new recruits to help them get acquainted with the toolkit used at Thinxtra.
Question 8: What advice would you give to companies who are thrown into the deep end of remote work to ensure their remote work set-up is a success?
The first and foremost thing to have is a good, solid cloud infrastructure in place. For example, you can use Google Suite which is fairly low-cost and has everything integrated into the Google ecosystem. In addition to that, it’s important to have a strong internet connection, without that, cloud infrastructure will not mean much. Not just that, poor connectivity can lead to abrupt dropouts from important meetings.
The second important thing to note is that you must provide appropriate infrastructure training to help your team get hands-on experience with every tool. Because not everyone knows the utility and functioning of every tool. Having said that, we try and make all the tools look like other infrastructure services. For instance, everyone is used to using Outlook for work, but we rely on Gmail for the same. So we make Gmail look like Outlook to make the adoption easier.
And last but definitely not the least, one must keep all the communication channels open to keep the social aspect intact and to simulate the office environment.
Question 9: What will the remote work landscape look like once the dust settles? How do you think the IoT industry will evolve and transform?
I think it’s uncertain when the dust will settle, but talking about the IoT industry, it is a rapidly evolving and ever-growing space. The technology and telecom industry will continue to improve everyone’s lives as technology continues to advance.
Companies that are heavily investing in online platforms and cloud-based systems will hold on to that and adjust to the new norm. As we progress as an industry, there will be more IoT tools that will assist more companies and open doors for more possibilities.
Development of IoT will help not just white-collar, but also blue-collar job workers to work remotely. Technicians will be able to monitor systems remotely using IoT and doctors nowadays are also performing surgeries remotely where scalpels and other equipment are connected via IoT.
From an employer’s perspective, they would be able to closely monitor employees’ productivity and sleeping patterns. This will help them allocate work in a way that targets employee’s most productive hours and provides the easiest work at the least productive time. In a couple of years, I think IoT will revolutionize working from home for every industry in the world.