Vodafone NZ says it is pleased overall at the results of its massive work-from-home drill today - which saw some 1200 of 2000 staff work remotely as the telco gave its business-continuity plans a workout in the face of the coronavirus threat.

The exercise nearly emptied the company's main office at Smales Farm on Auckland's North Shore.

There were no adverse effects on phone queues, HR head Katie Williams said.

There were a couple of teething issues identified, however.


"We are not saying our business continuity plan is perfect," Williams said.

"The test also exposed some areas for us to focus on and find solutions for. Our video conferencing and messaging systems felt the strain of so many virtual meetings at once."

Empty rooms: Vodafone's Smales Farm, Auckland, office earlier today. Photo / Supplied
Empty rooms: Vodafone's Smales Farm, Auckland, office earlier today. Photo / Supplied

In a handful of cases, staff had trouble saving documents.

Many will be thinking that if a high-tech telco can have a few gremlins, their own drill is very much worth it.

The telco is still assessing whether to run another drill on its main campus. It's possible that tweaks will be implemented as other offices run drills.

Earlier, Auckland Council said a smaller-scale still involving 60 staff revealed two main issues: problems with wi-fi and screen size issues with smaller home monitors.

Herald Technology columnist Juha Saarinen also recently warned about another likely problem area for many companies: poor security on home networks - and at a time when far more sensitive information than usual will be sent outside the safety of office networks.

Saarinen also foreshadowed Vodafone's minor gremlins, noting that most corporate office networks are configured for a few remote workers at a time. IT teams are rapidly trying to reconfigure to handle a deluge of remote workers at once without slowing key apps to a crawl, especially if a virtual private network is being used - which means workers connect to cloud apps via the office network, a slower but more secure path.


Vodafone NZ certainly did its best to stress-test its systems to the limit. At the height of today's drill, some 1500 of Vodafone NZ's 2000 staff were logged in at once to its VPN (virtual private network, or software for securely working from afar).

InternetNZ head Jordon Carter said organisations also need to make sure staff have the right tools to work from home and stable internet connections. Companies also had to make sure they had health and safety issues covered.

"Being faced with the possibility of a threat to the health and wellbeing of our people such as coronavirus has forced us to activate our business continuity plan and ensure our systems and processes were all able to cope with a worst-case scenario," Vodafone's Williams said.

"We have had flexible work policies and smart-working tools for a number of years now but it was important for us to test these at scale and ensure that in doing so we can still maintain a great network service for New Zealand.

"This test has helped us assess our internal communications, as well as the capacity of our IT systems and processes, and we are pleased with how it has gone."

Only the odd IT issue was reported, such as difficulty with video conferencing or document saving. Almost 40 per cent of the customer service staff were also able to log in to the phone system from home with no adverse effects on phone queues.

"An ideal plan in times of a crisis would see us able to shut down all our buildings with no change to the running of our business. We are now working through options for how we can relocate our business-critical staff should we ever need to, and ironing out any wrinkles this test has raised," Williams said.

Meanwhile, for some companies offshore, it's becoming more than a drill. In the US, Google became the first major corporation to send all staff home to work remotely. The search giant employs some 20,000 people in North America. It was followed by Apple and Twitter.