The evolution of the work-from-home landscape has been an interesting topic to follow on social media over the past few months. At the start there was a surge of people needing help getting set up. As we have moved through the COVID situation we now see that this work-from-home transition is likely to remain permanent for many people. In the rush to get as many people ready to work from home, some IT service providers treated these as temporary setups—as most of us assumed it would be. Now that we know this is not as temporary, there are additional considerations for providers to take into account.
First, and maybe most obvious (and tenuous) is the issue of who pays for what. This could be debated endlessly, and I do not think there is any right answer. My advice would be to find one answer that works for you and your customers across the board. Do not try and satisfy each customer separately. It will lead to administrative confusion and inevitable conflict over invoices. Whatever you decide, make it very clear what is covered by the employer and what is not, in writing, to your customer and their employees. This will save you from a lot of painful conversations down the road.
Changing the language of your agreements
This most likely means you will need to add new language to existing agreements with your customers and have agreements for the employees drafted by your attorney as well. This is perhaps the best way to make sure everyone is in agreement. Another financial element to consider is that employees working from home will, most likely, require more effort to support and therefore require a different plan and pricing in your managed services contract.
In addition to financial responsibility comes physical responsibility: what is the scope of your responsibility over equipment and the employee’s home? On one hand, to best secure the customer, keeping the work systems separate from the home systems will require a router capable of making that separation. Is the customer willing to invest in each work-from-home user and purchase and have you install new equipment? What happens when the employee’s TV or game system no longer connects to the Wi-Fi? These are all solvable problems but in order to avoid confusion proper expectations must be set. If you are going to try and secure the customer from the home environment, they must give you some budget for doing so. I also recommend coming up with a standard work-from-home configuration to roll out across all of your customers to keep things as secure and standardized as possible. This standard configuration should be set out in the “work from home” plan and package mentioned above.
The difference in visiting residential properties
Another issue is doing work in the residential environment. It can be very inconvenient and increase liability if you have to do on-site visits. I have read several comments from providers who say they will contract this work out to a residential provider. Others have said they will require those employees to bring or ship in their devices for depot repair. Both of those are reasonable ideas in addition to the MSP doing those on-site visits themselves. Just keep in mind all those site visits to non-commercial and possibly remote areas could eat into your profit quickly. Also, consider that entering a home environment versus a commercial one opens you and your employees up to a variety of liabilities that you may not want to take on.
The interesting thing here is that these are not fully uncharted waters; many MSPs support residential customers. In those cases, it is still a two-party agreement. Even those providers who don’t do residential would likely go to a business owner’s home to help them with a problem—again a two-party agreement. The difference now is that there are three parties involved and it can get messy if everything is not defined in advance. Do your best to make sure you have all of the contracts and agreements in place to prevent those difficult conversations and ensure you get paid.
Eric Anthony is the head operations nerd at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter @operations_nerd