Welcome back to Ringside. Besides our own leading lights, this series invites insights from business leaders beyond our walls. We’re curious to uncover a broader perspective on business communications, which is why we always value our partner network’s thoughts. Today, we caught up with Michaela Nankin from Softcat.
Michaela has worked at Softcat for eight years. When she joined the business, she sat within its internal Microsoft team before moving into the expanding collaboration team. Her hobbies include everything we can’t enjoy at the moment – travel, live gigs and the good old fashioned pub.
What’s your role at Softcat, and what do you love about your job?
I look after the collaboration team at Softcat; we are the specialist team for our 700 or so account managers. When their customers have challenges or requirements around voice or video, we support by building the solution end-to-end. Nobody predicted the challenges of last year, and I’m incredibly proud of how the team adapted and came together to help customers at such a difficult time. The diversity of my role is what keeps me loving it – I break it down into three key areas:
People: The team is spread out all over the UK, so I spend a portion of my day making sure the team is happy. At Softcat, we pride ourselves on the culture being the reason for our success. Happy employees provide great service, so it’s important we look after each other.
Partners: We have evolved our partner ecosystem considerably in the last 18 months; working with new partners is always exciting. RingCentral is one of our more recent partners, and the amount that we’ve achieved together in such a short time is incredible – we’re very excited about what the future holds.
Personal: I still have my own customers, and I think I would struggle to move away from that, it means I have empathy for my team and experience that I can share with our partners.
In what ways has business communications changed over your career?
I was on the graduate scheme at Softcat, and I remember working long hours in the office in my first year because I couldn’t effectively work from home. All my training was classroom-based, and I remember the fear of setting up a conference call with a prospective customer because you were never quite sure it would work! Last week, I delivered a session to our sales grads on collaboration entirely virtually. These guys started last summer, so the hardest thing for me to explain was meeting room spaces. They’ve never stepped into an office!
In a sense, my career was born in the cloud. As one of the early Microsoft 365 specialists in the UK, I saw customers’ transition from on-premise to cloud for their Microsoft services.
The opportunity is still massive in unified communications. Customers who hadn’t previously thought about UCaaS are now considering it. Softcat’s long history of successfully helping customers maximise their cloud services have put the team in a brilliant place to take customers on that journey. We don’t have the challenges that some traditional organisations have, which has given us more agility.
How will our experiences over the last 12 months change the way we work forever?
It’s human nature to want to solve the last problem we endured, I remember when there was terrible flooding a few years ago. Suddenly, all our customers wanted to talk about was disaster recovery for their data centres that nearly flooded. The pandemic led to customers being more invested in delivering better collaboration to their users; not only does it keep them productive, but it helps keep them engaged and happy too. Having flexible tools is important when there are multiple generations in the workforce and giving employees options to IM, call, video, and co-author is critical, but organisations need to consolidate these channels. The number one ask from our customers now is having one platform where all of these tools can sit.
How can businesses adapt their long-term strategy to make the most of the opportunity?
There was (of course) an emergency phase of last year where people had to deploy technologies quickly to keep their businesses operating. Softcat is seeing customers wanting to review what they are doing and plan for the future. I hear the frustrations of IT teams unaware of the many different collaboration technologies in their environment. Still, we don’t look at this negatively; it’s a unique opportunity to see how your people work. We also carry out regular workshops and interviews to understand what we need in a future consolidated solution.
For organisations that revisit their long-term strategies, there is also an opportunity to evaluate the work-life balance of their employees. Certain collaboration tools provide data and insight into how productive employees are when working remotely. This data also arms teams with what they need to be more accountable for their mental health at work.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a business wishing to improve its communications?
You should involve all stakeholders; it can’t just be a decision for IT. By truly understanding the challenges of different teams, you increase the probability of a successful project. Nothing impacts users more than the tools they have to do their jobs effectively. There is absolutely nothing exciting about cool technology that no one knows how to use.
What else do leaders need to deliver in preparing their businesses for the new world of work?
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