IRC Continues International Aid Through Global Uncertainty 

Work Unleashed

Welcome to our work unleashed series: a collection of posts from Box executives and conversations with Box customers on navigating the "new normal" of work today. Here, you'll find insights and resources that enable your teams to do their best work, anywhere, anytime.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an organization whose mission often takes workers straight into the heart of crisis. Its literal mission is to "help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future." 

For Madeleine (Em) Fackler, Chief Innovation Officer at the IRC, this mission is closely tied to enabling remote work in secluded global outposts. That's meant putting both infrastructure and cloud technology platforms in place for a network of 13,000 scattered staff, 10,000 worldwide volunteers, and 1,000 external partner organizations.

The humanitarian aid organization mobilizes quickly to respond to global crises and conflicts, so in many ways, its workforce was prepared for something like COVID-19 to disrupt normal work. But in other ways, like every company today, the IRC has had to regain equilibrium quickly in order to continue to be of service. 

Here's how the IRC has managed the shift.

Infrastructure resilience and reliability, built into the plan

While a lot of companies are scrambling to quickly shift to 100% remote work, the IRC has been steadily laying down the infrastructure for it for years. As the organization has grown its presence in global communities, says Fackler, "Senior leadership has recognized the value that technology could bring to our workforce and helped secure the needed funding and support."

Many of the organization's field sites are in extremely remote places where connectivity cannot be taken for granted. But over time, the IRC's IT team, headed by Fackler, has put in place both infrastructure and a tech stack to support field workers and office employees around the world. The need to work remotely was one factor driving this push. 

But because the IRC is a not-for-profit, its leaders also must always think about the bottom line. "Economizing on resources for server and storage provisioning helps us better address the critical support needs in the field," says Fackler. "Because of this, wherever possible, we use SaaS options such as Box, Salesforce, and Workday."

What has this meant for today (COVID-19)?

With legacy systems on the wane and secure cloud infrastructure in place across 40+ countries and 20+ US cities when the pandemic began, the transition to a fully remote workforce has been relatively seamless to date. In a major COVID-19 hotspot — New York City —  IRC offices were dealing with strictly limited mailbox sizes and an on-premises Exchange server just four years ago.   That change was one of the first Fackler and her team made, quickly moving to Exchange Online through Office 365 and starting to address other on premises dependences.  By early 2020 they only had a few offices in the field still using legacy network shares after migrating the majority of files to Box. The IT team was able to get remaining users quick access to Box so that remote users could collaborate online without the need to implement workarounds such as VPN access.

Because cloud content management had already been firmly established as a way of work at the IRC, the IT team was able to transition all of its U.S. and Europe based worker to fully remote in under 48 hours. 

"Our case managers in the U.S. can continue providing life-restoring services to clients remotely while maintaining detailed case notes, and our Global Programming teams continue to develop lifesaving projects, collaborating with colleagues and external partners on Box while outside of their normal office spaces," said Fackler.

"Box has been an absolutely instrumental tool at the IRC for mobilizing our staff into a remote workforce during the current COVID-19 pandemic." 

Em Fackler, Chief Innovation Officer at the IRC

Remote work — a new status quo or a stopgap?

For Fackler, one of the most notable takeaways from the staff's reaction to this global pandemic has been their comfort level in collaborating entirely at a distance. Thanks to productivity tools like Box, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, the IRC has been able to focus on directly addressing the health programming needed to combat the COVID-19 spread over the last few months, rather than the operational logistics of shifting to remote work.  She remarks, "It has allowed our staff to continue to provide their life-supporting services for the most vulnerable people around the world." 

Importantly, remote tools have also kept the IRC employees connected to each other for much needed social connection. "Like many other organizations," Fackler says, "we've implemented opportunities for social interaction online: coffee chats, happy hours, an all-employee weekly Huddle over Zoom — something we never would have imagined before, given the size and complexity of our organization."

With their efforts to date, and support from technology partners, the IRC's transition to a mostly remote workforce in the U.S. and Europe has been less challenging than they expected. And the transition will likely have lasting effects as the organization's worldwide staff becomes more and more comfortable with cloud-based tools. In fact, Fackler says, "One other long-term change that wouldn’t surprise us is a decrease in ongoing work-related travel. If we can be as effective as we have been with everyone remote, are all of those in-person meetings really needed?"

Yet, it's still early days. While things will perhaps return to a more "normal" state eventually, in a sense, this is the new normal, proving that with the right tools in place, even a global pandemic doesn't have to slow the pace of lifesaving aid work. 

To learn more about how Box enables your dispersed teams, check out ourremote work resource hub.