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Internet Downtime: Leveraging Perceived Disasters for Optimal Performance

Posted on April 28, 2009 by josh

I was about to leave my house for work the other morning, when my phone rang. It was Vanessa. I say, "Good morning, Vanessa!" She says, with a pinch of panic and frustration in her voice, "We're down." I panic for a moment; my mind was whirling through yesterday's development activities and I was trying to remember any update or job that we scheduled that could have taken us down. It occurred to me that I was still pretty depressed after watching the Lakers lose to the Jazz in game three of their playoff series and this would not help my already poor disposition today. Thankfully, she was referring to the internet connection at the office and not any of our eCommerce sites. Whew!

Getting the internet connection back up should be easy. We had recently faced an issue with one of our ISPs, so naturally I thought it was them, again. So I go through some steps to test that connection... Everything looks good there. So, I test our backup connection... Everything looks good there, too. Hmmm. I run through some other issues via remote connection, but I can't see why she's down. So, I proceed to work, since I don't have any other network savvy employees on site to help. I know that I'm going to be there late, as I stopped to troubleshoot remotely.

I show up to the office at about 8:10 AM, fully expecting chaos and disarray. I was pleasantly surprised that when I walked in I was greeted by smiling faces and mild applause. People were delighted that I was there to fix the internet connection. But what's more, is people were delighted to be at the office. Folks were chattering and laughing and seemed genuinely happy. It made me feel nice when I walked in. Knowing fully the weight of my responsibility, however, I rushed past everyone to get to the task at hand. A few of my more technical colleagues pointed out that one of our building two access layer switches was freaking out and was lit up like a Christmas tree. Indeed it was. A switch had simply gone bad. So, I ran to my pile o' old equipment to find an extra 24 port switch and a crossover cable.

I worked feverishly to plug in the first few users to test my dead switch theory. ¡Viola! It worked. So I started the task of migrating everyone on the dead switch over to the temporary switch. As I am doing this, I notice noise in the office. Somewhat annoyed, I turn to find people are still talking and laughing. Granted, we work for an ecommerce company and, as a consequence, working without an internet connection can be a challenge. But I was, again, surprised by what I saw. The noise and commotion was coming from people who were cleaning their desk area, vacuuming, cleaning our whiteboards, discussing business strategy, etc. The whole office full of employees was happily chugging along like busy bees in a hive. People were communicating and moving and working outside of their normal routine. As I was getting everyone back online, I noticed folks settling into their desks and getting back to their routines. The noise died down and it was back to business, but a nice tone was set for the day (aside from the catch-up that now had to ensue subsequent to our downtime).

There are three simple observations I had on this morning, few but all important:

  1. Always have at least one backup access layer switch.
  2. A little bit of "downtime" can be a good thing. I'm certainly not suggesting that someone pull the plug on the office internet connection to create downtime! I simply mean that it was nice to hear the camaraderie when I walked in. Maybe I should come into the office 10 minutes early and just greet people as they come in?
  3. Losing the routine for a short period created interesting work of even mundane tasks. People seemed excited to be able to do something other than what they always have to do. Maybe, as a manager, I should consider mixing it up a bit and allow some of my employees to work on other things on occasion?


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