Just a few months ago, I wrote about a local technology company that moved its headquarters to near downtown at 200 Jennings Avenue. RCN moved from West Knoxville in order to attract the talent it needed to successfully grow its business. They moved into a beautiful ninety-plus-year-old building with a specially designed interior that reflected the team approach the company takes.
As Geoff Yearack, who co-owns the business with his wife, Jennifer Yearack, explained to me then, the company focuses on managed service practice (managing all technology for companies) and Internet Failover or Internet Continuity, keeping companies operating when they have internet outages. They do not manufacture devices, but work with manufacturers to insert their own programming, or as Geoff puts it, “We add the human element. We tell the hardware what to do and then manage it.”
Given the recent turn of events with COVID-19 shutting down many businesses and disrupting others, it’s interesting to remember that Geoff told me in that original article that one of the priorities when deciding what kind of business he wanted to start was finding a business that would be recession-proof. He’d experienced owning an economy-dependent business before and wanted to avoid a repeat.
He felt this technology service would be in demand regardless. In the case of a very successful economy, not enough technology employees would be available for every company and they’d have to source this service out to companies like his. In a downturn, it’s cheaper to hire a company for a service rather than add employees to a payroll. He might not have imagined that his model would be tested so soon.
I spoke to Reed Perryman, Director of Public Sales at RCN, to see how the company has adapted. Ben Moser, Director of Marketing, provided the photographs, and Jill Williams, Digital Marketing and PR Intern, made the arrangements for our phone interview. Reed said the company is now functioning completely via working-at-home. They were ending their second week of remote working and had just expanded it for two more weeks.
“Mission critical systems are all online-based,” he explained, which made the move pretty seamless with support from RCN techlabs. Essentially, using company computers, the group can function much the same as if they are present in the building. Tech support can assume control of any computer having issues. Most critically, the many police departments and banks that use their services around the country have seen no interruptions in their functionality or security.
Reed has a brother who works in the food industry and says he has a lot of sympathy for those who can’t work remotely. He is grateful that he and his employees have been able to do so. He pointed out that they have employees in other cities around the country including Madison, Wisconsin, Boise, Idaho, Modesto, California and Dallas, Texas, and they work remotely every week, so there was a precedent and plenty of experience.
He did note the importance of the company culture they’ve established, with their open design, beer taps for employees, and weekly town hall meetings. Reed said the biggest sense of loss with the current arrangement is that the employees genuinely miss each other and the in-office work atmosphere. “We really do feel like family and we enjoy working together.”
To counter some of the isolation, they’ve set up Monday morning coffee talks via Microsoft Teams in which they each get their coffee, connect remotely, and talk about their weekends and plans for the week. “It makes us realize how much we take video conferencing for granted.” On Friday afternoons they have a Social Distancing Happy Hour via video.
While they have experienced some of the Internet slowdowns due to the extreme usage produced by so many people streaming heavily during the crisis, he said the public recognition of wired Internet limitations is a positive for the company, which specializes in cellular connectivity that is generally more reliable. For companies impacted negatively by the slowdown in Internet speed, RCN has solutions.
Two arenas in which connectivity has become an issue during the current crisis, educational and medical systems, provide the company with an opportunity to offer solutions. As one of the few companies in the region focused on cellular embedded technologies, they’ve already been involved in filling the sorts of needs that are now emerging on a national scale.
School systems across the country, and here in Knox County, are struggling with the migration to online education. Equity is a major issue for online instruction, as not every child has Internet access in their home. RCN has already partnered with a number of school systems in Georgia and Kansas and other places in the past to install mobile routers on buses, allowing Wi-Fi access to the neighborhoods where the buses are dispatched.
The solution doesn’t require being on the bus, only being in the proximity of the bus, which is perfectly suited for our current challenges. The group has been working hard at putting together the “Rolling Wi-Fi Center Kit,” which is a quick installation solution. The systems are filtered to be compliant with school guidelines and are CIPPA compliant. They have likely reached out to Knox County Schools by the time you are reading this article. It might resolve some of the hesitance the school system has expressed regarding going to online instruction.
The implications for the healthcare field are obvious. As mobile hospitals and mobile test centers are being established, they will need more than the equipment about which we are currently hearing so much. They will also need reliable Internet service. It’s another way that RCN is positioned to meet very specific needs during the pandemic.
They took inventory of all the equipment they had in stock and are preparing to offer it on loan to local agencies until this passes. They’ve also realocated a portion of their website to COVID-19 support. “Geoff and Jen have always had a vision of partnering with and being an ally of the local community. Our motto has been ‘Proud to serve with those who serve’. When this escalated, we felt we were uniquely positioned to help.”