As I look out on the world right now, I find myself experiencing something rare for me: surprise.  After being in business for over 25 years – and a Microsoft Partner for most of that time – I thought I had experienced pretty much everything. There was the dotcom bust of 2000. The Great Recession of 2009. And myriad other global or economic events, whether they be wars and conflicts (think 9/11) or major political or geo-political upheavals (think the fall of the Soviet Union or…well…right now in the United States). We’ve also seen health scares like AIDS, SARS, or Ebola.

But this, the COVID-19 pandemic – this is something new. The abrupt lockdown of our social and economic lives and business economies is unprecedented in my lifetime. I’m amazed at the impact of this tiny virus – only 5000th the size of a human hair – on our global systems.

If you’re reading this article, you are probably part of the technology ecosystem. Maybe you’re a Microsoft partner as well, like Wintellect. As a business owner, I have many colleagues and friends in the tech industry.  And as a Microsoft “Regional Director” or “RD” (one of a small group of Microsoft partner/influencers), I’ve also been part of many conversations with Microsoft as we deal with this new threat to our health and livelihoods.

From my small patch of the world, I’ve observed a wide variety of impacts across a broad spectrum of industries.  I’m seeing widespread distress, but also spikes of opportunity and growth. And on the positive side, more than any other time in my career, I see a broad sense of shared community. A sense that “we’re all in this together.”

For Wintellect, we have been fortunate in that we built our consulting business from Day 1 to revolve around remote-based work and home-based employees. Most of our employees work from their home office, and the majority of our services are provided remotely as well.  Thus, the “new normal” workplace changes are standard fair for our company.  Even on the training side, although our classes are performed live on-site, we have been able to convert most customers to virtual classroom events.

However, we have not escaped unscathed. Many of our customers are hurting. Some severely. We have had major projects postponed, and customers have asked for help with cuts in rates or other types of discounts. We have responded by working as best as we can to help our clients in their time of need. Our general approach has been to collaborate and compromise where we can, as long as we are able to ensure successful outcomes. In some cases, we have matched internal customer policies to our own: “sharing the pain.” In others, we have agreed to temporarily invest or take on extra risk in order to help them through this hopefully limited time window.

Additionally, our partnerships have been invaluable. One of my colleagues and I (Adam Cogan from SSW; if you don’t know him, you should) have organized with Microsoft a series of online events with partners and business owners to share our experiences on handling the challenges of the pandemic. Some are doing well, and some are in major pain – but all of us are sharing our ideas on how to cope, providing advice on business and financial operations we are undertaking to deal with the economic environment, and doing our best to prop each other up and stay positive.

My point here is that having friends is good. And personally, I can say that our partnerships have paid off for Wintellect again and again. There is a reason we are most proud of our award in 2018 as the IAMCP Worldwide Microsoft Channel Partner of the Year, which is a partner-to-partner focused award. Partnering is a key power tool when you use it effectively.

This includes Microsoft as well, which has demonstrated tremendous leadership during the current crisis. Microsoft has led by example by putting in place policies that empower their employees to work at home with the tools needed to be effective. They have acted to “protect their employees and partners first” by implementing policy exceptions and changes to partner requirements to help partners and customers make it through this strange time (for instance, pivoting to make key conferences virtual; changing policies requiring travel, and much more).  I have personally been on call after call with Microsoft discussing ways to manage through this time – all with a relentlessly positive attitude and a willingness to listen and learn.

So…as I look out on the world right now, I am cautious. A bit anxious and apprehensive. Preparing for the worst as best I can. But ultimately, I am surprisingly optimistic. We are going to get through this, I have no doubt. And we will get through it together.