Working from home (WFH) and Video Conferencing (VC) may have been around for a while, but in an industry whose deliverables tend to be the design and construction of one-off projects, they are often not particularly well utilised.
At Rolton Group, we have used this technology for around 20 years and have seen how it has evolved and advanced to make it easier to conduct business virtually, in the early years this was with client’s such as Honda who employed smart board technology to interact with their teams in Japan and ourselves. Fortunately the technology has improved and the constant recalibration of white boards no longer a requirement.
The overnight change to fully WFH, although not new, has come as quite a shock for the majority for pretty obvious reasons. Because of this, we wanted to share the challenges and experiences that we have faced and how we are endeavouring to make the most of this time, to promote efficient use of technology, whilst continuing to deliver the best outcomes for our clients and key stakeholders. We hope the insights will be helpful, as we are sure we are not alone in experiencing the following challenges, we are sure many of you will be well beyond where we are and we would value any feedback/suggestions you might have in the comments.
- How to fully engage staff and replicate effective communication as closely as possible to that in an office environment
- How to monitor and manage teams and individual employees
- Expectations for how often virtual meetings should take place and who should be present
- How to keep the morale high
- How to ensure that employees mental health is maintained
- How we may think this will positively impact our future
As seen from the list above, the challenges vary from how to engage and monitor teams through to what seems to be an on-demand expectation for meetings. So how do we ensure that the technology is working for us and not the other way around?
If we roll back time three weeks we, like many others, were stress testing the roll out of homeworking and this was crucial to the successful implementation of all teams WFH which was pressed for on the 31st of March.
Over this time period, a few of the positives included getting all of our colleagues onto Microsoft Teams, up until then we were using WebEx for videoconferencing, which seemed counter intuitive in a company that runs Microsoft exchange and all its related programs. The bonus of Teams was that with the app installed, it allowed all our teams to setup VC meetings from Outlook, therefore saving our Administrators time, this wasn’t just for those who run Microsoft 365.
We are also currently using Slack for News and Direct Messaging in tandem with Teams, but in time we believe that we will see all of our internal news transitioning to the Teams platform. Until then Slack has ensured we have been able to keep in touch, not just on projects but also at a team and social level. The circulation of funny stories, jokes and videos has seemed somewhat of an irrelevance of late and had practically died out, but with the isolation that has taken place the resurgence of sharing these stories and snippets on Slack has been a welcome relief to our daily workload, this has helped everyone interact and in time we will no doubt expand beyond the virtual beer on a Friday night we experience with Teams.
At the beginning of this WFH process we encouraged daily team meetings at the outset, this has helped us to keep focused, ensuring that proper briefing takes place and also allowed us to monitor our teams/projects more actively, the feedback has been positive from our colleagues who have appreciated the increased interaction, as well as aiding the review process on projects. The creative use of technology is also helping us to keep in touch with our family and friends from VC meals to beers and BBQ’s, this benefits not just our relationships, but our mental health also.
The more we use the technology the easier it gets, but we need to be wary of unnecessarily increasing the number of meetings and number of attendees which we previously alluded to. In a recent project team meeting we had over a dozen attendees, whereas in hindsight, only six were actually required to be there. We might be finding it easy to set up meetings, but the assessment of what the outcomes are, what the agenda is and who the relevant attendees are also needs to be thoroughly thought through, otherwise we could just end up sitting in VC’s all day, with little time to deliver our set tasks!
The way we manage our team tasks is also needing to change, not only so that we know what is being completed and by whom, but to also ensure the right level of briefing is achieved and the use of aps like “Trello” or “Mondays” will no doubt see increasing levels of take up, these aps will help with collaboration whilst serving as aide memoirs and help to define new targets for the teams in the new virtual environment. In all of this we must take this opportunity to learn from other industries, who are further down this road. The term “Not even bright enough to make new mistakes” springs to mind. Discussing with our forward thinking clients their experiences and with those in other design related industries.
From an etiquette point of view, it is critical that the meeting leader actually leads positively on VC's, even to the point of muting individuals when there is too much background noise. This is imperative, otherwise we may end up missing critical pieces of information as Rover the attendees dog cuts in. If not VC’s will leave staff feeling dissatisfied with their/others input and attendees may possibly miss key pieces of the conversation which will not help productivity and outcomes.
So, where are we going now and what do we expect in the future? The broadcast by the Queen a week ago was very timely and the call to “slow down, pause and reflect” should be heeded by all, not just on a personal level but also for our businesses. For us all to reassess what we are doing and what the new norm will be after this is all over, is possibly the silver lining being hid in this current cloud, as we surely don’t want to end up with more of the same?
Now is the time to assess what works, what we now know we can do differently and preferably more efficiently and what we can do to help deliver the best outcomes for all stakeholders and colleagues. This will no doubt include an increase in home working, repurposed office spaces to allow greater interactivity when teams meet and definitely an increase in the use of agenda driven Video Conferencing. If we grasp this silver lining we are sure help to deliver improved mental health, increased productivity whilst reducing our carbon footprint. If we can find the right balance I’m sure this will be the ultimate Win-Win as we welcome this new parallel future.
If you would like to talk to us about how we may help you on your project please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01933 410 909 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.