The short journey
Here and now and the future…
In the previous article, we discussed the long road to being able to switch to remote working and the speed of the enforced change. Now we are all working in a changed environment. I have not physically seen anyone from QAD for 8 months. This article discusses some of the techniques and consequences of our changed reality
Inside QAD and outside, some people may be going into work a day or 2 per week. Others are working from Ironing boards, balconies, kitchen tables, and sheds. We are all in different circumstances and we all must work together and communicate effectively in a work world that is evolving into something different from what it was in 2019.
This article discusses some of the techniques and consequences of our changed reality
Impact on Projects
Here at QAD, we were already used to holding virtual meetings – We are, after all, a global company. Global teams work together on projects. Everything QAD is in the cloud. Our customers’ systems are securely in the QAD cloud. Everything shared between us in the cloud too. We were ready for something we hadn’t consciously prepared for. We were ready to help our customers too.
Our customers, as mainly manufacturers of products rather than providers of services, have a more deep-seated need to be at the site of production or office, so for them, the transition to home-working was more of a challenge, both at a corporate and individual level. Their focus was on keeping the day to day operations working in the face of abrupt changes in demand, disrupted component supplies, and labor shortages. But, you don’t just stop a project part of the way through and new ways of working were quickly established. Some of them were surprising
Being on the video needs to be natural. As natural as sitting in an office where other people can see and hear you all time. On video, you can stop people from looking at you and stop them from listening. To naturalize this, “video by default” became the way of working for most meetings. After a couple of weeks in lockdown, everybody was glad to see other faces. Work almost became a therapy – A slice of normality. But, video does not fill all the gaps of being there, so over-communication became a tool. Never be afraid to send the extra mail, have the extra chat or send out more detailed reports. But, stay concise. Crucially, never apologize for over-communicating.
Exploiting the tools
There are many tools for communication – Agree on which ones to use for a project and stick to it – Google Meet or Zoom or Teams? The ability to control somebody else’s screen when in a training session is highly valuable – But none of the main video platforms do this well, if at all, so it is better to let someone share and talk them through the actions.
For most meetings, we need clear agendas and minimal slides to be effective. Only present a slide that needs to be explained – especially with a large audience. Reading a list of bullet points is not the best practice at physical meetings. In virtual meetings, this can lose you the audience. Sometimes, you will not even know this is the case. Make a point and seek responses. See who is paying attention using grid views. For learning situations, set homework. Then validate it before or at the next session. If in doubt, go back to the principles of good training and apply them with rigor.
Encourage good meeting behavior
This is one of the surprises. Good meeting behavior for a once a week one-hour meeting is normally according to a set of agreed rules – no phone, full attention, no mail, etc. When Video is the main means of communication, such rigor becomes unenforceable, given that some meetings may last a full day or more. For this part, new more relaxed rules have evolved. People can be upfront about their level of attention. It can be Ok to work on something else. Leave the video on so we can see you. It really helps. Late arrivals used to announce themselves and disrupt the meeting, but this has evolved to people joining unannounced and not disrupting the meeting. Of course, it is good behavior to be on-time, but if you’re not it’s great not to be disruptive.
Another surprise – We can be ourselves, naturally. Everybody is at home. We don’t have to wear our best business gear and show ourselves against a blank background. We all have home constraints – kids, hoovers, dogs, cats, bees, piles of junk in the only spare room… Embrace it and relax. Informality and seeing a piece of other people’s lives helps to build some of the intimacy and trust that we miss from face to face contact. It helps us to build teams. Being relaxed and being yourself is being professional.
Make it enjoyable and repeatable
Using Video can be fatiguing for all concerned, so make it social and have regular breaks. There are many different ways to do this, but they should include the following
- A social element – Icebreakers, first part informal, spend some time at Lunch breaks together on screen
- Agreed breaks – This can be 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off or 90 minutes on and 30 minutes off (to allow for Mail, Coffee making, Eco-breaks. Feeding the cat…)
- Checks on attention levels – visual and by asking.
- Review at the end of each session to cover the content and the format
Remember too, that now we don’t have to travel, meetings do not have to be a full day. Now we don’t need to have 2 sleeps on a plane, we don’t have to spend a full week with the customer every time, and they don’t have to take such serious time away from the operation.
In order to deliver projects remotely, we need to try to recreate that mix of the formal and informal we have when meeting face to face. So we need to have clarity of purpose, clear goals, and validation of understanding. But we also need to respect individuals and form teams. We must embrace the use of video and use it to break down barriers by encouraging relaxed behavior – Yes, of course, you can take in that home delivery or feed the cat, but polishing the Jag should wait until the weekend (If you don’t get the jag reference, you haven’t read the first article)
Another impact of this new way of working will be on our agendas when we have our much rarer face to face meetings in the future. These will become more focussed on the team-building aspects and less on the functional and technical aspects we can deliver virtually.
Whilst I’ve been an early adopter and proponent of remote delivery, I also miss the Face to Face meetings with colleagues and customers. But, now I am looking forward to such future meetings being much more interactive and much more fun.