Thoughts from our CEO on Where We Go from Here
We are all concerned about what the Coronavirus brings. From a personal perspective, we worry about our families and friends. And as business owners—which is also very personal—we worry about our team members and their families, as well as the clients we are entrusted with. How do we make the best decisions possible to provide the best outcome?
I don’t have to tell you that we are living in interesting times; normalcy seems to be a long way away. That being said, we entrepreneurs are used to having to roll with the waves. Every event brings opportunity. The choices we make now will impact how we can take care of those entrusted to us and, in some cases, the very future of our companies. This is one such event.
If you are like me, you get about a dozen emails a day telling you how to work remotely, that phishing campaigns and electronic threats are increasing, and so on. Our team is well versed in all of that and we can help you navigate those waters (see cybersecurity resources). However, that’s not what this message is for.
My goal is to bring a little more strategic thought to the conversation. This time of uncertainty and change is a great opportunity to think about our companies in a different way than we did just a month ago. Not just how we get back to business as usual, but should it be back to business as usual.
Changing Work Requires Change in Management
Let’s look at this ‘new normal’ of remote computing, teleworking, work from home, whatever you want to call it.
Our team has been working mostly remotely for a few weeks now, and the results for us have been great. Our people are dedicated and simply get it done, regardless of the environment. That makes it sound easy, and it’s certainly not. We’ve spent years cultivating our company culture, finding the right people, and putting systems in place to be able to adapt and evolve.
But the point here is that remote teams require a different management style. You need to make sure you have metrics to ensure you are getting the quantity and quality you need. This is true in an office environment, but it’s doubly so when you can’t really see what everyone is doing.
Measurement and Communication Tools for Remote Teams
We use a variety of tools to help us work efficiently and communicate. Some of these programs are specific to our industry, just like yours would be. However, others have pretty wide application.
As an industry example, our version of a CRM, or customer relationship management tool, is ConnectWise. Every time a client puts in a request, it becomes a service ticket in ConnectWise. The tool keeps track of when tickets were entered, who worked on them and how much time it took, as well as a host of other information. But this is where we start, simply logging the work to be done and assigning it to a specific person or team. You probably have a tool or method for tracking your work as well, even if it’s a shared spreadsheet your team updates.
For measurement and reporting, we use a tool called BrightGauge that dips into ConnectWise and presents the numbers in a variety of formats, including overhead displays, reports, and spreadsheets. The overhead displays are not so useful for the team right now, as they’re not in the office to keep an eye on the monitors, but that same information can be presented to a manager to keep track of the team’s work pace and backlog.
While this tool can be used with a variety of data sources, it is geared towards our industry. But there are a lot of programs that can do this kind of reporting for you, depending upon what you need. Microsoft has one called PowerBI that is designed to turn data into reports and graphical displays.
For communicating, we are heavy users of Microsoft Office 365 Teams. Teams is how we quickly ‘chat’ with each other or within groups (teams). Anytime someone needs a quick answer to something, they do it with Teams. We’ve also used it for meetings. Depending on your configuration, another meeting tool may work better for you, but the video, file sharing, and recording features in Teams have definitely come in handy for us.
Slack is another communication tool we use a lot. Where Teams is primarily used for one-on-one or small group conversation, Slack really shines with keeping the whole team up to date on what’s going on. Each member of the team checks into the group with a ‘Good Morning’ on Slack. We notify each other when we need to step away or break for lunch. If there’s an issue that everyone needs to be aware of, or the right volunteer to speak up for, it goes out in Slack. And when we need to break up the workday with a joke or news update, we can do that, too.
Of course, we also have email and hosted phones. Our phone system comes with a free mobile app that lets us mask our personal phone numbers and make or get calls as if we were at our desks in the office. It also has conferencing features and built-in reporting—again, useful for managers to stay informed and involved.
Any or all of these tools might have useful application for your company. We do a deeper dive into some of the O365 programs here, but if anything here sounds useful to you, please let us know. We’d be glad to help you figure out what works best for you.
Creating an Effective Workspace (Anywhere)
Like the tools you use, having an effective workspace can mean something different for everyone. It probably doesn’t mean sprawling out on the bed, but maybe that’s the only place you can find some peace and quiet.
When we first switched to a mostly remote team, we asked our people to send in photos of their current ‘workspaces.’ As you might expect, it’s a varied lot. From the girl who sits on her back porch overlooking the wilderness, to the guy whose home setup is a combination of mission-control and an audio recording studio, each of them has fashioned a workspace that works for them.
What I have found is that consistency is important for me. For the first week, I was haphazard. I’d work from the table; I’d work from the living room. After a particularly noisy conference call, I settled on the RV. So now, I get up in the morning at about the same time every day, shower, get dressed, get my coffee, and head outside to the fifth wheel RV (it’s not doing much good for anything else right now). It’s quiet, it’s comfortable…and it’s consistent. I’m a LOT more productive now.
No matter what it looks like or where it is, the environment must work for you, and everyone is different. Might this be extended back to the office when this is over? Perhaps something to consider.
Maybe a shift to remote working for some or all of your staff is on the table more permanently as well. Again, you need the metrics to back it up, but some people will be more productive this way, and going remote or setting up a hybrid arrangement could lower your expenses in the office as well.
Every company and situation is different, but it’s worth consideration now that the scenario is not just theoretical anymore. We have practical, firsthand experience.
Planning for the Future
While we’re considering remote working, now is a good time to evaluate your business’s overall technical capabilities. Most of our clients have their email infrastructure hosted in Office 365. That means that email and certain other applications are available whenever and wherever without doing anything special. I can get my email in the office on my desktop, on my laptop, on my phone, on someone else’s computer in a browser…I can get it on my watch!
File sharing could have been a major sticking point with a remote team, but it wasn’t. Our files are hosted in a document management system set up so that we can access almost any document, from any source, at any time, from anywhere we can access a web browser. There is access control and built-in version history, which cuts down on confusing duplicates. It also saves us from the tremendous amount of headaches that go along with employees each storing their own versions of files on hard drives or having to dig through email threads to find the most current or accurate file copy.
Our phones are also hosted in the cloud, so the shift to working from home was truly manageable and straightforward. I won’t go so far as to call it ‘easy’ because my team was working incredibly hard to anticipate and meet the needs of every client also trying to switch gears, but we were agile. And I am extremely proud of their willing attitudes and flexibility, especially during a time of so much uncertainty and their own personal worries.
These are all services that we provide for our clients and that allowed us to adapt to the current situation so quickly. Perhaps it’s time to assess your capabilities and needs and plan for a different future.
Serving Our Clients
Last but certainly not least, like any good business owner, you are thinking of your clients. Always, right?
You’re wondering, what do they need from me right now? Am I touching base with them enough? Too much? Can I provide a service to them today, even if it’s not in my typical line of business? How can I help them with their recovery, either now or when the time comes later?
The truth is that all of us with businesses will not survive this pandemic. Business models will change, or our clients will change, or we simply were not able and prepared to weather the storm that’s upon us. Companies that do survive will be the ones that find ways to be essential – to add value.
This may require a shift in thinking.
It may require a shift in what we do or how we do it.
And now is the time to examine our options.
As I said in the beginning, this is not the first terrible event that’s come upon the country or the business community, and it will not be the last. Some of us were better prepared than others. Some of us have had a wake-up call for how we need to be preparing.
As trusted advisors to our clients and as members of this community, we’re walking down this road with you. We want to hear your worries and concerns, and we want to help you plan for the future, whatever that looks like. So if you’d like to discuss where you are now and how you can make your team be more efficient and nimble, please reach out.
This too shall pass.