WFH? WTF? — How Team TS is rolling, working from home — 2. Preparation, planning and communication

WFH? WTF? — How Team TS is rolling, working from home — 2. Preparation, planning and communication

March 31st, 2020

Running out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer are not the main issues for the local office equipment supply retailer here in Sydney. No. The other day, it ran out of computer monitors. And home office chairs. 

It really did. 

As much of the business world blows the dust off work-from-home policies while simultaneously dispatching staff to a safe distance for the foreseeable future, there’s a stampede for those essential bits of equipment for the office-away-from-the-office. Namely extra screens, an ergonomic chair, webcams and headsets, perhaps even a new desk (a new desk soon to be adorned with a crisp Post-It note reminding you to upgrade the internet speed). 

The formerly commuting, suited masses, liberated from their daily transitory incarceration and formal garb, are tickled pink at the joy of working in their PJs (which they secretly wore under jeans and hoodie while running their kids to the school when it was open). The world has gone to shit, but today is a new, socially distant day. Armed with home-brewed coffee, now burning a warranty-voiding ring into the new desk, they rub their hands in glee at their new life. Behold — the worker from home! 

Here it comes — #MostProductiveDayEver. 

OK, so that’s a light-hearted take on serious scenes playing out across the business world. The reality is that suddenly upending your office-based workforce into their own homes for an indeterminate length of time is not as straightforward as it sounds. And let’s not forget the huge uncertainty and anxiety everyone is coping with. How can we? 

Like many businesses, Total Synergy has just done the same thing. We’re a small-to-medium software business with around 40 staff. They’re all now working from home. We took the decision to work towards this last Wednesday (11 March 2020) in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The reality is though, we really took the decision in 2012 — and it’s paying off now with the speed and ease with which we’ve been able to decamp. 

If this is a new way of working for your business, hopefully there’s something useful to learn from our story. 

PREPARATION

Some businesses are born for remote work. It’s how they’ve always been. In fact, those businesses would arguably struggle being in the same space day in, day out. But they’re not the norm. 

For the rest of us, we need to prepare and plan to enable remote work. Our 40 staff in Sydney and London are enabled to work from home because we made a strategic decision to become a cloud-first business, all the way back in 2012.  

You don’t choose to become a cloud business one day and become one the next. It takes time to assess, research, trial, test, plan, implement, train, overcome, solve and, eventually, thrive with this model. It’s a business-wide cultural change, and that takes time and intent.

PLANNING

The fundamental benefit of being a cloud-based operation is untethering from your business premises. In the architectural, engineering and construction design (AEC) context, this typically means using your mobile to do timesheets or hotspotting your laptop to the internet while still on site — saving the time of going back to the office to write notes, create a report, or communicate with the team. 

And it’s this mobility that enables the remote work opportunity. 

To unshackle your people, you have to unshackle your tools — software applications, systems, communication methods, etc. You have to update your expectations — do you all really need to be physically in meetings, for example? 

Changing from an on-premises setup to the cloud is not always that simple, but with the right planning — a change management plan is essential — you can and will succeed. The process likely includes moving from a server to SharePoint, from Office 2016 to Office 365, from desktop accounting software to Xero or QuickBooks Online, from some clunky accounting-based practice management system (on a server) to Synergy (in your browser). 

And so, with a suite of cloud software and a reliable internet connection, most office workers can work anywhere. The nature of design businesses like architectural and engineering firms means some additional complexities with, for example, document management. But with applications like 12d Synergy and Drawboard Projects, work continues.

COMMUNICATION

Changing systems or applications is a process. Changing how you communicate as a business is a cultural shift. This is not always a tangible thing. Add forced remote work into the mix and it’s vital these methods are in place or you’ll have a crash course in how to alienate and upset staff and get everyone on different pages. 

Here at Total Synergy, we use two Microsoft applications for online internal communications — Yammer and Teams. To some people, these two platforms do almost identical things. And there’s certainly a case that you could live with just one. We used Yammer successfully before Teams came along and then started using both. The difference for us is in the business outcomes we want from each tool. For us, Yammer is for what is called ‘asynchronous communications’ (not immediate) whereas Teams is more for synchronous communications (immediate, persistent).

Yammer is, in effect, our internal public noticeboard. Where we can have long threaded chats about projects, observations, announcements, or just a bit of banter.

Teams is where we do our one-to-one chats (it’s effectively Skype for Business 3.0, or Microsoft’s Slack buster) and one-to-a-few work conversations in grouped threads. Teams also lets us have individual and group video calls and even company-wide video meetings. 

The thing is, you can’t switch these things on and get results straight away. You need to spend time drawing the team into this way of communicating. Some will like it, some will not. But the productivity and cultural benefits are huge, so it’s worth doing it. As with any change like this, it must be planned and have measurable outcomes. And it’s worth getting some help from professionals who know how to help you implement systems and manage the change process with you. 

We implemented Yammer in 2016 and Teams from 2018 to 2019. Teams was probably easier to adopt as we had the Yammer experience to lean on. We also assumed it would require less planning. That caused a few speed bumps and reminded us that the preparation and planning is essential. 

PREPARE, PLAN, COMMUNICATE 

We’ll talk about our specific software and tools that enable us to work remotely in the third post in this series. The lesson here is that working remotely isn’t rocket science but a little planning , preparation, and communication goes a long way to having happy, productive staff. Even though they probably are still in their PJs. 

Read the third blog in this series

WFH? WTF? — How Team TS is rolling, working from home — 3. Our customers during COVID-19


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