Harsh times, the way forward

Harsh times, the way forward

Everything that we know is changing drastically these days... It is a given that needs no introduction. This drastic change has been increasingly defining how we have to live and work these last few weeks and/or months... Things that were considered as a default (like commuting everyday back and forth to work, including the impact on the environment and on others) have now changed very drastically and very fast. In order to survive, we need to adapt to this fast changing new reality.

No homework allowed

This illustration was drawn from the bikablo publications, www.bikablo.com

A lot of countries have implemented a “quarantine” to ensure that this corona virus can find less people to “infect”. For a lot of people this means that teleworking is now obligated (even though it is a first for a lot of people) and this comes with all kinds of challenges. I’m not going further into the measures that are being implemented in numerous places as a lot has been said about this already and that this is not what I wanted to talk to you about today; for me, this new reality brings quite a few challenges for both the impacted organizations and for the individuals that work (remotely) in these organizations.

As I’m in a consultancy business, I work for a customer. This customer has evolved over the last few years from “no homework is allowed” (and no remote working infra in place) to “ structural remote access solutions are in place” and remote work is allowed within a set of boundaries (e.g.: occasional homeworking is discussed upfront and is limited to a maximum number of days a month.) This means that the customer still prefers in person and on-site work. This also means that I do not have experience with (structural) teleworking and that what you are about to read, comes from ideas that I have on this topic, things that I have learned over the years and this all combined with insights that I have on these few weeks that I have been working from home.

With this drastic change, we all had to adapt to this new reality and this is necessary since we were accustomed to constantly seeing each other on an almost daily basis and being able to discuss stuff that we were working on. This change means that all this “in person” communication is suddenly gone and has to be replaced by something else.

You have to understand that, from a managers point of view, being able to effectively see people working, typically gives some kind of peace of mind that can be linked to a feeling of trust which in turn ensures that the people are actually working for the/your organization (instead of doing something else). The difference, when working from home, is that one cannot actually see you and thus cannot “validate” that you are in fact “working” the organization. It thus comes down to trust... There are a lot of other considerations to this reasoning, but I really invite you to read “REMOTE: Office Not Required” if you want to explore the rationale a bit further.

Working apart, together

A lot of organizations are (and have been a long time) in this “state of mind” and in any normal situation, it would be very hard to convince them otherwise and to encourage them to consider something like structural teleworking. The reality of today forces all these companies to make this big “leap of faith” and to let people work from home . It is now up to the people to prove that this can work and to show that they are worthy of the trust of their employer/customer. There are different ways to accomplish this. One is that everyone starts with a personal initiative to be transparent, starting to (over)communicate about the “accomplished work” on a regular basis. The problem is that this is not structural and in bigger contexts/departments information tends to get lost pretty fast. Additionally, for the one receiving all this “reporting intel”, this can get tiresome and annoying pretty fast…

Another possibility is that the organization starts by facilitating in tooling and (people) structures that encourages working together on a transparent basis, even remotely. When an organization has tooling in place for (remote) work item tracking (e.g.: Azure Devops , Jira ,...) and when that tooling is used correctly by everyone involved, part of the “problem” is already solved. The idea that everyone can follow up what everyone else is working on, gives clarity, even when working remote! (Also for management!) Additionally, (online) collaboration tooling such as Microsoft Teams or Slack allow for several types of communication:

  • Point to point (ad hoc) communication (chat, call, video call)
  • Group communication, team/topic based (group chat,  call, video call)
  • Planned meetings (call, video call)

These ways of communicating, when properly used, can take away the distance that is created by not working in the same office space. The advantage of such tooling (when everyone in the office uses them) is that a lot of work can get done by means of communicating effectively. I have also found that it is important to identify who is susceptible to be a victim of the remoteness. It is important to behave like a team even when you are not together and to try to include everyone in the team. This is really important! E.g.: when you haven’t heard someone in a while, it doesn’t harm to do a quick whats-up call. This kind off replaces the coffee machine discussions and helps to ensure that no one gets isolated, which is really important!

Power to the teams

This illustration was drawn from the bikablo publications, www.bikablo.com

I’m a consultant and together with around 15 AE colleagues, we are integrated in the different teams that exist in the organization of the customer. We all work together intensively in our teams and also interact with other teams. In this context, it has always been preferred that we work “on-site”. Now, with this new reality, we are all (together with the other colleagues) helping the organization (and thus ourselves) to keep up our productivity and to improve it even further where possible. To accomplish this, we rolled out Microsoft Teams in the IT department and with some (pro-)active coaching, we were able to guide the teams effectively through this change. After some first evaluations, most reactions are super positive and the pains of switching to home-work are relatively low. My personal feeling is even that the teams are communicating better and more effective. (full disclosure: we were still using skype as a collaboration tool. The problem with skype is that it is only a point to point communication tool. MS Teams goes further and is way more advanced. this really helped in this transition!)

To give a few examples of what we did

  1. As I am the one that “created” the different teams in MS Teams, I have a nice overview of what is happening (yes, I still have access). This helped me to identify so called “pain points” that teams (unknowingly) were experiencing. I was then able to kind of mingle myself in the discussion and to put a better way of working forward. Initially, I  mainly did this on an ad-hoc bases, but when I started to see that every team was up and running, I started bundling those interventions into “tips” which I then posted in a team that was accessible by everyone. The intention was never to mingle into the day-to-day business, but merely to help the teams discover the potential of the tooling at hand. I have found that this really has helped the transition and has given a boost to this      new way of working (nwow)!
  2. In my team at the customer, typically have a lot of  discussions on the things that we are working on. We only had one “official” meeting per week and in this new setting, I was afraid that we would get really disconnected from each other as we all have our work packages. (mainly because we all have our area of expertise and focus.) As not hearing from each other for a week is a long time, I proposed to have a daily (video) meeting where we could have the time to discuss what we have been up to and to look at next actions. This can be compared to a standup, but it helps us to be more in line with each other even though we do not work on the same stuff... The other teams already had their scheduled daily moment of sync, so they just digitalized these gatherings. We really feel that this helps in terms of transparency and productivity! They use      the sprint board to discuss their progress. Additionally they use other tooling available to facilitate in their functioning. E.g.: for the Retrospectives there is an “Azure Devops” plugin called “Retrospectives” which has proven to be very useful. For Pair programming, there is a solution called “Live share”, which installs as a plugin in Visual Studio (code) and allows for ream time sharing and collaboration of code. Teams really benefit from these kind of enablers!
  3. Another example is from a team that is actively looking to replace the physical whiteboard by a digital whiteboard. This is because of the fact that the need to discuss ideas and work out solutions did not stop when working from home... To accomplish this, we have been looking at Microsoft Whiteboard as it has a nice integration with Microsoft Teams. The fact that you get a whiteboard for every meeting that you organize, really helps! ( TIP : if you install the MS whiteboard app on your computer/iPad, then you can collaborate live to the meeting whiteboard from this point. (You only have to log in into the app with your organizational identity, assuming it is one working with Azure AD)) After the meeting, your whiteboard is shared with whoever collaborated and it stays available and linked to your account! this is useful if you want to return to the discussion at a later point in time! (So no whiteboard wiping after the meeting!)

There are other examples, but the goal here is not to write a book, nor to discuss every little detail! It is merely a hint that you can use the technology that is available to facilitate you and your organization in the in the work that needs to be done. Working from home is a big unknown to the most of us and we all have to find our way into this new reality. But if we all can work together, then we can achieve more!  The most important thing, to me, is that we all try to help the organization/customer/society to, everyday again, to do just that! If we can accomplish this, even in these weird times, then we have accomplished something good! In days like these, we can all make the difference and prove that this way of working is also possible and sustainable!

In the end, it comes down to being productive and delivering value for ourselves, our organizations and our society. Why don’t start today? (if you haven’t already that is 😊)

(Question that remains is whether people want to return to the old way of working (owow) when all this is over)



Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post for awaere.com, which is an initiative of the company that I work for (AE), but I also wanted to post it here as it took me quite some work to write it... If you want to discuss the stuff I wrote, do not hesitate to contact me! (eg: twitter)

The drawings in this post are drawn from the bikablo publications, www.bikablo.com

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