By Christian Waters, Director, Delivery at TrueNorth
The silver lining of every disaster and calamity is the infamous “learning opportunity”, a valuable chance to be forewarned and forearmed! In the spirit of our continuing quest for efficient and harmonious delivery of business applications, what has TrueNorth learnt from the lockdown experience and can we apply some of these lessons to our day-to-day operations?
Working from home
It seems to be universally agreed that working from home is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Whether that is full-time working from home (cottage in Cumbria anyone?) or a more flexible approach with several days in the office each week, it has rapidly become an expected feature of most office-based jobs.
Here are some considerations to ensure working from home is as effective as possible, and as fair to your employees as possible.
So are you sitting comfortably? One of the challenges in extended periods of working from home is ensuring that each employee has a suitable workspace and equipment for their role. This extends well beyond a company laptop:
Monitors and peripherals
- Dual screens (or ultra-widescreen). These are a standard feature of many offices and can greatly improve productivity for certain tasks.
- High quality keyboard (mechanical) and mouse. Hundreds of hours will be spent interacting with these so it makes sense to spend a little more.
- Good quality webcam and noise-cancelling headphones. With video conferencing often the most common way of interacting with colleagues, a good quality webcam and set of headphones (or free-standing microphone) can make a huge difference. Equally, a poor-quality set will cause frustration.
Well-adjusted chairs have rightly been recognised as important for a healthy workforce. Sadly, many people have been forced to work from home in less than ideal conditions, perched on the sofa hunched over a laptop. This might work in the short term, but for any extended periods a proper workspace should be set up.
Often, a household’s internet is let down by poor Wifi signals in certain spots, or poor Quality of Service algorithms not prioritising video traffic. Don’t battle on to the frustration of yourself and colleagues if this applies. Instead, take the time to either set up a proper wired connected to your workspace, or install suitable range extenders/mesh networking to optimise your connection.
At TrueNorth we don’t expect our employees to purchase any of the above themselves. If we are asking you to work from home, we will provide the equipment required to do that effectively. One of our employees was working from the sofa until we bought a suitable desk and chair. With that, they were able to carve out a suitable workspace. Click here to see our tried-and-tested home office set-up.
Where did the water cooler go?
One of the casualties of working from home is the lack of ad-hoc interaction with your colleagues. Long periods with little interaction can have a corrosive effect on the workforce. Information ends up siloed, and time is wasted on previously-solved problems as staff have no visibility of what everyone else is working on. One way to counteract this are non-project specific daily ‘stand-up’ meetings. It is a good chance for everyone to keep in touch with their colleagues and find out what they are working on, whether you can help, and whether there is anything good on the TV!
The never-ending meeting
One of the challenges for TrueNorth over the last year has been in the kick-off phase of projects. Previously, these would often take the form of several days on site, meeting customers and going through their requirements in workshops. Whilst this would be possible remotely, I think it is fair to say that no-one relishes spending all day on a Teams call.
We now limit online workshops to a maximum of two hours; typically, we have been able to fit what would have been two or three days on site into five two-hour online sessions. It does seem to concentrate minds, although we do miss the away days!
Being on Teams calls soon becomes second nature, but it’s easy to forget that many people are not comfortable on them, especially if there are multiple attendees. In a face-to-face workshop it’s much easier to read body language and physical cues from people in the room. We emphasise good etiquette at the beginning of each session: stay muted until you want to speak; and make use of the ‘hands up’ feature. It is also helpful to have a second person working with the presenter to keep an eye out for hands up.
Being forced to work 100% remotely has reinforced our use of our main collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams. Here are a few Teams tips.
Leverage Teams, Channels and Chat to minimise emails
Configure Teams and Channels in a way that makes sense for your organisation. At TrueNorth, we have a Team per Customer, with a channel per individual project. We also have non-customer Teams for internal areas such as accounts, management, HR and so on. By encouraging use of the appropriate channel for project-related conversations, it’s easy to discover previous communication, and keeps the chat threads for throw away conversations.
Proper use of Teams channels and chat really helps to minimise the amount of emails sent between the TrueNorth teams. Less email is always a good thing!
Work collaboratively on a single copy of a document
The document collaboration features of Office 365 are now mature offerings that can really help with collaborative working. There’s something still quite magical seeing another user edit a document you are working on together in real-time. The days of collaborating on documents via email are thankfully banished to the past, along with working on ‘Final Report – Copy – Copy – Copy.docx’ and manually merging in changes!
Explore the embedded apps
There are hundreds of apps that are compatible with Teams to help streamline your processes. We make extensive use of OneNote, Planner, and DevOps integration. Have an explore!
Many of above points can be applied whether you are working from home or not. Working from home simply makes the issues addressed here more acute:
- Ensure a comfortable, safe, and effective workspace
- Maximise the effectiveness of meetings
- Discover, master, and make full use of your collaboration tools.
To find out how we can help you get the most from cloud systems, even from home, please get in touch.