Despite more businesses working remotely than ever before, nobody anticipated most of the world’s businesses needing to go fully virtual.
Whether you’re a mostly remote team or a large organisation that only operates on desktop computers, there were few businesses prepared to go fully remote and all situations come with their share of challenges in this time.
To best help North East businesses with this abrupt change and the challenges it brings with it, we teamed up with our digital cluster, Dynamo North East and called upon our network of experts to do what we can to help small businesses understand the minefield of remote working and the tech available to you.
In this webinar, we were joined by:
- Laura Kemp, Cluster Engagement Manager at Dynamo North East
- Ruth Plater, CEO and Founder at Radial Path
- James Hall, Partner at UK North Capita Consulting and CEO of Orange Bus, which recently became part of Capita’s 64,000-strong workforce
- Paul Armstrong, Digital Infrastructure Programme Manager at North of Tyne Combined Authority
You can view the full webinar here.
In the meantime, we’ve distilled the key takeaways from this webinar into bitesize chunks of advice to help keep you going, keep your team engaged and your business alive in this time of unexpected remote working.
Let’s dive right in.
Embrace the cloud
If we’ve learned anything during this time, it’s that every business needs to be on the cloud, regardless of industry.
However, for the larger organisations that typically have more out of date infrastructure and legacy software, this is going to be a huge issue.
Places such as local authorities have overnight gone from a small percentage of people (such as 100-200 staff) working from home to over 3,000 people now operating remotely.
This brings big challenges in doing business as usual.
Though it may seem like being on the cloud will only be useful in situations like these, which will (hopefully) be rare, you’re actually going to struggle being an agile modern business if you’re not working online.
The days of working digitally were fast approaching with Coronavirus simply accelerating it. It will be difficult to work at the same speed as everyone else if you’re unwilling to embrace the cloud in your business, especially if your competitors are on it.
Benefits of adopting the cloud:
- Working digitally can help you keep a lean business model, which is especially useful if you’re an SME or just setting up. It can reduce overheads in infrastructure, operations and staff.
- You don’t need to spend a lot of money on cloud-based solutions. They’re typically price-per-user, per month so they can grow with your business and some are even available for free.
- Gives you the ability to collaborate with clients and customers globally.
There are cloud-based software solutions for all elements of business now, including CRM’s such as Salesforce, Hubspot and Active Campaign, internal communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Basecamp and collaboration tools such as Miro, Kanban and Trello, as well as software for project management, productivity and business communications.
You don’t need to be tech-savvy
Businesses are having to rapidly adopt digitisation that they weren’t planning and don’t fully understand yet.
Getting started on SaaS and cloud applications can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of noise in this area that can be difficult to filter out, especially when pressed for time.
However, you really don’t need to be tech-savvy to get to grips with remote working. Online platforms are using apps that you’re familiar with such as Facebook, Whatsapp and messaging to design their programmes so that they’re intuitive and able to be used straight away.
These days software often doesn’t come with an instruction manual because they’re so user-friendly and are developed to make the experience of using them as straight forward as possible.
You’re also less at risk of making a wrong decision with cloud-based software. They typically offer free trial periods, giving you a chance to try before you buy.
You can often pay monthly as well, meaning that you can try them out and if they don’t work for your team, you can just cancel or switch to another app.
As a business, you need to regularly reassess the software you’re using to see where you could potentially be saving money or having better experiences.
There’s so much flexibility now and little risk. App providers are aware of this which is why they’re becoming so competitive, offering more functionality and flexible commercial terms.
Cloud-based software now constantly releases new updates and functions every day. Google has said that they have several updates in any given week on a regular basis. There is no system ‘forever’, they’re constantly changing and if you’re not on them, you’re not getting the latest functionality and best use out of them.
Let’s not forget about cyber security either.
The cloud is typically more secure than conventionally stored data and gives you more resilience against attacks.
Rather than sending spreadsheets of data around in multiple emails and risking it getting saved in numerous places, there’s more chance of it getting lost or hacked through email.
However, having it online with just one means of access by those granted permission, it makes it much easier to track.
Being on the cloud also removes the need for hard copies of data or saving things to your desktop which can also be safer from a GDPR point of view, as long as you have the proper cyber security protection.
The cloud might be the answer to a lot of your business’s problems and not just in the short term either.
Get your team on board
How do you cope with the shift of doing something one way then overnight having to do it differently?
It’s not always easy to get your team on board with new technology. But if it’s with good reason and for good purpose to help enhance and grow the business then it’s all about getting buy in from your staff and involving them in the decision-making process. Make it team owned.
You could ask them to look into the software you want to introduce and share their thoughts or if there’s a company-wide issue, ask your staff to look into software solutions themselves and present their findings to you.
It’s really important that you consider carefully how you communicate the adoption of new technology to your employees, especially if it’s a big change.
Show your team that you’re helping to solve some of their problems. Talk to department heads and show them how this software will make their job easier or more efficient.
Get them sold on it before you introduce it to the business.
Apps are so intuitive these days that you need to focus on the process of onboarding people rather than the actual technology itself.
However, when introducing new systems, it would be helpful to pull together a one-page document with links to support such as tech documentation, FAQ’s, troubleshooting pages, Youtube videos etc.
Make it as easy as possible for them to embrace your new technology!
Identify your biggest problems
Shifting your entire team remotely could result in a wealth of problems that make it difficult to know where to start.
The first thing you need to do is identify your biggest problems, whether it’s customer engagement, team communication, marketing or business operations.
Solving the wrong problems is going to be your biggest threat right now.
Once you know what your biggest problem is, the easier it will be to solve.
If it’s having a central CRM, take a look at Active Campaign or Hubspot. If it’s project management, there’s Asana, Monday.com or Proofhub. If it’s internal communication, there’s Microsoft Teams, Workplace, Slack and Basecamp.
There will be a solution out there for whatever problem your business is facing.
It’s all about finding what works best for you and understanding the most important things for your business.
If you’re still not sure where to start, it can be helpful to connect with other businesses you work with and share best practice. See what systems they use, find out what worked and where the limitations were. It might be more reassuring getting peer support than relying on online guides.
Alternatively, it could be helpful to create a schedule of new software introductions so as not to bombard the business or your team. Break this down into departments to make it easier to manage. Start with the basics that everyone has to use, such as email, filing systems and go from there.
Regardless of how you approach it, solving a problem it much easier once you know what it is.
Prioritise staff wellbeing
Businesses need to be monitoring their staff’s health and wellbeing just the same as if they were in the office.
It’s looking like we’re going to be working from home for a significant period of time, therefore it’s important to make sure your team’s health and safety is being considered.
Where possible, you should allow staff to take home their equipment from the office, such as chairs, laptop risers, keyboards, mouse etc.
There are also companies such as Posture Team who are offering virtual assessments of home setups and are suggesting improvements where applicable.
Make sure your team have whatever they need to be comfortable.
Some people might be misguided and think that remote workers don’t put in a full day’s work but in reality, this is often the opposite case.
Those working from home often can’t blur the line between office hours and switching off and usually end up working more hours.
Though there are ways to monitor staff productivity such as with Kanban, it might be more important (especially during this time) to consider objectives, outputs and deliverables rather than the number of hours worked.
Degrees of flexibility are now being highly recognised in business, with people’s personal lives and commitments being made a priority which work can wrap around.
It’s up to managers and leaders to ensure their staff balance their work and life appropriately.
If you do feel like a member of the team is not being as productive, then be sure to manage the exception – manage the person who is taking advantage rather than putting measures in place for the whole team and making it more difficult for them.
People can say when they’ll be working from home and what hours they’ll be available, which can be beneficial from a practical point of view.
If you’re not used to working from home, or not used to having others in the house with you when working from home, motivation can take a bit of a hit.
One factor to help conquer this is sticking to some form of routine, particularly in the morning.
Try and make it feel as much like going into the office as possible. Get up at the same time every day, take regular breaks and switch off at the same time as well.
Make sure your breaks involve properly getting away from your laptop.
It can help to have a clear division between workspace and home space, so set up your laptop in a place you wouldn’t usually use in your free time where possible.
Or when you’re done with work, pack your laptop away so that you’re not tempted to log on.
Make sure that you’re constantly encouraging members of your team to do all of this too.
When working remotely, it can be difficult to feel like a part of a team, so it can be motivational to do some virtual team building.
Simply searching for ‘virtual team building’ on the internet brings up some fantastic ideas, such as virtual bingo, happy hour, beers with ideas etc. It might even be nice to have a ‘no work chat’ hour with your team as well.
Be sure to keep asking your team what they need to enjoy work better and make them more comfortable.
Whilst working during COVID-19, it’s important for employees and managers to consider those that live alone who won’t be having much social interaction at this time.
It can be helpful to set up a Zoom call at lunchtime, where anyone is welcome to have a chat over lunch. Some businesses are having permanent chat windows up whilst working, to replicate being in the office.
Duty of care is critical at this time. Monitoring and managing people’s wellbeing is going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ll face during this period, so keep checking in with your staff.
Control what you can
The reality is that all networks are under more demand than they’ve ever been.
They were built for evening peaks which is now more sustained throughout the day. This can be causing dodgy internet connections and frozen video calls.
Control what you can whilst working from home such as:
- Work out where the best Wi-Fi spot is in your house, this is often close to the router.
- Plug directly into the router if you’re having real difficulties connecting to the internet.
- If you’ve got a video call, think about if it’s essential that it’s video, a phone call might work just as well and won’t strain your broadband as much.
- If you’ve got a group video conference and don’t think you’ll be contributing much, switch your video and mic off until it’s you turn to talk.
- If you’re living with others, be mindful of what everybody in the house is doing at the same time. Try and stagger internet usage across the day where possible.
- If you are on the cloud, it can be helpful to save a file locally to your computer, work on it and then upload it online later once it’s complete rather than constantly working online.
This is a really difficult time for most people, so don’t be hard on yourself if everything isn’t going smoothly. You can’t control everything.
So, there you have it.
We hope that our top takeaways from the ‘Helping North East SME’s working remotely’ webinar offer some help to your business and team.
You can view the whole webinar here if you’re looking for more information.
We’re in a time where many businesses have had to rapidly adopt remote working and digitization.
Even businesses that work mostly online will not have been prepared for a full team working remotely for such a long period of time. It’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat.
All we can do is put the wellbeing of our teams first, control what we can, identify our biggest problems and priorities and try and fix them the best we can. Coronavirus has made everyone aware of the importance of working on the cloud, so try and adopt virtual working as much as possible. Don’t forget it’s all about trialling different things and seeing what works for you.
And most importantly, help each other in this time and know that the North East is a fantastic hub of support. Stay safe.
If you want to talk about some of the points raised in this webinar or if you’d like to request some one-to-one support from any of our Dynamo cluster engagement managers, please email firstname.lastname@example.org