I’ve been running Wellington as a virtual company for almost 11 years now. The previous two consulting firms I worked for both had offices in the heart of downtown Toronto that had space for about 100 consultants per floor but on any given day you would be lucky if there were more than 6 in the office. Consultants generally work at the client’s site. This analysis led me to launch Wellington as a “virtual” company where everyone worked from home (WFH) when they were not on-site with a client.
This way of working has had a learning curve and I’m not going to pretend we have perfected it, but I thought a few of our lessons learned might be helpful.
Let’ start with a story:
Last week we had a team of 5 people working on a response to an RFP. We set up daily “collaborative meetings” using Zoom and SharePoint. As the meeting started everyone would log into Zoom; we would quickly update each other on the progress we had made on our assigned sections since our last meeting. I usually shared my screen which would show the draft response, stored in SharePoint, and navigate to the appropriate section as each person spoke. We would then decide what needed to be done next and start working. Sometimes people stayed on the zoom call, sometimes they would leave for a while to attend to other matters and then rejoin, sometimes two people would break off into another meeting, sometimes others would display their screen to show another document or an idea they had been working on offline.
In all cases, as we navigated through the crafting of the response, we could see the work in progress through our SharePoint collaboration tool. As we wrapped up for the day, we would all come back together on the Zoom call and talk about what each of us would be working on next. The next meeting would repeat the same process.
These meetings would go on for one, two, three sometimes four hours with people jumping on and off. But the key is even though we were not physically together we were in contact and able to show each other our work and ideas.
It was also not unusual to take a break to grab a tea and just chat about life for 10 or 15 minutes. In other words, we behaved very much like we normally would if we were in the office and collaboratively working on a project.
In addition to these collaboration meetings we also have two regular update meetings each week. The first is an update meeting where we talk about current engagements (Status report, issues, upcoming events, etc.) the second is focused on what Steven Covey calls Q2 thinking. Things that are important but not urgent, like creating our IP, strategy, planning, brainstorming etc.
In order to create an effective virtual or Work From Home (WFH) environment I would suggest there are two areas to focus on:
1. Tools for Setting Up a Virtual Workforce
You will need to set up access to three types of tools:
- Normal Office tools (e-mail, CRM, ERP etc.)
- Meeting tools (Zoom, Web-ex, Skype, Teams etc.)
- Collaboration tools (SharePoint, Teams, Google Docs., Etc.)
And don’t forget to ensure you do the above in a secure way.
2. The Motivation for Working Remotely
Now that you have the tools ready to go you need to set up a “home office environment”:
- A designated workspace (ideally in a separate room with a door)
- Designated work times when you should not be disturbed.
But you are home, so this also gives you the opportunity to spend some time during the day with the family by eating lunch together or having a tea break, a nice perk and sometimes necessary to reenergize.
Finally, one common focus problem we have found is staying engaged with so many distractions; food in the fridge, a quick 15 minutes that stretch to half an hour to catch up on the news. Setting weekly and even daily goals and managing your time accordingly goes a long way to overcoming this. This blog post is a good example. I started working on it on Tuesday and committed to getting a first draft done by EOD Wednesday. We had a few things pop up that prevented me from meeting this goal but here it is 3:00 on Thursday and I am now done the first draft.
Working from home can be a challenge but done right it can also be very productive. Of all the points above I suspect you and your organization have talked about most of them except I perhaps the “collaborative meeting”. The one above had a specific goal of producing a response to a proposal, but you could just as easily have an all-day zoom meeting where people just went about their work. Just working away with other folks keeps you connected and allows for the easy exchange of ideas, just like or in some ways better than being in the office.
Good luck with adapting to this new way of working and stay safe.