Dear Agile Aunt,
I work in a small architectural practice in London. As a team we usually work together in the same office, but with the current climate everyone is based at home. We got up and running okay, but one month in, home working is becoming limiting.
We’re kicking off a pivotal project with a new client, and calls keep cutting out and freezing – which isn’t the most professional look. The team is used to bouncing ideas off each other in the same room, and it’s isolating to work remotely. Do you have any tips on how we can boost our performance for this key piece of work?
- Isolated Architect
Dear Isolated Architect,
Many small businesses like yours are having a tough time of it right now. I know the construction sector especially has been hit hard by the disruption. It’s great that you’ve been able to move your services online, but as you say it can be hard to collaborate effectively and build strong client relationships when you’re used to working face to face.
Right now, you need to be able to work effectively without significant extra investment in technology. Luckily, I can share three tips for boosting your performance without outlaying extra cash – so you can make a flying start on your project even when the office isn’t an option.
1) Develop a creative remote working culture
To foster the creative culture that businesses like yours rely on, you can use remote working tools and new behaviours to collaborate together. Hosting conference calls with the video switched on enables “active listening”, so the whole team can engage with and respond to ideas on the line.
Cisco WebEx offers additional tools, such as a virtual whiteboard for you to talk and chalk, screensharing, instant polls and call recording for people unable to attend. Right now, advanced WebEx features are available free of charge, to enable businesses to replicate the traditional brainstorm from afar.
Collaborating effectively as a team also depends on adapting your working culture to the circumstances. You’re no longer in a dedicated professional environment. Realistically, it’s not even working from home: your work life has invaded your home life – and that can cause a strain.
At present, remote working can cause challenges from dogs barking and time needed for childcare to limited concentration spans and feelings of isolation. Being respectful of these difficulties and supporting each other through them will help everyone to work more productively in the long term – and enable you to come together to deliver better results.
For more tips on working remotely, check out How to nail working from home
2) Boost your connection when communicating with clients
Developing a strong client relationship from afar can be challenging, especially when you’re in the early days of working together. When you’re relying on conferencing tools, it’s especially frustrating if calls cut out or freeze, which fairly or unfairly can disrupt that “professional” appearance.
There are simple tips that everyone can follow to boost their connection. Encourage employees to sit near their router, turn off other devices during calls and even bribe the kids to hold off on that Netflix series for an hour.
There might be times when you’ll need to turn off your video and use your mobile phone to dial in for the audio. From a networking perspective, VPN tools like AnyConnect can also help to prioritise applications and traffic.
Beyond the technology, now is absolutely the time to “overcommunicate” with clients. Share updates more regularly than usual to showcase your progress, share ideas and ensure that you’re not reliant on one fortnightly call. Equally, acknowledge the challenges: we’re all in the same boat and collaborating closely now can actually create a stronger relationship in the long term.
3) Don’t accept a Covid security compromise
Whatever your other priorities, it’s really important not to overlook cybersecurity. I know that some businesses rushed to get back online at the start of the pandemic. But the same security and data protection threats that existed pre-pandemic are still around – if not heightened considerably. It’s vital to ensure that customer and employee data and intellectual property is protected, especially in businesses like architectural firms.
Avoid the temptation to adopt consumer products from your personal life: these systems don’t offer the security or compliance of enterprise-class tools. Instead, choose applications that have security built in from the ground up. WebEx Teams offers end-to-end encryption and can be integrated into other data loss prevention systems.
Security applications are available that can provide a first line of defence for home workers. Cisco Umbrella protects users while they’re on and off the network, and can be enabled over the cloud without any physical devices. Businesses can access free licenses for Umbrella and other security technologies right now.
Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, I’ve seen cyber-attacks devastate small businesses; right now, it might be hard to recover. Don’t let your teams’ outstanding work be compromised by security gaps.
The foundations for success
Small businesses like yours are incredibly skilled at rising to new challenges. I’ve seen small businesses adapt to a director moving abroad to work remotely from France or hold vital meetings across continents, in the midst of disruption like the Icelandic volcano cloud.
This is undoubtedly a tough time. But by combining the remote working tools that are available right now with a positive working culture, I’m sure you’ll come through – and nail that project, whether from the office or from your homes.
- Yours, Agile Aunt
Read more about keeping your remote workforce secure