Remote Delivery: How can you offer your clients the same level of service when you can’t be in person?
As we lurch towards the start of a second year under pandemic restrictions and lockdown regulation, we can be sure that remote working to some degree or another is going nowhere fast. Companies have developed strategies to manage teams remotely, and work flexibly with their teams. All these adapted working processes have been accepted on the most part because we are all in the same boat, and employees and clients alike have had a forgiving and ‘banding together’ attitude. But as this sense of goodwill starts to (or has totally!) run out, how can you maintain morale, and ensure you are delivering a consistent and high level of quality and service to your clients?
Firstly, are you getting the most from your technology? Most of us are now familiar with the remote working tools that are available out there – from video conferencing, to project and task management softwares. These systems are now forming part of our business as usual rather than a stop-gap solution, and so now is the ideal time to review the systems you are using to see if they are covering all your requirements, and whether you are utilising them to their full potential. Video conferencing softwares offer a range of additional functionality, for example the breakout rooms that can be added to calls on Microsoft Teams to allow discussions in smaller groups, or the presenting functionality on software such as Zoom. Dig into the release notes and user guides for the software you are using, look at the capabilities the systems can offer and consider how they could serve your teams and clients. Other softwares can be used instead of or alongside your video conferencing software allowing for more collaboration, such as Mural, Miro and Visio which can offer whiteboards and collaboration options to each meeting or workshop.
Secondly, have you taken time to re-think your approach? The technology is not the only thing to think about when you are conducting remote meetings or workshops. It can be very tempting to move your standard processes or agendas across wholesale into a conference call format, but it is crucial to consider how well these approaches will translate when you are not in the same room as your team or client.
Consider the agendas for your meetings and how each point is usually discussed and resolved. Is the format usually a group-wide discussion? These can be very challenging to have remotely, as the conference software is generally configured to work best with only one person speaking at a time. Couple this with the variance in internet connectivity and speed, and discussions can often break down very quickly! Reflect on what you are trying to get out of each element, and then consider how they could be replicated in a different and more workable format. Would sending more detailed information around alongside agenda points in advance of the meeting prove helpful in steering the conversation? If a consensus is required, could voting software be implemented to capture individual opinions? Are you losing valuable insights from quieter or more introverted team members who might be reluctant to speak up on camera? Noticeboards and whiteboards can also act as anonymous input areas, for people to add thoughts and suggestions either during, or in advance of, any workshop or meeting. The relative anonymity of a remote session can help to get the most out of teams, especially as it removes the pressure many feel when speaking up in a room full of people.
Engagement can also be a tough ask when people are sitting alone in front of a screen. So, without the key indicators that we all can derive from body language, how can you make sure everyone is contributing and engaging in the conversation and giving the content their full attention? This can be particularly important when considering business change and digital transformation, trying to ensure buy-in from a wider range of stakeholders who may not have a full understanding of the project, or simply be resistant to change. We are all familiar with ‘screen-fatigue’, so keeping sessions as short as possible is vital to ensure you can maintain participation and attention. Interaction is also a vital tool to keep people engaged – there is no surer way to encourage attention drift than letting participants sit on mute and without cameras whilst one person delivers an hour-long lecture! Set up meetings or workshops to make the most of the time allocated, and break up any presentations with activities or Q&A opportunities. These don’t need to be fun and games, but rather could be short surveys or whiteboard sessions reflecting on what has been discussed so far and gathering feedback or fielding questions.
But it’s not all bad! Don’t forget that there have been some hugely positive discoveries made whilst trying to navigate the pandemic landscape. Just because we will someday (soon!) be back in person again, does not mean we need to lose these positives. Whilst organisations now have a pretty strong idea of their remote delivery approach, it is also important to plan your ‘back-to-normal’ strategy. In-person meetings are not likely to happen all at once, and instead we should all be planning for a hybrid delivery model. This may even be something that continues even once restrictions are lifted. For example, perhaps you have found that participation in certain parts of your workshop format has increased dramatically. In that case, it may be useful to split out workshops into two parts: an initial remote session, with an in person follow up to cover the remaining agenda points – or vice versa of course. Or maybe these tools that have proven their worth can be as useful even when you are all in the same room. A digital whiteboard for example means everyone can access the notes directly and contribute in live time.
Don’t underestimate the value of training. Technology is vital, but we are all aware that more than ever, people are the key to efficient running of business as usual. Whether it is learning a new system or refreshing current capabilities, training in the past has often relied on group sessions. This is a great chance to break the mould and try new delivery approaches. Instead, consider how this can be best delivered most effectively remotely. Perhaps multiple sessions would benefit employees, or a variation on the standard lecture-style approach. For example, a shorter group session could be followed by individual catch ups to check understanding and engagement levels. Would materials sent out in advance help ensure attendees are starting on the same page? Would an introductory presentation followed by smaller group breakout sessions be more effective for you team?
In short, we are starting to get a better picture of the year to come and how the world may look as we come out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic. A sudden switch back to ‘normal’ times is unlikely, and for some, unpalatable. Planning a hybrid delivery approach can help capitalise on the various benefits we have discovered and useful technologies we have turned to over the past year. Moreover, it can help set businesses up for the future and offer a competitive edge, with a flexible model that is prepared to deliver services to clients in any situation.