Today I realised it’s been a year since I last wore a full work outfit. I remember a couple of years ago, when I first saw the ‘Working From Home Dress Code’ (i.e. suit/smart top and pyjama bottoms for a Skype interview) on TV, I found it hilarious. But who’s laughing now?! In just one year, this has become the new normal – at best (I find myself working in my hoodie most of the time, and I forget the last time I opened my workwear wardrobe!) When I reflect upon the past year, there’s so much that has changed, and we never thought it would last this long.

But apart from forgetting how to walk in heels, or abandoning your collection of ties, what else has been affected in your day-to-day? How have you managed to engage stakeholders in a virtual work environment? Has a year in lockdown boosted or diminished collaboration and efficiency – and has your definition of ‘success’ changed at all?

A shadow of our former selves?

I consider myself lucky enough to be part of a team that is supportive, and it’s easy to communicate through emails, Teams chats, and video call meetings. However, the behaviours we used to have in an office to engage with others are now missing. We can’t grab a coffee or run into each other in the hallway and have a chat.

When I moved to a new client account last year, it was imperative to capture the stakeholders’ interest quickly and become part of their team in order for the project to be successful. As a consultant and business analyst, my work relies upon stakeholder engagement and interaction, which naturally became a challenge with the new virtual working. Could we run effective workshops without a whiteboard to scribble ideas on? How would we make sure everyone is engaged? What if, during a process discovery or re-engineering session, I had a tricky question? I certainly couldn’t just drop by their desk…

With key steps of Process Improvement and Optimisation involving direct interaction (such as interviews, observation, work shadowing), not being in the same room with the client team had the potential to be devastating to the project, with the risk that we may not be able to capture all the data of the As-Is and requirements for the To-Be process.

Nothing is impossible!

We smart/taskers always find a way to engage with the stakeholders! And with the combination of great technology, determination and colleagues’ support, it worked. Sure, it required some more planning, but it quickly became clear that you really can run great workshops, use a virtual whiteboard for the full experience, have first-rate interviews, and even shadow one’s work through screen sharing. Suddenly, nothing seemed impossible!

What’s most important to a smart/tasker is to always add value, empower and energise. Offering a service that works as the internal factory, handling transactional tasks and activities, and becoming a client’s extended team all relies on good communication, stakeholder engagement and organisation. It was just a matter of days before we were working closely with subject matter experts and unpacking the client’s problem through virtual workshops and interviews. We identified streamlining and optimisation opportunities and built a delivery plan, with regular checkpoints. But to really add value to the client, we had to look at the process end-to-end, by engaging their partners and customers, improving reputation and customer satisfaction. We worked together to re-design the process based on the requirements, and stuck to the plan. The result? We delivered the new processes on time and to great acclaim. In other words, we achieved the same resounding success that we would have if we had been able to work side-by-side with the client.

What I am most proud of – and what I think has been one of the biggest take-aways of the whole experience – is that our involvement has inspired a desire for continuous process improvement, in  both the customers and partners. After all, the results spoke for themselves: reduced service delivery times, a scalable platform for growth, streamlined communications and reduced risk of human errors through simple automations. The fact that we achieved that for our client virtually is almost an extra feather in the cap, as it proves beyond doubt that where there’s a will, there is definitely a way!

So what else have I learned thanks to our year in Lockdown?

You can build strong relationships with clients even when working remotely – just put in the time to get to know them and ask questions. Don’t just focus on the work itself!

Timely delivery of project deliverables is possible if you inbuild a robust project plan, with regular checkpoints and sensible organisational processes

Quality of service should be the same, regardless of where we’re working. We’re all in this together, and harmonious collaboration is key to inspire delivery excellence.

By Rea Kapetanou | Transition Consultant | smart/tasking

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