Yes, there is Covid and lockdown and loadshedding. But these challenges weren’t all here a while ago (not all of them at the same time, at least) and hopefully these challenges are not here to stay.
The reality and the actual challenge – and the more likely scenario needing to be sustained – is in fact that more diverse teams, located in different locations (and even different countries) are working together. Not only are our colleagues and Partners located all across the globe, our clients are often also located in different locations and time zones too.
Even before Covid, a few of the Opennetworks staff, depending on roles and responsibility, were already working from home a couple of days a week. A hybrid way of working is actually not all that new to us at all! I was one of them: while working in Sales, I was stationed at the office three days a week while I also had client meetings on site, away from the office. The other two workdays were spent at home, catching up on admin and less engagement heavy tasks. I felt, and still feel that both of these are necessary. In a sense I am much more productive at home strategizing, planning, getting those quotations out and doing the groundwork for the next engagement with a customer. Also, the in person (or digital, during lockdown) customer engagements are crucial for the health of our business and building stronger relationships with our customers. Some discussions are simply better held in person. While in person client engagements are our preference, we had no choice but to have online engagements during lockdown and neither do we when our customers are located elsewhere. This also goes for internal engagements, where the team that I am working in are all based in different locations, yet working together as one body.
Working in the Account Management team for a while now, I thought I’d share some insights into what we do at Opennetworks and how we handle online meetings internally, with a swing. Since we have no other choice, we make it work and the engagement benefits outweigh the screen fatigue by far!
Team wide engagements
Whether it’s a Product team, Service team or Operational team, there are ways to keep the team connected regardless of their location of work. What we tried and proven to work in our team was the following:
- One weekly meeting where non urgent topics are added to the agenda. Anything that would benefit the whole team, and where repetition needs to be avoided (explaining the same thing over and over in different meetings) are discussed in this weekly meeting. This is the only “formal” meeting for the team. Down to business, all prepared and focussed, and more often than not 30 minutes is sufficient. For us a Monday works well, as it sets the tone for the coming week.
- A quick daily standup from Monday to Thursday, where the team checks in on deliverables and discusses any impediments. All blockers need to be exposed and eliminated as quickly as possible! 15 minutes at most for this quick online meet, even from the car or store.
- A focus slot or time block, where the teams’ calendars align, daily. This means that every team member carries on with their own work, but is accessible to the rest of the team. This is not a meeting, but simply a time allocation where, if need be and there is something urgent that needs the whole (or most of the) team’s attention, you know you’re covered and won’t struggle to find the people you need.
- A short weekly planning session where the calendars for the next week are aligned, ensuring no conflicts and that workload is distributed sensibly across the whole team in the coming week. This is a quick 15 minute call, totally informal and just FYI. This way the team knows what to expect from their colleagues in the coming week. This is also a good time for some chit chat and sharing the high’s and low’s of the week.
Company wide engagements
Especially where a company has an agile approach and where collaboration across teams is central in all efforts, it is really important that individuals, well connected within their teams, also connect on a company level. Dependencies between teams is the reality of our business and we firmly believe that silo’s should be broken down as far as possible. Transparency, shared understanding and shared learning is what drives our business forward. Here’s how we do it:
- A company wide weekly meeting where important topics are covered. We consider this weekly meeting compulsory. Since we expect the whole company to join, waiting for anyone is a no-go! We all pitch a few minutes early and listen to some good tunes. The formal agenda is handled first (we also record this part), where after more informal topics are often covered. I say formal, but this is really where companies learn more about the work done in each team which offers great insight. We also have feedback from our Directors, HR, Operations and Compliance teams during this meeting.
- When you hear about an online year end party you might think “but how?”! We are lucky enough to have a quiz master in our midst who hosted several online quizzes for us, breakout rooms and everything! Obviously, using the Google tools helps a lot. The company gave each team member a budget, so what would have been spent at a braai (or whatever), can now be spent on snacks, drinks and food at home. Most of us had our goodies delivered at home during the quiz with Uber Eats or Checkers 60/60. This made everyone feel included, even our colleagues located in the UK.
- We even had an online team building! Oh boy, was this fun… We had an amazing company host a Murder Mystery for us, online. Really planned and executed well. This was where we saw our colleagues dress up, adopt a funny accent and show up as a character prescribed by the hosts. Although online, this was possibly one of the highlights of my year! There really are amazing options to still keep the team engaged while working remotely.
- We had a weekly, sometimes even more than this, casual catchup time slot in the calendar for anyone to join if they needed some water cooler chit chat with any colleague. It is quite fun to randomly “pitch up” and see who’s there and join in on the most interesting of conversations with colleagues that aren’t about work.
- In celebration of the Chinese New Year, we had a company challenge where each team member received a budget to spend on Chinese food (and fortune cookies) for you and your family. The condition of claiming this expense back was posting a picture of what your fortune cookie said on Google Currents. This was a nice way to include everyone, for no real reason at all.
- Oh the birthdays… I truly miss lunch together at the office, especially when we celebrated someone’s birthday. Someone in our team had the idea to sing for our birthday boys and girls during our weekly compulsory meeting. Imagine for a moment, the whole company turning off mute and singing away. Own song, own key… It sounds mad! But it’s the thought that counts. We try to not miss one.
- We make things personal too. Whenever someone in our team goes through a difficult time, has a new baby, is sick, gets married, or whatever the case may be, we do something special for that individual. Handled in our weekly meeting as well, we pitch meal trains, do presentations put together by the whole team and have a lot of fun with backgrounds while we all do life together. These are by far the most special to me and to everyone who receives such gestures.
- Instead of a Christmas party last year, we had team members “draw” a name. We all ended up receiving a gift from a colleague, delivered at our doorstep. This was great to include people in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, London and a small town somewhere in the UK. We made appreciation one of our focusses during these difficult times.
Healthy internal engagements will overflow in healthy external engagements as well. Where teams and individuals are supported and included, the cohesiveness continues even if it means it’s online. A healthy company culture and good online meeting etiquette are probably two of the strongest contributing factors that keep us sane in these times. Not Covid times, but working remotely and online, with people across the globe. Whether we want to hear this or not, this is our future. We might just as well embrace it!