The corona virus is raging among the world's economies. ‘Flattening the curve’ is saving our health, but nearly everyone’s life has suddenly been cast up into the cloud. On Wednesday this week we had dinner with a couple of friends in New York. We were in Miami. Yesterday, my 10-year old son had karate training with his friends and today, Friday, is finally Friday game-time with friends. All this via video conferencing. The vast majority of us are also working from home – like it or not. Here’s how to break the working-from-home code.
In my start-up business for food forecasting, Crisp, we have been working in the cloud for 2 years now and I want to share our experience with everyone else who is now in the same situation. We did it voluntarily because we didn’t want to waste time in traffic and we wanted to come up with improved work routines and get away from all the noise in the office. We also wanted to be able to find the best talent regardless of location. Now in a time of exceptions-because-of-corona, it's tough to find peace and quiet at home with parents doing the schooling, being the IT department, managing the food preparation department, worrying about there being food in the fridge, layoffs and bankruptcies. But this is a transient thing, just like this state of emergency we are in. So, if you can, step back and see it as a unique opportunity to become good at working in the cloud.
Here are 10 things we have done over the past 2 years to make remote work function better than working in an office:
1. Big screen: If you can, buy a 34–38 inch screen. There is simply no comparison to working on a big screen and not sitting for 8 hours staring at a little laptop. With the necessary emphasis on cost reduction, no extra expenses are easy, but the productivity you achieve from a big screen is something else entirely. Add a keyboard, external mouse, camera mounted at the top of the screen so you get an angle from the top down when conferencing. Nobody looks good when viewed from below. Light from in front, not from a window or lamp behind you.
2. Don’t use free video conferencing services: Zoom is riding the ‘remote' work wave (stock price up 25% over the last 2 weeks and up 118% since listing a year ago). What makes Zoom the best option is its simple user interface, easy-to-share screen and best sound and picture quality even when the network you are on is heavily burdened by the rest of the family. Microsoft Teams (not Skype) is also good. Free services like Google Hangouts don’t work as well in my opinion. It’s not the place to cut costs when video conferencing is the most important productivity and sales tool for the future.
3. Quiet, professional background: Sit against a wall so there is calm behind you, do your best not to have a bed, dirty laundry, clutter or personal items visible to the camera. Then others taking part in the meeting don’t have to be distracted by your surroundings. I know this is easier said than done.
4. Fixed workplace, not a mix: If possible, designate a place that you work from. When dad or mom goes in, it’s because there is work to do. This also applies to the children. They also need to have a permanent place in the house to ‘go to school’.
5. Set routines and working hours: My routine is to get up at 6 am, get the kids ready by 7 am, work out at home from 7-8 and start work at 8:30. Finish work at 5 pm. Then work on slightly simpler tasks from 8 pm. Without set routines, the day goes to everything but work. During working hours, you stay at your fixed workplace at home, don’t start washing clothes, tidying up a bit, fixing something or cooking, or the work day will be over before you even begin. And no TV or Facebook to continually see what’s going on with the coronavirus – the recipe for becoming the next to receive your notice to quit is to not stay focused during these critical times.
6. Full transparency in communication tools – apart from email: There are two big thieves of time in a company: emails and meetings. To solve the problem, we have taken drastic measures when moving up into the cloud as a company: sending internal emails is strictly forbidden. This has fundamentally changed the way the team collaborates and communicates. We have replaced emails with a variety of tools that enable asynchronous communication, as well as instant feedback, as needed. We use Notion for the more important issues and Slack (which is configured in channels) for the less formal. What is key here is that the communication tools are more transparent and that you can work on one issue at a time (and not have to switch between what is at the top of the email inbox).
7. Tools centered around the customer journey. There is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tool for everything now. We have 1 person in marketing who does the same job as 5 people did before. We have 3 in sales doing the job that 15 did before. Evaluate your work processes and find the tools that will help you run the processes more efficiently and in your home office. Here are the ones we use and the areas we use them for. The tools are not set up along departmental lines, but they follow the path of how a customer gets from A to Z. The tools work together well – people often don’t. That is why we have organized it so that the tools work together first and after that we have a process around them supported by people.
Hubspot – CRM. Pendo – Product Journey, ProductBoard – Product Management System, Zoom – Video Conferencing, Loom – Video Recording, Slack – Real-Time Chat, Teamwork – Project Management, Notion – Team Collaboration, Outreach – Sales Management, SalesScreen – Follow-up of sales activities in the sales team, GSuite – Document Management, Whimsical – Visual Collaboration, Stripe – Online Payment Processing, FullStory – Digital Experience Analytics, Rhythm in everything that’s done.
8. Sales motivation tool: Knowing that motivation is important is something we have all learned, but how to motivate salespeople in general and especially now that more and more are working remote is another issue. The (once) small Norwegian company SalesScreen is now growing like wildfire because they can deliver digital tools that give recognition and motivation to salespeople – and they are now attracting big international customers in Europe, the US and Asia who all recognize that when the sales force is able to increase its effectiveness, this is extremely profitable. SalesScreen just carried out a survey with one of the world’s largest software companies in which they documented that with this tool the number of customer calls made by the sales force increased by 71%. That will turn into a lot of money... if investors in that company then use it as an example of how to increase effectiveness.
9. Strong leadership, clear strategy, clear communication: Do away with phrases like 'don't know', 'maybe', 'let's think about it' or 'we'll look at it next week'. They ought to be kept to a minimum in a regular workplace as well, but extreme clarity related to goals, activities and decisions is especially important for companies that work remotely. It needs to be extremely clear what is going to be delivered, both short and long term. We want our decisions to be routine and precise. This creates predictability around communicating which direction is to be taken and when decisions are to be made.
10. “Rhythm”: Weekly general meetings, monthly strategy updates: At Crisp, the entire company meets via video conference every Friday. We talk about where we are and where we are going and one group is given a significant amount of time to update the rest of the company on progress and challenges so that everyone is regularly informed about sales, business development, product and marketing. Every Friday, everyone in the management team has a 30-minute meeting individually with each other. The meeting agenda gets built in Notion throughout the week. If there is nothing on the agenda, I cancel the meeting. On the last Friday of each month, we communicate the previous month’s results and present the strategy, activities and decisions related to what is to be achieved in the following month.
The results: 95% reduction in email, 70% reduction in meetings and a sharp increase in productivity. We are grateful that the company remains strong and that there is minimal disruption in our way of working, despite the pandemic that affects each of us in many unexpected ways. This allows us to focus our attention on the needs of employees, customers and the planet – which is just as it should be.