‘Go Deliver Online’ - The principles and practices of successfully delivering projects remotely
By John Racher, Head of UK Operations and International Growth
With over 25 years’ experience providing insurance software solutions to global insurers, we understand that the world is full of new and unexpected risks that can strike suddenly, disrupting our standard methods of working.
As a technology partner to the insurance industry, we must be prepared at all times and during any crisis to support our customers, individually and collectively, so they can continue delivering the best experience to their own customers.
That’s why, at AdvantageGo, we have spent years developing policies and procedures that enable us to swiftly switch to full-time remote working with minimal disruption to our business and to our level of customer support.
We have a long history of remote working, having operated an onshore/offshore model for many years where distance collaboration is the norm for us, but may not for our customers and partners.
For many in the insurance industry, working from an office is the usual practice as face-to-face interactions with agents, brokers and underwriters and an essential part of mitigating risk. The insurance industry, especially the London Market, has made great strides to adapt to the digital economy by automating processes and switching to digital ways of interaction and service; however, working in the field daily is very much the standard for the majority.
Switching from office to full-time remote working in a short space of time brings its own set of unique challenges and stresses. With some careful planning and guidance, remote working for an extended period of time should not impact productivity and adversely affect employees.
Our experience has led to the creation of the ‘Go Deliver Online’ remote working guide to assist our teams in understanding the best practices and how to be successful delivering projects remotely, safely and on time.
This blog picks out the key aspects from our ‘Go Deliver Online’ guide that covers tips on how to maintain customer support and deliver on projects whenever teams, or the entire organisation are called upon to work remotely at short notice and for longer than usual.
Back-up, test and maintain your Business Continuity Plan – regularly!
Most organisations will have a business continuity plan (BCP), but how many are actually updated, tested and maintained on a regular basis? Is even the most basic of information that’s required during any major disruption, such as the contact information for crisis team members, up-to-date?
If your organisation has to suddenly switch to remote working, the key to a successful transition is clear and comprehensive communication, and ensuring that your BCP is up-to-date.
At AdvantageGo, our BCP is regularly maintained and tested. All our employees have the ability to work from home with the relevant software and collaboration tools to access the necessary environments required to continue to provide the same high level of customer without disruption.
Ensure that your BCP is up to date and regularly maintained so when the times comes, you are prepared, don’t wait for a crisis to activate your plan.
Create a Remote Work Policy
Have a remote working policy in place, which is available for all employees to download. The policy should be unambiguous, outlining your key messages and guidelines all in one document rather than in separate protocols so it’s easier for people to follow.
Your policy should cover all the strategies and tools that will enable employees to work productively within a remote set-up. Questions to consider:
Who is in charge of communications during the period employees will be working remotely?
What tools and resources are required for all employees that will enable them to immediately switch to remote working with minimal disruption?
If employees don’t have a work laptop which they can take home, how can they execute their job remotely?
Do some of your employees require specific equipment such as a second monitor or a scanner/printer?
Are security protocols vulnerable if your entire organisation switches to remote working?
How can you continue delivering your product and service?
How do you maintain customer contact?
Will remote working affect your company’s culture?
How do you maintain productivity during extended periods of remote working?
Do managers need training to ensure that they can manage remote teams effectively?
We recommend the policy addresses security issues and outlines how to handle documents safely. Outline protocols for telephone/public conversations, and precautions for keeping documents safe, should be established, including rules around taking materials and equipment out of the office.
Maintaining customer service
Be transparent with customers if your organisation has to switch to remote working, even if it’s for a short space of time. Communicate to your customers how you intend to deliver projects and maintain customer service, and ensure you do this on a regular basis if your organisation switches to remote working over an extended period.
At AdvantageGo, we have the ability to carry out customer support calls and project delivery interactions that are usually undertaken face-to-face through remote communications technology. This principle is already embedded in our business with our support and delivery teams regularly engaging in video conference calls, screensharing, instant messaging etc. with customers, so our teams are accustomed to working in a well-connected virtual environment.
Maintaining consistency is vital; for example, our customers continue to deal with the same team and team members as they currently do.
Being prepared is key - good practice is rehearsing your customer support channels through remote working several times a year to ensure that you are ready should the time come when your organisation switches to remote working.
Ensure that your helpdesk system can continue to function with minimal to no disruption, as this is the first line of support to customers.
Our ‘Go Deliver Online’ remote working guide puts customer communication at the heart of our principles. These guidelines enable us to continue delivering on customer projects and providing undisrupted customer service.
In situations where remote working across multiple teams becomes necessary, programme teams need to collaborate effectively and efficiently through the appropriate tools for the specific project and customer. Organisation, control and governance are essential to well-run projects. Some key points:
Identifying if customers have video conferencing or collaboration tool limitations and agreeing on a common tool all parties can work with.
Generating or republishing communication plans to clients and internal teams. Hold an ‘All Hands’ team meeting to run through communications
Holding meetings are only when necessary, and with a specific agenda.
Setting-up frequent catch-ups with counterparts to go through progress, milestones, risks and issues.
Ensuring teams and clients understand the decision-making process, and the escalation mechanism.
Creating an online project relationship between all Project managers/workstream leads is key to success. Setting up the right working environment for the project team, ensure collaboration and communication technology is available to all and frequently test the technology with everyone, customers included.
Ensure the whole project team is trained on using the technology that the project decides to use; what may be familiar to you is not necessarily familiar to the members of the project team or your customers.
Once the project governance meetings and the meeting hierarchy is established, stick to the routine and do not cancel sessions if at all possible.
Principles for achieving successful, collaborative, online meetings
As the organisation shifts all collaboration toons online tools, there are some basic guidelines and meeting etiquette rules to help meetings run smoothly.
The Meeting Space
Test the environment and connectivity before the meeting takes place. Check what level of meeting support the network bandwidth will allow.
Screen share instructions through the meeting invite.
Do not forget that in a workshop context, parties will change, so unlike most project meetings, be prepared to rerun orientation or connectivity education multiple times.
Video recordings can easily exceed a size which can be emailed. Whilst a useful feature in some instances this needs to be used sparingly. Agree on how such materials will be shared in advance.
‘Remote white boards’ are available in MS Teams and WebEx. Practice using these beforehand and set the ground rules for whiteboard use at the outset of the meeting.
Internal tech support
Can your on-site tech support teams support large-scale remote working? If your employees can’t execute their tasks because of system and network errors, your customers will be impacted.
Remote working may increase the number of calls from employees to your tech support teams as they grapple with collaboration tools they may not usually use, security and network queries, bandwidth issues etc. Ensure that your tech support teams can handle an influx of requests and that they are familiar with the company’s remote working policies and protocols so they can expedite queries.
Choosing the right collaboration technology to ensure successful meetings and workshops is crucial.
There are a myriad of tools out there from MS Teams, Skype, Slack and WebEx, and we recommend employees are aware of some other video conferencing systems to use as back-up.
All collaboration tools should run across mobile devices and be designed for conference calls, video calls, instant messaging/chat, screen sharing and whiteboarding.
All work laptops should have a soundcard to facilitate video conference calls; it sounds obvious but hardware restrictions imposed whilst in the work office may cause issues in the home office.
Setting up a productive workspace
A key to successful remote working is trying to closely mimic an office set-up and routine. This means advising employees to structure their day like they would in the office. Keeping a routine that closely matches a regular working day will ensure minimal impact on efficiency and productivity, and helps maintain a sense of normalcy during this time.
We recommend advising employees to create a dedicated workspace with all the materials they need to hand. Provide guidelines on practicing good electrical safety standards.
Encourage employees to move around and to take regular, short breaks, just like they would in the office.
Staying connected and managing workload are vital, especially when working alone. We recommend managers schedule daily video conference calls, if possible, with individuals and teams, ideally at the start of the day, or the end of the day, so everyone is aware of their tasks and has the opportunity to ask questions.
Learn the lessons
Every crisis ultimately teaches us lessons on how to better communicate and function when normal working practices are disrupted. As a crisis comes in many different guises, it’s most likely that the BCP you have in place may not cover every scenario for remote working, which is fine. The key is having a BPC plan in the first place.
Once standard working practices are restored, review what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved and update your BCP and remote work policy accordingly.