A number of our clients have been asking us how we’ve managed to carry on as though nothing has happened over the last couple of weeks and while we hadn’t thought much about it, having reflected, it’s because of the tools and processes we had in place. As a small team, there were often occasions where a significant percentage of the team would be working from a location other than our office. As a result, as we grew, the tools we selected, and the policies and processes we developed, all facilitated online collaboration and remote working. I thought it might be interesting (and hopefully helpful!) to share what our core tools currently are and how we use them as well as to highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses each product has.
A key policy is that no files may be stored on our local machines – they must all be stored on our Microsoft SharePoint instance which makes them available to be synchronised locally to our machines (automatically) by Microsoft OneDrive. This allows us all to find relevant files with ease (even if we didn’t create or save them ourselves) as well as allow multiple people to access and edit the same file at once. Of course, version control and (to a certain extent) backups are handled within this ecosystem too so accidental overwriting and deletion of files is covered, though we probably have too much faith in Microsoft not to lose our files at present! (As I write, I’ve created a task to investigate how to mitigate this!)
I feel compelled to add that I hate SharePoint for anything other than the exact use-case described above. It is supposed to be usable by everyone in an organisation to create repositories of information for the team to access but frankly, it’s obnoxious! I count myself as above average in my ‘IT Literacy’ and I just can’t get my head around how to make it do anything useful or remotely elegant. My advice, if you want a Wiki of some description, is to run a long way away from SharePoint, and when you think you’re at a safe distance, run away some more, and never, ever, be tempted to get any closer to it. It will eat your first-born. (See Atlassian Confluence (discussed at the end of this post) for a good Wiki.)
At Delocate, if something is to be done, it must be documented in one of only three specific places and everyone knows this ‘rule’. We use Atlassian Jira (Cloud) as our primary task management software in which I have implemented my interpretation of David Allen’s excellent Getting Things Done methodology – an excellent book that I recommend to everyone. Just about all tasks that don’t involve direct interaction with a client are managed in Jira. We routinely assign each other work in Jira with little other communication at all. If ‘discussion’ is required about a task, we pose the questions in Jira as ‘comments’ ensuring all information about a given task is in one place. (Of course, Jira was originally created as a software development task-manager, so it’s perfect for working with our developers on websites and our bespoke telephony solutions.)
Tasks that relate to communicating directly with our clients are entered against the appropriate client in Capsule, which is our CRM and all emails sent are copied into that too allowing us to see at a glance the current ‘state of play’ of a client one of us is working with.
Finally, we use Outlook (well, Exchange and Thunderbird, really) for email and calendaring and inevitably some tasks end up therein as a tagged email or a calendar entry.
Knowing tasks will only be in these few (online accessible) places has meant the reduced level of communication between us has made no difference to our ability to know what we should be doing and because of their nature, they also provide an invaluable audit-trail of ‘who dunnit’ and why (or ‘who didn’t and why not?!’) when questions arise.
As I mentioned at the start, we often find some of us are out of the office, so we’re used to communicating with one another using instant messaging and telecommunication applications. Officially, we use Microsoft Teams for this, though we’re not totally happy with it and only really chose it over others as it’s bundled with our Office 365 subscription. Our main complaint is that it often doesn’t properly notify of new messages. As a result, we often resort to sending a WhatsApp message to tell each other we’ve sent them a Teams message or ‘phoning them! I’m looking at alternatives such as Slack but the limitations of the ‘free’ version are frustrating, and the cost per user seems high for the very limited use it would get from us.
We’ve used Zoom for client meetings in the past and have done so a great deal more recently. Zoom’s an excellent ‘remote working’ communication tool and seems to outperform its competitors in terms of reliability and call quality.
As I alluded to, we try to keep all ‘conversations’ about specific tasks as comments in Jira and Capsule so it really is just more ‘general’ stuff that we discuss using instant messaging. (Cat videos are banned.)
One thing we’ve noticed, having spent nearly 2 weeks working from home now, is how much we used to stand around the office whiteboard and scribble. We, therefore, plan to try out Miro for our next huddle and see if that provides the visual element that our meetings have been lacking.
I’m convinced an Ops Manual is an important part of any organisation and I regularly find myself telling clients who don’t have an Ops Manual to think about why McDonalds is so successful… Confluence is our tool of choice for this. Broadly speaking it’s ‘just a wiki’ but it allows for information to be stored, organised, found, and consumed so easily and elegantly it was an easy choice to use it to build the Delocate Instruction Manual.
Finally, and perhaps the type of tool I would encourage anyone reading this to consider using themselves if they take nothing else from this, is the password management vault we use, 1Password. The most fundamental rule of online security is to never, ever use the same password in two places. 1Password facilitates this by storing all your passwords in various vaults that can optionally be shared with other users within an organisation. When you come to log into a site, you simply unlock 1P with the ‘one password’ that you have to remember (and is really strong!) and then let it fill in the stored credentials for that site for you. (The password will be something which you could have no hope of remembering, and, crucially, you will use only for that site so even if it does get ‘found out’ your exposure is only the site that was hacked. (Check out https://haveibeenpwned.com/ if you’re suddenly wondering if your naughty password habits have left you exposed!)
I started writing this as a quick social media post, but it quickly became apparent that really to answer the question we were being asked properly it would need to become rather longer. That said, I suppose the short answer, though far less helpful I suspect, is that we are able to carry on relatively unhindered from having to work from home because of the careful selection of tools and software as we built the company.