As everybody in the whole world might say, we never expected 2020 to be this difficult. We had to stay home for most of the year, and our lives changed in an unexpected way, for good.
We were forced (yes, forced) to adapt to a virtual work-environment that no one saw coming or was prepared for. Our team dynamics changed, and while we’ve always had a mantra around the principles of collaboration, self-organization and trust were put to the test with the reality that we were obliged to face earlier this year. On top of those new challenges, thankfully our business grew and we doubled our staff throughout the pandemic, we gained new and exciting clients, and we kicked off new projects. Crazy, right? And all of this while working remotely from multiple cities throughout Colombia and different countries over different time zones.
Granted, we’ve had a strong working-from-home policy before all of this and we were well-prepared to deal with a WFH scenario for a short-period of time with staggered volumes, but thinking about staying home for months, onboarding new employees and kicking off big projects from home for an unforeseen time period, was never heard off.
What were the key challenges we went through this year? I definitely say, creating meaningful work relationships with our clients and with our team members, maintaining a positive and productive work environment for all of our employees, and revisiting our structure to support the ongoing influx of new team members joining the company.
Building better relationships… virtually.
Creating meaningful work relationships was one of the biggest challenges we had to face, both with the individuals that make up our team (new and existing) and with our clients.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we realized team dynamics were greatly affected when trying to align everyone around day-to-day executions; we had to tackle many different fronts. The first was related to the daily interactions amongst project teams, like how we would be able to guarantee important discussions about scope, tech definitions and project day-to-day tasks, making sure nothing was not lost in our new virtual environment. We had to make sure we could communicate in an effective way what needed to be shared and understood by everyone, and without physical presence we had to be more creative
We’ve been fortunate to be able to grow our team during a time when so many companies had to let go of theirs, but this also posed the challenge of integrating new individuals virtually. Since many team members were new, they didn’t have the opportunity to meet before the pandemic, and we had to rely on different activities and games to get to know and understand each individual background with the ability to align with the project’s own set of rules and processes during the so-called, ‘new normal’.
Not only did it help to align the ground rules for each project, but getting to know each other (including our clients) helped a lot in the project’s day-to-day – from asking questions to understanding requirements to managing difficult situations within this new environment.
At the end of the day, we are human beings, and we base all of our work relationships in trust and empathy, believing that all of our employees are doing everything in their power to successfully deliver on their tasks while understanding that the new situation posed challenges onto every single individual working from home. That hasn’t been present before.
Connecting with our clients
We also have the blessing of having the best clients, not only because of the brands we work for, but because the great empathic human beings we’ve been able to connect with and who share our same values.
Approaching new clients and gaining their trust to work with them is usually a process itself. We used to visit our clients in their offices to establish a work-relationship based on knowing them in person, sort of doing the ‘put a face to the name’ kind of tactic, and within the visit we align on requirements, scope, technology, methodology, roles and responsibilities. You name it, we did it all during our face-to-face visits. So changing from an in-person kick-off to a fully remote kick-off and discovery phase execution was a challenge, but what really made it happen was the fact that we were all in the same unchangeable situation, and we (our clients and ourselves) had to make it work no matter what. With that premise, we worked together on finding and exploring tools to again, make things work and ensure we could still create the important and meaningful connections in which our relationships and partnerships rely on.
The road ahead
This new year will bring a different set of challenges. During 2020, we had to make it work during a new time where there were no other options, but with the vaccine coming up and people eventually returning to the office, the new challenge will be how to maintain the same cohesiveness and quality of engagements both within our teams and our clients, both offline and online. How to keep the momentum going and bring the team together regardless of their location, so that in-person discussions don’t leave out any of the team working remotely.
We are redefining the rules of overall communication in project executions, and will test it out when it’s possible next year to adapt to yet another ‘new normal’ that will definitely include more people working remotely but also a handful that have the option and prefer to work from the office once this stage of 100% remote working is behind us.