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Trust; the watchword of remote working during Covid-19?

  • Oliver Cook
  • Jun 1, 2020

The COVID crisis has undoubtedly changed the way many of us work.  For most, it has meant working from home more often or completely, which comes with benefits and challenges.  It can mean that remote working processes will change for the better, or less emphasis is placed on things like presenteeism.  However, it can also lead to greater feelings of isolation, and people can find it harder to ‘switch-off’ or get the balance right between work and life.

One of the many things that I’ve thought about during this crisis is the impact it has had on how we work with our clients.  We are used to remote working as most of us generally work from home or client sites.  Our development team is largely based in Sofia while the majority of the delivery team is in London and our clients are located across the UK.  

So we are comfortable with remote working [were used to working remotely] and had everything in place already to ensure we could do so effectively.  Many of our clients, just like most organisations across the UK, weren’t set up for remote working to the scale now required as a result of the pandemic.  However, it didn’t take long for their respective IT teams to roll out devices and undertake the work required to their infrastructure to scale up to the levels needed.  

Much has already been discussed about the impact this pandemic has had on speeding up digital transformation within organisations and even across entire sectors, so I won’t cover that here.

Trust; the watchword for COVID-19
Trust; the watchword for COVID-19

Rather, I’ve been struck by the connection between trust, and relationships, and the impact that has on delivering a project remotely.

It’s already obvious that you can’t deliver any project well without a team that has a strong working relationship.  Like many consultants, we know it doesn’t really matter how great our delivery methodology is unless we have a strong effective working relationship with our clients. Given that our delivery timeframe is only 6-8 weeks we often don’t have a lot of time to form that relationship and build the required trust to be an effective team.

I’ve often found the quickest way to do that is through the creation of an embedded multidisciplinary team where proximity and regularity provide a useful shortcut to rapidly developing the relationship and the trust it’s built on.  Remote working where the team has not met face to face before changes that dynamic.

I’m not saying that it makes building that relationship or trust impossible or even difficult.  However, over the past month, we delivered two projects completely remotely where we had only met some of those from the client side on a couple of occasions and very briefly.  

I think it’s a credit to the professionalism and dedication shown by our clients and delivery teams that the projects were delivered so quickly and with very few issues.  Nevertheless, it threw up a few questions for me around how important physically meeting people actually is when it comes to building relationships and trust over time.

Firstly, I wonder if losing the closeness of working in a physical space together hinders the development of that necessary trust and relationship? 

We didn’t find it to be particularly so on either of those projects and we still maintained regular contact through stand ups and other meetings.  Though it did feel on occasion as if misunderstandings occurred more frequently or communications weren’t always taken in the way they were meant.  

Another question I’ve been thinking about is:

whether that lack of physical connection can lead to more defensiveness or anxiety within the team?

This was particularly the case when questioning why things have been done in a certain way, when actions are missed or just differences in understanding certain terminology.  

Overall I think many of these issues are typical of any new working relationship as it forms and grows.  They are often necessary as a way of building the trust that forms the basis of those working relationships.  

Yet one of the lessons we’ve learned from this period of time to help with the lack of physical connection is to essentially ramp up our communication in the following ways:

  • More frequent video conferencing, even if they’re short 10 minute meetings.

  • Writing up more detailed notes after every workshop that are shared widely so that everyone is aware of actions and next steps.

  • Giving each other the benefit of the doubt and organising video conferences as soon as possible to talk through concerns.

These are admittedly high level solutions and the issues I’ve discussed may simply reflect my own insecurities and preferences rather than consequences of more remote working!  So, it’d be great to hear from you as to what your experiences have been and whether you’ve come up with innovative solutions to manage our changed circumstances. Tweet me @ojvcook or Email me.

Oliver Cook

Oliver is our head of delivery and prides himself on improving the customer experience through the use of Intelligent Automation.