How to provide good digital consultancy when working remotely
Some tips on how to do it successfully.
DIGITAL TRANSFORMATIONDIGITAL COMMERCECURIOSITYCONSULTINGDIGITAL ACCELERATION
We thought it would be interesting to share some of our recent experiences with you some of this may resonate, either way, we'd love your feedback and comments!
Recently we’ve been working fully remotely with a US-based client. They're based across four US time zones, leaving us anywhere between 4-8 hours ahead of them. Out of necessity, they had been working remotely across the US during the pandemic, so we were not the only ones used to working remotely.
We had the Leadership team support (SMT). Fortunately, their team wasn't huge and was already engaged with a number of the issues we were looking to resolve, as such they would actively promote things to us, plus the senior team was very signed up. Our working hours window with them was between 2pm until 10pm, but we concentrated things into their mornings, for obvious reasons.
Generating trust and understanding with clients is critical and being able to do this over zoom is even more so. We believe it’s important when conducting advisory work to have 2 people on the calls from your side - this allows for a conversation and for one to look out for the clients’ body language and take notes. When you are not meeting face-to-face it is harder to understand the body language aspects of how people react, but you also are likely to have a clearer view of the other person’s face in a way than you might in a face-to-face meeting. It would be slightly odd to stare at their face for 30 minutes but on zoom it’s ok! And it is possible to record the conversations for later playback if they are ok with it.
Working remotely with a client on a tight timescale does require better levels of organisation and a reliance on technology which, thankfully, gave us very few issues.
Transparency is important
We followed our normal route of full transparency by employing Asana as the project collaboration tool. This meant vital information didn’t get lost in the email trails. We ensured as many of the team had access to Asana as possible, and put core documents within it, including status updates, so everyone could be informed. The nature of an advisory project meant that we didn’t have daily stand-ups, but we did have weekly calls with two of the senior team members as well as a formal status update that we circulated.
One thing that could have made life easier - the client didn’t have access to a chat tool, so there was less informal information gathering or “can you just tell me a bit more about..?” elements. Some informal points were made via email but less than “normal” in a physically present assignment. The client’s reliance on email was strong and allowed them not to answer queries immediately, exacerbated by the time zone difference. They generally do not share phone numbers, so we had few alternative communication routes.
We were able to replace our normal method of using whiteboards in an office with Miro (which is a virtual whiteboard that allows simultaneous working). This allowed us to created hypotheses, build evidence to support or disrupt those hypotheses and structure our thoughts and potential roadmaps. This was not shared with the client completely albeit some elements were.
In addition, we used a combination of offline docs (Excel) and real-time docs (ie Google sheets) depending on the task at hand.
Apart from email, zoom calls were the main focus of communications. I have now bought a better camera and microphone for these calls to try to reduce background noise when working from home. As the economy recovers and city noise increases, this may become a bigger challenge!
Lastly, it's really important to have great diary synchronisation between devices (managing different time zones is enough) the last thing you need is to not know when the client is expecting you. In our experience, this is more challenging than you might think!
Any solutions to this issue would be great to hear your thoughts - it’s ongoing but manageable, just!!
In summary, we believe we managed the softer consulting issues well, despite the fully remote working - it does take slightly longer to establish rapport with clients remotely - and we were able to deliver a very successful project. We have established ourselves as a trusted advisor - so, the world is now our oyster!
So our 4 tips for being a successful consultant remotely are:
Be transparent by using a great collaboration tool - this helps generate trust
Try to find a chat/slack option to allow for informal chats
Structure clear communications via daily standups and project status updates to key stakeholders
Be prepared to work your client's working hours, even if that takes you into midnight calls
Our tech stack - feel free to suggest improvements!
WhatsApp for internal team discussions - for chat and calls
Zoom/ Webex for calls.
Asana - professional version which allows for many client members to access, with custom fields
Asana is supported by the fabulous Instagantt tool which has perfect synchronisation and summarises things more effectively
Miro virtual whiteboard tool for 100% real-time collaboration
A good survey tool (Qualtrics, Survey Gizmo [now Alchemer] - or similar)
Browser with full range of web dev plug-ins (Chrome or Firefox in practice)
Google Docs, Sheets & Slides for real-time collaboration
Microsoft Office - especially Excel and PowerPoint (still needed for polished outputs)
email via MS Outlook/ Canary mail.
200Mb+ cable connection helps!
Generating trust and understanding with clients is critical