Remote Control: Virtual Planning Lessons

Getting away from the business to work on the business (while being away from the business)

If you’ve followed me on LinkedIn during the past few years, you may have noticed a particular cadence. A particular way of talking about certain aspects of the way Design Center conducts its business. If you are familiar with EOS, you probably already know what time it is (or was). Every quarter, DC and many other EOS companies get together, usually offsite, to sit in a room together to align on the strategic plan for the quarter ahead. It is an opportunity to focus on building the business without being distracted by the day-to-day mechanics of actually working. This quarter has clearly been a little different than most, and we had to decide whether to skip it altogether or hold it remotely for the first time since adopting EOS a few years ago. We opted to try remote.

The takeaway

Adjusting our processes to fit the new reality

Is proximity essential to good collaboration? Being able to sit around a table and throw things up on a whiteboard has been the standard operating procedure at our office for clients and our own business. Now, we are challenging some of our defaults to explore new tools and tactics for close collaboration from afar.

A little over a week has passed, I’ve reflected on the day and can say that, for the most part, it’s hard to distinguish it from the ones we’ve had every other quarter – at least in terms of results. There may have been a little more eye strain this time than writer’s cramp, not to mention we missed out on some gourmet bagels, but we managed to get through the day and come out with a pretty good sense of alignment on what needs to get done. Along the way, we learned a few things about how to effectively work in a remote, collaborative environment. I thought I would share some thoughts about it in case anyone else has been struggling with getting that ‘smart people in a room’ focus from across various laptops and desktops throughout the region.

Lesson 1: Face-to-face is still relevant – even remotely

As mentioned in my last post, video conferencing is the new normal. Hopefully, we are all starting to get past the initial shock of seeing ourselves on camera and can forget the medium and just deliver the message. It really does foster collaboration and involvement when everybody can see each other’s body language and facial cues. Video also allows hand-talkers to have their say. 

Key Tool: Video Conferencing – As you’ve probably discovered, there are pros and cons to the many systems out there. You may find that there are different requirements for different situations, so pick one that works best for you.

Lesson 2: Get to know the technology – and give it a spin 

Just like Route talk can kill a good party conversation, spending too much time on instruction will derail the innovative mindset of group collaboration. Before your meeting, make sure that everyone has a list of tools that you’ll be using and time to explore them and take care of any questions they might have.

Key Tool: Email a tool already in everyone’s toolset. Use it to send everyone a summary with links for all of the other tools needed. That way, they can install things and try them out ahead of time. You can then field any technical questions ahead of time and distribute them to the group.

Lesson 3: Post-its can be digital – they might even be better  

Recreating the experience of our traditional offsite was vital to us since it has always managed to get a lot of decision making done in a short amount of time. Our strategy and UX teams have been adopting remote collaboration processes and tools for a while, so we looked to their department for inspiration. One tool that they have found invaluable for collaboration (remote and in-person) is Miro, one of a growing number of digital whiteboard platforms. They use the platform for a variety of client collaborations, but for our purposes, we stuck to the basics and used it primarily for the post-it functionality. One takeaway we all had was that although it took a little longer at times, being able to type a post-it was ultimately more effective than the Sharpie method. Everyone can get a more complete thought down, AND we can all read what it says

Key Tool: Cloud-based Whiteboard – A  solution to collaborate, collect, and distribute big ideas. We used Miro, which seemed to fit most of our needs. Honestly, we’ve only scratched the surface of functionality, but by the end of our session, the possibilities to expand on what we’ve learned, are great.

Lesson 4: Remote collabs are digitally native – and archival

It may seem obvious, but the advantages of this were not something we went into the day thinking. Because everything is happening in a digital space, everything is available to go back and review. We did not record our session – although it’s easy to do – we did create a series of artifacts that we are all able to return to whenever we need it. In the past, we have spent valuable time transcribing information into a variety of documents. There is always a bit of editing that happens between post-it and google doc, so details often get lost. Sometimes the little things that are lost amount to the most significant takeaways. We are no longer reliant upon biased memory, chicken-scratch notes, and blurry photos of illegible post-its – we can now open the board back up and review to-dos, goals, issues in archival quality. 

Key Tool: None – Sometimes, the best tools are the ones you don’t need – who wants to have to learn another

Lesson 5: This may take a bit more time – and that’s okay 

We scheduled a whole day for a meeting that could, in theory, take half that time. We did this for a couple of reasons. First, we have a lot to talk about these days in terms of how we are going to sell in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Second, we had never done a remote collaboration quite like this before, so we wanted to make sure we got what we needed out of it. On top of that, when you have everyone in their homes, distractions are going to happen, so you need to plan for more breaks and longer breaks. A half-hour for lunch may work when a boxed lunch on the table and your only decision is ham or turkey – it is a whole different game when you are also in charge of the home-school cafeteria and need not just to eat, but also cook the meal.

I made a joke about eye-strain earlier, but it is a real issue. Offsite collabs are always a nice change of venue that allows us to get away from our desks and our screens. We get to use our long-range vision to go along with our long-range thinking. Working from home has us chained to our desk and probably staring our screens down a bit too intently.

Key Tool: Activity & Ergonomics – We all know what to do, but it is often not getting done. Right now, it is especially important to get up and move around, take your eyes off the screen and make sure you’re drinking your water.

Conclusion

Changing-up your communication modalities is more important now than ever. We see this reality both internally with our EOS business meeting cadence, but also with our clients and their strategic planning sessions. Collaboration, both internally & externally, is key to running a business, and it is key to being in sales.

It stands to reason that as we ease our way back into a more regular working environment that we will have more and more of a need to adjust how we get things done. What ways are you planning to adjust your sales processes moving forward? I’d love to have a chat about it sometime – maybe we could sit down for a virtual coffee and throw some ideas up on the board. Gourmet bagels not included.