This blog post has been contributed by Amanda Laird, Associate Consultant, SGK and Marissa Ferrara, Associate Consultant, SGK.
COVID-19 catalyzed a transition toward new organizational standards for remote work. Numerous benefits have been anticipated and realized as the global workforce stops commuting to offices and embraces working from home.
Some of these benefits apply directly to employees — increased flexibility, time and cost savings from telecommuting, and mitigated health risks are among some of the advantages that make remote work more appealing. According to a recent Gallup poll, half of adults working remotely in the US report that they would prefer to continue working from home once restrictions are lifted.
Additionally (and contrary to some initial predictions), many businesses are experiencing organizational benefits from shifting to remote work. These benefits include increased productivity, as well as potential for decreased financial and environmental impact resulting from reducing or altogether eliminating office space — telecommuting could have the potential to save businesses around $10,000 per employee.
Having no choice but to experiment with new ways of working, many organizations are realizing they can work remotely with success and are planning to embed remote work into future operations; it is estimated that around 40% of the world’s newly remote workforce will not return to offices.
While remote work has many benefits, it also creates unique needs within every team, organization, and industry. SGK’s Consulting team has paid close attention to these needs and embraced new ways of working with clients.
SGK Consulting has been able to use its trusted methodology to carry out remote engagements successfully because we’ve recognized the importance of aligning to principles that allow us to collaborate with our clients optimally in virtual settings.
We have incorporated learnings from these engagements into a framework for “Contactless Consulting” — while there is no one-size-fits- all solution for all projects that are conducted entirely screen-to-screen, we believe that adhering to the guiding principles of this framework has allowed us to continue collaborating with clients to optimize their marketing ecosystems.
The 5 Principles of Contactless Consulting
1. Continuously engage with the project sponsor and the main client point of contact.
Building positive relationships is always important for successful engagements – but in an entirely remote setting, transparency and consistent communication are even more significant. To accomplish this and to establish a practice of continuous validation throughout the solution development process, set up frequent and transparent conversations with the client sponsor from the outset. Additionally, we find it’s a best practice to assign a main client point of contact in addition to the sponsor(s) at the beginning of the project. This person is heavily involved in the day-to-day of the project and helps schedule meetings, make introductions, and project manage against open tasks – they will be helpful in establishing more meaningful touchpoints between the consulting team and client team.
2. Align on a main platform for centralizing communications, file storage, and project management.
Relationship building is at the forefront of every remote team, and successful use of communication technology is critical to building proactive and collaborative teams.
We’ve found that choosing a platform that allows centralization of all communications, file storage, and project management (rather than relying on different platforms for each of these things) is a good way to ensure that everyone can access the right information at the right time, and prevents information from getting lost in inboxes.
Our team also leverages several platforms to ensure that we’re able to align with our clients on a preferred technology for teleconferencing. One of these platforms is Microsoft Teams – in addition to other collaborative features, its audio and video conferencing capabilities can be used for both quick one-on-one conversations and multi-person meetings.
3. Set the foundations for more efficient meetings.
Excessive, lengthy virtual meetings can lead to screen fatigue and might even be counterproductive if participants disengage and miss important information. The analytics company Time is Ltd. reported that from February to April, average meeting sizes increased by 18 percent -- with more attendees being invited to meetings, planning to maintain efficiency becomes increasingly important.
For more efficient meetings, provide participants with key data points ahead of time, and consider assigning light pre-work to encourage preparation. Divide longer meetings into shorter blocks of time, using breaks to prompt reflection or to allow time away from the screen.
4. Employ strategies to enhance participation during virtual workshops and training sessions.
In a virtual environment, it can be challenging to maintain participation from all stakeholders. To address this preemptively, provide participants with clear rules of engagement before any virtual session – these should include guidelines for how and when to contribute to discussion (e.g. using the chat function or “raise hand” tool).
Additionally, work with the client to appoint role models for active participation prior to the session. These participants will “model” what strong and active participation looks like to encourage others to follow suit. Finally, incorporating polls, quizzes, or games can be a great way to switch up the format of sessions that require participants to take in a lot of information.
5. Ensure that people managers understand their significant roles in remote change management.
As certified change practitioners, we need to equip people managers with the tools they need to guide their teams through change. Remote work amplifies the roles of these people managers — they need to be increasingly diligent about their responsibilities as communicators, liaisons, advocates, resistance managers, and coaches, so that their relationships with individuals remain strong even when they lack opportunities to connect in person.
Our consultants understand that these relationships are critical and unique to each team. For virtual engagements, we’ve found that it’s important to develop a holistic understanding of how the shift to remote work has impacted these relationships, so that we can accurately train people managers to identify and work through individuals’ barrier points in the face of change.
Although we look forward to a time when we’re able to engage with our clients in person again, our approach to Contactless Consulting has proven effective in upholding our standards for quality and efficacy. We believe that maintaining a people-first mentality, underpinned by effective use of technology, will continue to set our team and our clients up for success.
About Marissa Ferrara: An associate at SGK Consulting, Marissa helps to identify opportunities and drive improvements across clients’ marketing ecosystems. She has supported clients across the health care and CPG sectors and is a certified Prosci change management practitioner.
About Amanda Laird: Amanda is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Madison where she majored in Operations & Technology Management, Supply Chain Management, & Marketing. She is Prosci Change Management qualified and demonstrates a passion for optimizing workflows and solving complex business challenges for clients. She has had the pleasure of leading consulting initiatives spanning the United States, Canada, and Latin America across pharma, retail, and consumer product good verticals, optimizing their workflows, roles, and marketing eco-systems.