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Due to current global events, the need for businesses to allow their teams to work from home is more pressing than ever. Being a cloud-native company, we at CTS have all the necessary infrastructure and processes in place to power a fully-remote workforce.

Last week, we decided to test our own capacity and invite all of our 185 employees across the UK and the Netherlands to work from home simultaneously. We completed this test over a 48-hour period with little advance warning or preparation to fully stress-test the technology and evaluate our working habits.

The two days of home working culminated in a Friday afternoon ‘all-hands’ video conference call using Google Hangouts Meet to gather feedback from our colleagues. In this blog, I’ll be sharing all the lessons we learned - what worked vs. what didn't work so well.

The right technology for better communication

We have always taken advantage of Google’s collaboration tools and incorporated them into the way we work. Using Chromebooks makes working remotely as easy as it can be. And thanks to apps like G Suite and Hangouts Meet we can easily communicate across different locations and stay connected on the move. Fun fact: Did you know you can share your availability status in Chats?

During this test, our technology worked exceptionally well. Hangouts Meet and Slack proved to be very useful to facilitate communication, with increased traffic and utilisation during this time. Some employees reported an even greater number of conversations and interactions - and an increase in collaboration enabled by Hangouts Meet.

Moreover, Hangouts Meet for video conferencing proved to be an excellent tool for both internal and external communication, as well as supporting social interaction across our teams.

It’s worth knowing that Google is currently offering free access to these tools. You can apply for the free trial here.

Finding the balance

Many colleagues reported time saved from long commutes in bad traffic as an unexpected upside leading to improved work-life balance and time gained back at the end of the day. This, of course, in addition to cost savings on transport.

Some of our teams already work from home or at remote customer locations - so they reported business as usual. However, it was essential for us to obtain feedback from those that usually work from our offices in Manchester or Utrecht.

Some lessons we learned

  • Finding the right space at home - some colleagues did not have a predetermined office space or a room to work from which is a consideration for home working over an extended period. Finding a convenient and professional working space proved to be one of the essential challenges faced by a few of our team members over these two days.
  • Overcoming connectivity and equipment challenges - one team member had issues with bandwidth - overcome by switching off the camera on video calls. We also had a few issues with wireless headsets - corrected by reverting to standard microphone and speakers. Additionally, some colleagues reported that not having access to a second large monitor is a challenge - especially those in our finance team (they do love their large spreadsheets!). This is something we could facilitate if required to improve the home working experience across multiple job roles.
  • Facilitating interactive customer sessions - without access to a Jamboard, some teams resorted to whiteboarding with the Jamboard app. However, while video conferencing is good, it still has some limitations and is not as good as being face to face with a customer.
  • Recruiting - while Google technology facilitates video conferencing for interviews, we could encounter some challenges in the long term for hiring and onboarding new employees.
  • Creating new opportunities for social interaction - one colleague reported feeling isolated and lonely. To avoid this, we can set-up more frequent team calls to facilitate even greater collaboration and more interaction from managers in the long term. However, on the other hand - many more employees reported increased productivity by being away from the office.

We were able to identify a few “niggles” with home set-up, desk-space, hardware and connectivity. All of them could be rectified and improved at minimal cost and none of them prevented continued collaboration or productivity.

Our top tips for home working

  • Find a dedicated room or create a comfortable space to call “work” with adequate lighting, power, desk and chair.
  • Be aware of your immediate surroundings if engaging with external partners and clients - especially what is on the wall behind you and finding appropriate lighting.
  • Take advantage of any secondary monitors and web-cams you have available to improve the experience for yourself and colleagues on video calls.
  • Be disciplined and take regular breaks - especially when sat for long periods on your own. Staying active is important for home workers.
  • Find opportunities to collaborate - when everyone’s remote, it’s important to ensure that we continue working together. Sharing our work and feedback enables us to produce better results and learn together as a team
  • Take advantage of the amazing video technology available - with Google’s powerful productivity tools, it’s easier than ever to stay communicate better. Use Hangout Meet to stay connected to your team and make the most out of the free trial.

Other resources you can check

Google is rolling out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally.

Google’s guide for home working and better video conferencing.

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