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Drinking our own champagne, building the aeroplane while we’re flying it and reimagining work: Part 1

I’m quite partial to a metaphor. I reckon they do a great job of succinctly conjuring up a mental image that everyone connects with. It’s probably why some metaphors have endured the test of time and survived much longer than the 5 ¼ inch floppy disk…

Drinking our own champagne, building the aeroplane while we’re flying it and reimagining work: Part 1

I’m pretty good at mixing and sometimes mangling my metaphors so apologies in advance if you’ve been affected by that in the past and especially for anyone reading the title of this post and wondering what it’s all about… it’s my attempt at highlighting how we haven’t wasted a crisis and changed some things inside Empired and Intergen while staying true to some important principles and values. That’s where the champagne, planes and (re)imagination comes in.

Like every single organisation on the planet we were fundamentally impacted by the global novel coronavirus pandemic. We – just like our customers – found ourselves needing to rapidly accelerate our acceptance of, and adaptability to a remote workforce.

I’m going to share a little bit of our dirty laundry now. We may be a technology organisation, but the maturity of our internal systems is not universal and so in some areas we’re the proverbial cobblers’ children with holes in our shoes. We build world-class and award-winning technology solutions for our customers. We also constantly aspire to drink our own champagne so we’re a do-as-we-do organisation and not a do-as-we-say one but unfortunately, we’re sometimes too busy to pour ourselves a glass of Dom Perignon and have a sip.

I’ve started to paint a picture which could be taken a little negatively so before you start imagining filing-cabinets full of paper, fax-machines in each corner of the office or Microsoft Access databases running the business, here’s what I mean by my cobblers’ children comment.

  • As an organisation (like most others I’m sure) we’re addicted to email. Why? I think because it’s simple, universally understood and ubiquitous. We have Outlook on our computers, mail apps on our phones, and good-old webmail/Outlook.com for when we’re caught short and can’t access the first two. 

Intergen uses it for what it was (or should) be intended for; point-to-point communication between individuals, either between Intergenites (that’s what we call ourselves) or with our customers.

The other big use for us is as that broadcast mechanism to big groups: either an office or region, a business unit or, worse, to the whole company. In my opinion, this is where email really falls over and where the holes in our shoes start appearing. Email wasn’t designed for back-and-forth dialogue between groups. Social and technical norms have mostly evolved so very few people feel comfortable to REPLY-ALL to a company-wide email from Simon our CEO.

  • We also have Yammer which hosts countless groups of interest and discussions from across the company. It’s another silo of discussion and information in the organisation with both nuggets of wisdom and a smattering of meme-filled replies to someone’s post. 

Sadly, the usage has never really got beyond 30% in the seven years we’ve had it available. There’s heavy pockets of adoption where there’s a strong community and visible engagement, but that’s far from universal. We’ve really struggled to figure out how to bottle that Yammer magic.

  • We have SNAP, our company-wide digital workplace on Office 365. It’s one of those do-as-we-do type solutions as we’ve simultaneously got lots of customers who love and use SNAP 365, as well as ourselves. We’re all sipping the champagne (I much prefer that metaphor to the dog food one BTW). 

However, it too is not quite the go-to place for everyone in the Intergen/Empired team, especially when it comes to a two-way-communication hub. Yammer is integrated into SNAP but that hasn’t quite been the secret sauce we hoped.

  • Oh yes. And then we have Teams. Teams has been a viral success for us. And by that, I mean we did what many of our customers have done, or did, and made it available to the organisation back when it launched in 2017. We’re the ultimate self-service organisation – much to the horror of our corporate IT team – and love to just start using stuff.

So, Teams quickly became the replacement for the file system we always wanted SharePoint to be but never was… for a variety of reasons. (And, yes, I know Teams is SharePoint under the hood but ssshh don’t tell anyone, they might stop using it!)

There’s a reason Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed to over 75 million active daily users, almost doubling from 44 million in the last two months. Virtue signal: I’m not just saying what I’m about to say as a quasi-sales pitch. Teams just works.

I have the app on my Intergen-provided surface and my personal phone. The apps are seamless, and I actually think the iOS-version of the app is a little slicker in some parts. Throughout the lockdown where I’ve had to juggle work/home life with kids, I would easily do 25% of my work from my phone. Teams calls while outside with the kids, 1:1 chats with my colleagues and team members.

I have no data to validate it, but I’d assume at least half of my colleagues are in a similar boat. Pre-lockdown we’d all been using Teams for video-calls and for working on and sharing content – mainly documents and slides – but I bet the percentage of people using it on their device is healthy.

So, there you have it. An example of what the mélange of tools looks like just for a bit of communication, discussion and file sharing. However, this is not just a cathartic post and the tale ends here. Far from it. I hope you’ve all seen the amusing but also uncannily accurate meme.

Who led the digital transformation of your company? 

Source: Forbes.com

A couple of weeks into the lockdown, we recognised that whilst we’d almost painlessly stepped from having nearly 1000 people across our New Zealand, Australian and Seattle offices working physically from our ten offices, to having all those people working from their office at home, something was missing.

We still needed to recreate the vibe and connectedness our office environment brought. That intangible but very real fabric of our unique culture and success.

Daily stand-ups and check-ins across teams, leadership stand-ups, weekly all-office Friday drinks, you name it and we were doing it to engineer in the connectedness that an office environment brings. And it worked pretty well... but something was still missing.

So, we also decided this was a great time to go all-in on our use of Teams and move from it simply powering the collaboration of small groups to it being the hub of our pan-organisation communication. And not just a modern-equivalent of email, where we could receive more broadcasts, just on a shinier app. No, the intent was clear. We needed and wanted a way for the organisation to see and participate in organisation-wide discussion. Genuine two-way dialogue. We started (re)building the plane while we were flying it.

The first cab off the rank; no more email for company-wide discussion. We created an organisation-wide Team for Intergen/Empired to unify the hundreds of Team sites/channels already used for various projects/teams/initiatives across the company.

Our CEO, Simon Bright, went cold turkey, ripped the plaster off quickly and led the charge. Every single COVID-19-related piece of communication from him started in this new organisation-wide team with an invitation (almost a plea) to please interact/discuss/and ask questions on anything.

What was next? Teams live-events for company town-hall (virtual) events delivered simultaneously for all 10 offices.

So, it must have been a fantastic success then and we’ve managed to rationalise all that plethora of tools and live solely on a diet of Teams? Well, not quite.

We made some mistakes. We had some technical challenges. Like a presenter being on mute for a couple of minutes during the Teams-live town-hall. But that was okay and showed we were happy to make mistakes, be human, find dead-ends, and quickly pivot.

We’re still working through the best way to create a thriving community and dialogue in Teams that virtually complements our physical offices. We’re not there yet but we’re getting there.

Perfect is the enemy of good and we just need good-enough!

In a follow-up I’ll share some of the recent lessons we’ve learned and practical things we’ve done to get closer to good-enough.


This blog is part of the #ReimagineWork series. For more experts' insights, clients' experiences and to download our datasheets, click the banner.

For more experts' insights, clients' experience and to download our datasheets, click the banner #datareimagine

Posted by: Nick Hadlee, Practice Manager | 15 June 2020

Tags: #ReimagineWork

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