Remote working in the partner community – do I really want to get back into my car?

25/09/2020
John Shannon
Partner Director

As many of you will know, my role in life for the past 14 years has been to provide enablement advice to partners. And while my job has taken me to Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Dubai, Kuwait, Sweden and the USA, most of my time sees me based in the UK.

Regularly visiting a range of partner locations – from Dorset to Aberdeen – my annual mileage would typically exceed 25,000. So, as remote working arrangements continue to prevail, what have been my main takeaways from partners during this period and what can I share with you about best practice – both now and in preparing for the next phase of the ‘new normal’?

Sharing knowledge and experience

Vendors have been at the forefront of agility and innovation during this time – being open about how they have successfully adapted their operations and sharing this advice with the network. Cisco is a good example of this, both in leading us through the remote-working transition – the firm went into a test period a week ahead of the formal UK implementation of ‘stay at home’ – and in sharing its experiences to help the partner community achieve business continuity.

My high-level observations during interactions with partners can best be summed up in two words – resilience and optimism. But I will later detail some key best-practice behaviours that you may find useful.

Keeping connected

Across the partner landscape, it came as no surprise to me that we all barely missed a beat in the transition to a remote working environment.

We have all been spending increasing amounts of time using collaborative conferencing tools, and while we may have our stories of frozen screens and being thrown out of calls, these digital applications have been crucial in keeping us all connected. But not only that, they’ve also provided a professional platform on which to liaise with both customers and fellow colleagues. And the transition wouldn’t have been half as seamless without this tech.

That said, the in-call interruptions have sometimes reached new levels of hilarity – from children playing cricket on the landing outside a Sales Director’s home office, to dogs scratching at doors and interruptions from online deliveries. And this view into our colleagues’ homes has also seen us checking out one another’s interior decoration choices – the recent Webex experience has been entertaining to say the least.

Contingency planning

But in terms of learnings, one thing that I can call out is that those organisations that had invested time, effort and resource into implementing effective contingency planning measures pre-pandemic, were able to be even quicker at getting into the ‘business as usual’ mindset.

They have not only maintained existing forecast and pipeline levels but have been able to initiate new ways of working – ones that will not only help them weather the immediate storm but also equip them for the tough market that, undoubtedly, looms on the horizon.

As an ISO-regulated business, Tiger regularly carries out scenario planning as part of its contingency measures, and although I am aware that this is an onerous process, the old maxim of ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ has never rung truer.

As there remains the potential for further pandemic outbreaks, now is the time for those businesses that found themselves less prepared, to take action and feel in a better place if another lockdown were to happen.

Adaptive leadership

A second highlight, has been the way in which a number of management teams have adopted a robust, chameleon-like leadership methodology – formulating and revising the measures being taken within their company, as they navigate this period of business uncertainty.

Quick decision-making – bold where necessary – has also ensured reassuring messaging both internally and externally to customers and vendors. I believe that such clarity has served them well so far and will continue to do so.

The employee home-working experience

Another key feature that I have observed is that organisations that have made sure all members of the team have a comfortable remote-working environment has led to outstanding levels of productivity and, more importantly, happiness. A partner I spoke to recently has recorded a 94% satisfaction rate from its teams during lockdown.

This commitment from employers has included shipping monitors to staff where required and – in the case of a large legal practice – having couriers deliver office chairs to staff, to ensure their comfort. And this duty of care all makes a huge difference in making staff feeling valued – especially at a time when everyone is not in the physical office environment.

Communication and engagement

Most of you will have participated in these events and if you do not yet have them in your lockdown arsenal, then I would suggest giving them some serious thought. I am talking about calls that are, essentially, social activities – which provide an opportunity for all levels of the business to interact and catch up. From yoga sessions – provided by distributors – to the many and varied activities put on by vendors, the range and variety has been endless.

Here at Tiger, we have had virtual origami classes and karaoke sessions – all with a beverage or two, but well within the guidelines of corporate responsibility!

There is though, a more serious side to this. Such team-building calls have been invaluable in providing an opportunity for management to assess the happiness of colleagues and their engagement levels within the business. Ranging from how each team member participates on the call through to no-shows, this has been a good replacement for those ad hoc ‘water-cooler catch-ups’ that we all miss.

Additionally, frequent virtual comms also helped teams with understanding what the Government’s guidance meant for them, in a work context – not only helping to maintain clarity among all employees, but also morale and focus.

Resilience and optimism

So, with all of that in mind, I go back to my two key words how I would describe the behaviours across the majority of the partner community – resilience and optimism.

Do I actually miss my perambulations around the countryside meeting partners across all corners of the country? Yes, I do.

Even though many of you will have experience of me joining calls while at a standstill somewhere on our glorious motorway network, it is always great to be face-to-face at partner sites – meeting the wider team and the many characters in those businesses. You just can’t beat it.

That said – it’s great to see all of you on calls and to hear about your tremendous efforts to ensure continued successful customer and vendor engagements. Be advised though, that that I am aware that you are all wearing shorts beneath the desk and that the number of bottles on your drinks trollies have significantly dwindled since the start of lockdown.

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