How digital tools can improve teamwork
Communication is vital to how my business operates. I run an architectural practice without an office, and this would not work at all without excellent communication.
I started my practice as a sole trader and took on my first employee in 2014 when workload increased dramatically. As a rural business, finding a talented workforce can be a challenge. However, with this office model I can retain excellent staff from further afield than my home base. We are now a strong team of seven enjoying all of the benefits that life without an office commute brings.
Face to face combined with remote working is the future
Instead of having a conventional office, we meet up once a week in a café. We really enjoy these meetings, finding them both motivational and inspirational. Although we have an office-less model, without this weekly meeting, we would not have the team bond that we have. It also enables us to quickly solve problems, brainstorm ideas, discuss new ventures. We only have that meeting once a week, so it ensures we prioritise our time together, making this a very efficient way of running a business.
We have team members all over Oxfordshire, South Northamptonshire and one person in London. Because it is only once a week that we physically meet, location is not such an issue. I believe many more businesses will be moving to this model in the future.
How to stay in tune while working remotely
So how do we ensure there are no misunderstandings? How do we ensure we are on the same page when designing and that client queries are not forgotten? How do we keep up office morale? How do we help each other through difficult problems while working remotely?
The answer is digital tools! We use Google Drive and Docs for file sharing, Trello for project management and Slack for communication between meetings.
Too much email!
Initially with the first two employees, I communicated mostly using email. This became very tiresome, very quickly. The problem with this is, there is only me on the receiving end to answer queries and I already had a lot of emails from clients to deal with. The advantage of Slack is that projects are divided into channels, making communication clearer. It also means that someone else can answer a general problem. Most of the time I am not the person with all the answers, so it makes sense to ask about something publicly, then the whole team can contribute.
We work flexible hours, so the person you are emailing, may not actually be working at that time, so your question remains unanswered, slowing you down. But with Slack, anyone working at that time can answer a query.
Random chat reinforces team bond and ideas generation
Slack is also a good place to talk about random and related points of interest. The type of things you would normally mention in passing to colleagues in a physical office. This reinforces the team bond and is a place to share ideas. Working as we do, we all go to events separately and feed back to the team during the office meeting or on Slack. Slack is a useful tool to record in the moment thoughts generated by our ‘out of office’ experiences. I have lost count of the amount of times that these ideas have led to new directions or beneficial systems for the team as a whole.
Opportunities for improvement
The other benefit of Slack is that everyone hears the same words from the horses’ mouth at the same time. Too often in an office situation, meanings get diluted, ideas are only shared with a handful of people and opportunities for improvement are missed.
For project management we use Trello. We set up boards for each client and this is where we keep a record of client and consultant communication. It is also where we keep checklists of things to remember, things to achieve on that project by a certain deadline. It means anyone can pick up a project and know where we are with it. There is not such a mad rush to hand over when we go on holiday as 90% of it is already on Trello. It also means you are not constantly forwarding emails to other team members.
Face to face is still vital, but it doesn’t need to be every day
The advance in digital tools has made remote working much more viable. However, I believe that nothing replaces the advantages of face to face meeting. It just doesn’t need to be every day.
Clare Nash, Clare Nash Architecture https://clarenasharchitecture.co.uk/