Working remotely – our journey and experiences

May 18th, 2020 Written by Paul Henshaw

One of the fascinating elements of the response to the challenges of COVID-19, and the different circumstances we find ourselves in by working exclusively from home, is the change in our day to day engagement with our teams and clients. 

Infinity Works is born from a mindset of Agile and Lean ways of working, with a fundamental part of that ethos being co-located teams, working with tactile ceremonies and environment – collaborative design and workshops focused around whiteboards, with physical kanban boards covered in index cards! It has been inherent in our approach, and a large part of our belief system. Whilst we’ve always supported our team in the ability to work remotely as and when needed, and when our clients are comfortable with that, it has been the exception rather than the norm.

Challenge the status quo

That said, we are always open to challenge and the ability to try new things – one of our key messages to our team is to “always challenge the status quo”, and the mandated COVID response led to no choice in this matter. Indeed, we started to commence remote working a week or two before the official lockdown was introduced, with over 400 Infinity Works team members working exclusively from home very quickly, to assure our clients (and our team) that we could, and would, be ready.

Infinity Works have looked into the possibility of remote / ‘nearshore’ working for some time, but for the reasons outlined above about our belief that it may not be quite so effective for clients, and perceived challenges of working effectively, we’d not prioritised the planning or testing of remote working quite as much as we might. Necessity, as ever, is the mother of invention though! Courtesy of significant effort from our leadership team, we were able to have all of our team working remotely rapidly, with our IT Operations team working quickly to ensure that everything that was needed was in place to allow our teams to work as per usual. Infinity Works has always given our consultants the power to get things done, resulting in people arranging their own home setups, asking for help where needed, helping each other with social distancing regulations to make deliveries, share equipment and be ready to go once the inevitable lockdown was announced. This helped us move quickly with little to no effect on day to day service.

The question, though, remained – could we be as efficient and effective for our clients when not working face to face in client or Infinity Works offices?

Well, could we?

We are several weeks into this now, and the results and experiences have been fascinating and insightful for us. While we were naturally sceptical about our ability to consult as effectively remotely as face to face, we’ve discovered that innovative and creative use of technology and the brilliant consulting skills of our team has led us to be more effective at short, sharp communication, rapid decision making and delivery progress than we could have ever anticipated. The collaboration tools we make use of day to day serve us well irrespective of geographical location – from the Atlassian suite of tools to provide visibility and transparency of progress and decision making, to Slack and its support of constant team communication, to the Google Applications that drive our mail and video conferencing capabilities. 

Unique challenges

In terms of the projects we contribute to and deliver on for our customers, the results have been equally pleasing.

Despite the unique challenges that this presents for a large number of our team (who are not just working from home, but doing so whilst balancing the challenge of caring for and supporting families), we have had unanimously positive feedback from our customers – anecdotally ranging from “it is just business as usual, you are delivering well” to “you have not only maintained both pace and quality of delivery, but delivered more – and faster”. Highlights include supporting key Government agencies in ensuring that services and systems can cope with unprecedented demand, to successfully scaling a large supermarket client’s ability to manage an extraordinary demand driven by ‘lockdown’.

“You have not only maintained both pace and quality of delivery, but delivered more – and faster”

It is not just the engineering and delivery projects that have progressed, though. The Infinity Works way is more than just writing code – we are transforming the organisations that we work with too, and the legacy of our approach during the challenges of remote working in these circumstances have led to a number of impressive highlights. These include undertaking, and passing, a Government Digital Services assessment remotely. This is no small challenge face to face, let alone via video conferences!

Other challenges we’ve excelled in include taking on projects and consultancy in spaces such as Design. We’d felt that this would be a challenge to excel remotely, but instead demonstrated how this could still be effective and transformational. Also, leading a client’s Data Academy online – pivoting our approach, content and teaching at incredibly short notice to ensure that their team progressed as planned.

Mental well-being

Further, this is against a backdrop of increased people support efforts to ensure that our team members are safe, well and able to work effectively. This is no small overhead, but a vital part of ensuring that the team is happy, able to work and balance the challenges that the current situation provides for us all. We’ve been conscious to support the mental well-being of our staff at this time, we’ll follow up in the coming weeks with another blog article covering how we have tried to support our staff and what we’ve done to maintain a sense of community, provide some fun and remain connected.

There are, of course, challenges we’ve had to address and overcome in recent weeks. Working remotely, with families in tow, has resulted in people working alternative hours – so the flexibility to do that is not taken for granted, and one we’ve had to manage and work with effectively. Equally, ensuring that we are measuring productivity comparatively given the temptation we all have to stay working at laptops in excess of our usual hours, has been required in order to ensure that we are comparing effort correctly – and ensuring that our team work safely and healthily. 

So, what have we learned?

So what have we learned in the last few weeks, how has it affected projects and organisations in the industry, and what will help us to evolve our business? 

As alluded to earlier, in the challenge and need for rapid response for our own company, a number of clients and other organisations delivering key digital transformation programmes and projects have needed to change approach to reflect changing circumstances. This is not uncommon at the sharp end of large projects, where mission critical services are about to be launched to challenging, non-negotiable deadlines. Slow, bureaucratic approval processes cross-business that can mire decision making are forced to become streamlined and collegiate. Adversarial, time consuming governance can instead become collaborative assurance on decisions that need to be executed speedily for the good of the organisation and project. For those that have thrived, and built success through this period of uncertainty, how can they retain and maintain that same focus, collaboration and rapid decision making? For those that were slow to react and make their teams efficient and effective given the constraints of working from home – or are no longer able to serve their customers at all – how do they learn and adapt to ensure this is addressed in future?

A proven concept

For our own company, undoubtedly, our initial reticence to propose remote project teams across the spectrum of services we offer is one that we will revisit, our options informed by our positive experience of the last few months. We have proven, unequivocally, that we are able to deliver on our client requirements, and it will inform a number of different engagements and models for our team to develop. It will widen our ability to recruit talented consultants outside of our current geographical locations of London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Leeds, to supplement those teams with a more geographically dispersed team, who we can now demonstrate are just as able and capable of supporting our clients’ needs.

It will allow us, also, to increase the diversity and intersectionality of our team, to include those who we may have missed out on due to challenges of travel and ability to work in our current locations. All of these will accelerate our plans to have teams made up of the best of our talent across the country, and assist our clients in their ability to meet their digital transformation aspirations irrespective of the location of their team and delivery partners. This should reassure our clients that whilst ‘old normal’ always presented significant challenges to deliver on their objectives, the ‘new normal’ will allow them to deliver even more effectively in future.

Lean governance

The circumstances we find ourselves in has taught us a huge amount about our own business and the wider business environment – and the key elements that have worked for us, and our clients, will continue to be vitally important after the UK lockdown. It is perhaps ironic that as a company that specialises in digital transformation, we’ve had to apply our own agile principles. It is, of course, no surprise that it has worked too, and successfully challenged our previous thinking! Urgency has driven collaborative, rapid decision making. This ‘lean governance’ has been necessitated by circumstance, but driven us to shape our approach and support a new mode of delivery. Technology has enabled us to work creatively with our clients, and underlines how we can continue to help them transform their businesses.

How can we all learn?

How can we all learn from that, and build this learning into the processes and approaches we use day to day from now on?

Written by Paul Henshaw