As we start to come out of the pandemic, many companies and employees alike are trying to understand the lay of the land as it pertains to working from home. Many employees would say the experiment worked and they were equally productive from home as they are at the office. The employees and customers have been able to connect to their email, talk to each to other using the phone, have video meetings via zoom, teams or other software and use their business productivity tools (Word, Excel, ERP ) as well as they could in while sitting in the office. Employers have seen that their employees can be trusted to perform their job function while disconnected from the physical office place. Customers have been overall satisfied with their interactions with their vendors and suppliers. All in all, it sounds like the work from home experiment was a rousing success.
I say work from home experiment because I am not sure we have found the nirvana that seemed so rosy in the preceding paragraph. While I would say many operations have been successful in our working from home experiment to date, there are many things we have lost in the process that at least to me, feel to be an issue that needs to be addressed. One of those loses is team collaboration. In the past, it was always each to gather up in the conference room, bring in some food, fire up the white board and review the issues of the day sitting around the conference room table. During those conversations, if we needed to bring in other people during that session for a few minutes, you could easily walk over to them and ask them to join the meeting and if we needed documents, they could bring them into the meeting so we could all review them. And when on site at the customer’s location, if we wanted to go over and watch an employee perform their job to determine if there are any issues with the process, we could walk over to their job location and easily watch.
Now those same functions could be done with zoom meetings, document sharing, cameras and microphones but the time and energy that has to be performed checking calendars, creating meeting requests, ensuring the internet and technology is up and solid, scanning or putting documents in shared drive locations and just the prep have to all be done in order to have a meeting. The intimacy of the meeting has now taken a much more stuffed-shirt format and the ability to have impromptu meetings aren’t as easy as they once were. The ability to pop one’s head into someone’s office to discuss an issue or throw out an idea becomes a much more complex activity. And then there is the conversations at the water cooler. Obviously those personal connections among co-workers or customers have been almost completed squashed.
Bringing this concept full circle, as a consultant, our job is predicated on the ability to provide a service to the customer. The tasks we perform are secured through conversations with the customer and In many cases, while not being on-site to work with the customer, are only known due to the customer bringing the topic to the consultant. If the customer doesn’t think about the issue while discussing with the consultant, that task may never see the light of day. On the other hand, if the consultant was at the customer’s site, the consultant might see or hear something that would open up a conversation that would in turn, become a chance for the consultant to provide a service that neither the customer or consultant ever thought about. In plenty of my interactions at my customers, while walking thru the hallways or by standing at the water cooler. a simple conversation turns into a request for help to resolve a pesky issue or gap in their daily work process. Sometimes while passing my someone’s desk and hearing the customer make ill remarks, a simple question of “what’s the matter?”, can draw a problem to light and may allow the consultant to offer a solution to the problem. These impromptu conversations or observations would not usually happen thru an email, text or conference call. They need to casual contact that is only achieved when being in close contact and by being readily available for a quick conversation. These honest casual conversation can sometimes lead to a major project that the customer didn’t know was possible.
I have had those conversations about the topic of EDI or Data reporting. While the order entry clerk struggles to enter hundreds of orders each day for their big customers, wouldn’t it be easier to be able to transmit the orders electronically as data and have those orders automatically import into the ERP software. Or when needing to setup spreadsheets of data for a presentation to a client, wouldn’t it be easier to connect those spreadsheets directly up to the ERP database to pull data in. These 2 manual tasks were observed by me at the customer’s office by overseeing and talking to the customer about a pain points they were having. I may never have seen these issues if I hadn’t been there onsite.
In the end, these new tasks brought to the forefront are a win for everyone. The consultant shows added value and added billing for their customer and the customer gets real value by the relieving of a pain point through their personal relationship with their consultant. As we come out of the pandemic, it is my feeling that we need to get back to the “knee to knee’ mentality that made the consultant/customer relationship a rewarding experience.