23 September 2021
Topics in this article
  • Life at Proxima
  • People

When you work for a consultancy you get used to working remotely. Sometimes you are squeezed into a corner on a client site, sometimes you are running video conferences from a hotel room at 4am, sometimes it’s in a coffee shop capitalizing on free WIFI and hot drinks. You might go days or weeks without going into your main office, but somehow it works. And it’s not just consultants, all across the world there are people working remotely everywhere from large corporates to gig economy workers.

Some of our clients, in some of the world’s largest businesses, work with Proxima almost exclusively virtually. Most of our team have never visited their sites and we have never so much as elbow bumped, let alone shaken hands with a fellow team member. And guess what… it works perfectly, in fact often teams are even happier and even more efficient. Whilst some of us will have “new helpers” as we work from home, over the next few weeks we will also benefit from less commuting time and less office disruption. Most consultants reckon that online meetings are also twice as efficient, giving time back to work.

Imagine a world in which your bottlenecks suddenly became more efficient….

So it’s not all bad news for everyone on the home working front, but it is different and it does take some adapting to. Right now the demands on procurement and supply chain are immense, new and challenging but, not being in an office should not be the thing that makes us less efficient. Yes, there will be things that are a bit harder, but they can be worked around.

The challenge for many is – how to deliver an increasing work load, of essential projects, at speed with your teams working remotely, many for the first time. For those used to remote working – no problem, but for those who are not used to this, this may be a challenge. There is a lot of advice about how to do it, but when it comes to procurement, we thought we’d ask our consultants who do it every day.

Getting ready

Firstly, use “Challenger Thinking” to imagine this is normal – if you can, think “how would I run this project normally”, now take away face to face contact and other physical interactions (like printing for some). So how do you get around it? For instance, if you’d normally do a daily stand up first thing, this now becomes a virtual daily stand up.

Ensure you have the right technology in place for all virtual team members – this might be as simple as a laptop and earphones to be set up for remote working, or it might mean asking team members to locate, borrow or buy a monitor. More comfortable means more productive.

Make sure you’ve got the right collaboration tools – most of the world is using chat tools like Workplace, Skype or Slack, now is the time to get into hangouts and video conferencing as well as collaboration tools like Teams (there are lots of these). Many of these tools are temporarily free, or have significant discounts – Take advantage.

Think about a foundation communications strategy – you need to make your virtual teams feel connected. Where communications don’t need to be in writing, stop emailing, pick up the phone, or better still video call. It’s good to have some planned updates and team meetings as well as ad hoc drop ins. Try to consciously talk.

Running projects

Virtual leadership – Make sure that projects and teams are led by someone with the right skills to lead virtual teams and virtual projects. They will be highly proficient at chairing virtual team meetings, with clear agendas and documented actions. Teams that lose face to face contact need not lose direction.

Go hard on objectives and outcomes – Ensure the Procurement project goal’s, desired outcomes and critical milestones are documented at the start and reported upon during the touch point team sessions. Keep returning to these documents to remind everyone of the targets and timelines.

More comfortable means more productive.

Set up and operate frequent touch points – There is a balance here but consider upping the amount of structured project meetings. You are probably looking at video conferences or conference calls at the very least weekly, ideally every second day and run these to a structured agenda and progress reporting. The good news is that these seem to go faster online than in person. Take back the time saved.

Agree and understand how the team will work – many of us will have children or relatives with us. Some will not have separate office space. Some will have children or other dependents to look after whilst working. Try to understand how different team members need to structure their days to win at work and at home. Perhaps not everyone can work the same way at the same time. Be open and honest about this and find what works.

Don’t forget that suppliers are in the same boat – traditionally there are rules of engagement with suppliers but most of the eSourcing and eSRM tools being used are cloud based so there is no need to under communicate via formal means. But, do consider how and how often you communicate with suppliers, they are humans first, suppliers second. It’s not just internal communications that should be the focus.

Think through requirements and specifications carefully – so these can be positioned to the suppliers clearly and keep responses to the minimum required to be able to evaluate. Now is not the time for over-engineering, think about how you can encourage accuracy, but also speed and efficiency. Your time is precious, and so is everybody else’s.

Use technology creatively – use that challenger thinking to think about how you get around every day “physical problems”. If you need to check the supplier delivery or manufacturing capability, do this real time through video conferences as IPADS are easy to operate outside the conference room.

Double down on comms – Keep key stakeholders fully informed of progress and raise any obstacles issues ASAP.

Conclusion…. This is about virtual proximity

At Proxima, our company name is in part due to the fact that we like proximity to our clients. We like this to be face to face, or we like it to be virtual, but most of all we like to be communicating as close as possible with our stakeholders and suppliers. It is relatively common now that projects are in whole, or in part delivered remotely. To be effective this needs good leadership, frequent communications, and acceptance that the abnormal is now the normal.

And about you

There is a lot of advice on home working, we actually asked our teams for their top tips. Guess what – there was no consensus. But here were our favorites:

  1. Have a routine, shower and change as if you were going to work.
  2. Sit on a yoga ball instead of a chair (perhaps not all of the day).
  3. Do chores during the time you would normally be commuting.
  4. Check in on family and the kids for ten minutes when you finish a task.
  5. Try to make every phone call a video call.

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