The Black Swan & the Rise of Remote Working

The Black Swan, a book published in 2007 by Nassim Taleb, was an interesting read and exploration of outliers – events completely outside our expectations and control.  The book focuses on decision-making in a world we don’t understand. I found it mostly entertaining for a person like me who likes to scenario plan around the world of the unknown, unknown. Who would have thought that March 12, 2020 would usher in the crescendo of our own black swan event as the COVID-19 coronavirus would reach a threshold that caused people, governments and businesses to panic? It was a surreal day as the Dow Jones had its worst day since the flash crash of 1987, the NBA, NHL, MLB and U.S. Soccer ground to a halt, and individuals began hoarding toilet paper.  The result has been a quiet panic as workers go home to work remotely, nursing homes close their doors to visitors, churches ask parishioners to join from home, cities prohibit gatherings of more than 500 people and we all started having to make decisions in a world we don’t understand.

The New Normal Is Here

In a single day, the world changed.  Truth be told, this has been building since January 2020, but on March 12th, it became clear that the new normal was here. I’m glad I am not in the economic equivalent of “ground zero” in the current economy; however, I am an executive in a consulting firm committed to maintaining service levels for our clients. 

So, what is the new normal for technology consulting? Remote working! I know there is a long list of “new normals” across the spectrum of the economy but what I understand is remote working. In this regard, there is a lot we can do to continue to deliver value to our clients and our organizations.

For the last 20 years, Cyber Group has been delivering solutions for its clients in a hybrid model with individuals here in the U.S. coupled with development teams in our office in Delhi, India.  While we have our lead project managers and architects on-site at our client locations, it is not critical that they are physically on-site. What is critical is to maintain virtual contact with the leaders on our projects. Our teams are already in the mode to meet one to two times per day virtually so expanding how and when we speak to our clients, now that they are remote, is what we are already used to doing.  So, what are some of the highlights that make this work?

Remote Working

Remote working, while maintaining collaboration, is easier than you think.  The three dimensions for being an effective remote worker follow the classic people, process and technology thinking.  Here are some ideas that might help:

People

So you’ve found yourself working from home.  We have all worked from home before, but the prospect of being remote full time is a mental game. Here are a few tips to help you be an effective remote worker:

  • Maintain a good attitude
  • Keep to your exercise routine and schedule  
  • Set times to meet online with your colleagues to validate thinking, receive encouragement and exchange ideas on how to be more effective
    • Remember that even though you are remote, there is no reason to be isolated!
  • If you are a rigid person, structure will be your friend, but you will need to be flexible and positive
  • If you are unstructured, you will need to work on time blocking, to-do lists, and daily goals
  • Challenge yourself to be more productive than you are in the office

Process

Process is your friend. One of the concepts we steal from agile development is the stand-up meeting.  Adopting processes from a variety of areas will help you be more effective and efficient.

Professionalism

Take that tape off of your laptop for video calls and get up every day and dress for work. Be a professional.

Routine

The daily routine will be your most important process. Imagine everyone is coming to your house each day and treat your job just like you would if you were going to work. The good news is that you will pick up your commuting time so you should be more productive. Never underestimate how important a video conference call will be when you are days or weeks into remote working.

From an IT perspective, a stand-up at the start of the day with your team and verbal checkpoints with your team throughout the day will enable you to be more effective.

Workspace

One of the most important processes you have to establish is the workspace. Even if you are in a small apartment, have a place “to go to work” so you can keep boundaries between work, family and play. Use your schedule and when work is done for the day, turn off the light and walk away from your laptop. Make the best of it!

Technology

Tools

We have the tools!  At Cyber Group, we use Microsoft Teams as our collaboration tool and use it every day. It helps us manage projects, documents, deliverables and makes collaboration very easy.  The video capability is great and the mobile application makes it easy to join in meet-ups and status meetings. It has chat capability and becomes an extension of the project team. There are other tools like Zoom and Slack that many of my friends use. Utilize whichever tool that works best for you but the point is that you need to use collaboration tools. By leveraging Teams, I’m able to move between multiple projects and always have what I need at my fingertips.

Security

Most of us have laptops, WIFI access, and cell phones, but don’t forget that when you are remote, you are outside of your company’s firewall.  Your IT department might have a virtual private network (VPN) for you to join or you might use a tool like Global Data Sentinel (GDS) to protect your most sensitive enterprise data. Just know that when you are working at home you need to be vigilant from a security perspective.

If your company doesn’t have a VPN, there are a number of very good ones like NORD VPN. This allows you to connect to a data center and masks your location.

Turn off your PC when you are not using it.

Finally, back up your machine. Whether to a disk back up or a remote backup system like Carbonite, keep your data backed up.

This Too Shall Pass

Remote working can work for all of us and in many ways, we can be more effective. In fact, the unknown, unknown, is how long we will need to do it.

My advice is to stay focused on the day-to-day and realize that this too shall pass. We have had Black Swans in the past and we will have them again in the future. Focus on exercise, maintaining a good attitude, and talking to upbeat people on a daily basis. Stick to your processes and be willing to swap ideas with your colleagues.  Finally, leverage technology and tools to make the process easier and more collaborative.

If we stick to these ideas, we can continue to be productive and get the job done for our companies and our clients.

Good luck!