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Four disciplines for maintaining staff productivity to meet service level agreements in pandemic

Datto’s vice-president of engineering for remote monitoring and management, Ian van Reenen, shares some views about productivity during the current crisis

As office-based employees continue to work remotely during the Covid-19 health crisis, it is essential to have practices in place to ensure that teams feel motivated and that productivity is not compromised.

While most of the technical issues that came with the sudden switch to home working will have been ironed out by now, many employees still find themselves in a less than ideal work environment – often juggling childcare and other family demands while dealing with space constraints and connectivity problems. Add to that the anxiety and distraction that inevitably come with the current high levels of uncertainty, and it’s easy to see why businesses might suffer a drop in productivity.

However, businesses in lockdown still have roadmaps to follow, clients and partners to support, and service level agreements (SLAs)  to meet. Ensuring the health and well-being of staff is clearly paramount; in parallel with this, companies can follow four key disciplines to maintain productivity while supporting remote working.

Prioritise tasks

When things get tough and time is tight, focus on the most important and urgent goals and allow staff to prioritise accordingly. Make sure everyone on the team knows what the must-have deliverables are and decide whether to eliminate or postpone those nice-to-haves for now. Priorities can change over time and previously less important tasks can quickly become urgent ones, so always keep on top of the planning.

At Datto, we were preparing for the roll-out of the new RMM (remote monitoring and management) and BCDR (business continuity and data recovery) integration in time for DattoCon, our annual managed service provider (MSP) event, when the pandemic struck. To push on with our high rate of software development, we started by getting the “big stuff” done first, such as the new integration, which we have launched. This meant sometimes reorganising our priorities to ensure we stayed on track for the launch.

Boost collaboration

Communication is key when you’re navigating choppy waters, but when everyone is working at home, you lose those precious water cooler conversations and it becomes harder to bounce ideas off your colleagues. These exchanges now need to happen elsewhere so it’s essential to actively make space for them. Schedule frequent and regular virtual meetings – daily and weekly – and use intuitive communication tools that allow easy and quick collaboration. Also, convert all previously scheduled face-to-face meetings to online meetings to make sure they still happen.

Aim to over-communicate rather than under-communicate. Keeping the communication buzzing between remote teams at Datto was critical in creating a working experience similar to the office, and it has helped to increase camaraderie and decrease isolation.

Bear in mind that meeting over a video connection requires more concentration than sitting around a table, so try not to arrange meetings back to back and let people take time out from their intense schedules to focus on their well-being. 

Stick to the process

Following established procedures remotely as they would in the office empowers staff to work independently and meet targets on time. To support this, now is a good time to develop or review guidelines for handling meetings and projects. Take the time to clarify and reiterate work streams and responsibilities in the team, as this will ultimately result in less conflict and higher quality.

At Datto, we follow the agile Scrum methodology and sticking to our regular Scrum meetings and Sprint reviews has ensured that our process captures all tasks, important steps are prioritised and obstacles are dealt with quickly.

Do not make independent decisions 

When working remotely it is easy to feel you are all on your own and having to make your own decisions. However, lots of small decisions can soon add up to one big change that impacts everyone, so encourage staff not to act in isolation or without the support of other team members and managers. Always discuss as a team first, no matter how small the decision seems, and make a point of updating project managers and peers on any changes during your regular meetings.

Finally, to recreate the familiar office environment as much as possible, don’t forget about social activities. From virtual DJ sessions to video-conferencing background competitions to online quizzes, there are myriad ways to keep staff engaged and boost team morale. We’ve had our own “Datto’s Got Talent” and kept up with “Free Lunch Fridays” by courier, as well as upping our community engagement. All of those have helped maintain the Datto spirit.

While these are difficult and worrying times, people will get used to the new normal and find efficient ways to balance their work and meet client expectations. There will inevitably be a backlog of tasks that couldn’t be completed remotely and those will be dealt with in time as we move out of the pandemic. For now, it’s best to focus on the health of your staff and your business.

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