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Going to remote work during a crisis (What I learned in 2008)

Insights  //   //  By Christopher Davies

It’s a story we’re all too familiar with now. Everything seemed like business as usual. The world was without uncertainties – and the market was overdue for a correction – but on the whole, things were moving ahead as they usually do. Then you wake up and some significant domino has fallen, starting a global chain reaction. The usual rules are broken. The standard ways of running a business are put aside. It’s a whole new world.

The financial crisis cuts deep

For Dog and Pony Studios, this was our reality in September 2008. The first domino was the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Unsure of what was going to happen next, our financial services clients suspended all projects and stopped spending instantly. The crisis cut deep for us. At the time, we didn’t have the cash reserves to withstand the drought for very long. Among many cost-cutting measures I undertook, I decided to close down our bricks and mortar office and move to a fully virtual model.

While becoming a remote business was precipitated by the impact of world events on the company, I subscribed to the saying that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I started to reflect on the nature and process of our work.

Reconsidering remote work

Remote work wasn’t a stranger to us. We already had clients across the globe we hadn’t met, yet we had successfully delivered dozens of projects together. Amongst our local clients, we were at a point where they were senior players in their organizations: they didn’t have the time to come to us, so we always went to them. A few of my key staff had moved to Barcelona and Brazil – and we kept working together. On top of it all, in-office staff were asking for work-from-home days.

A better business model

I realized that remote work was more than a temporary measure for us. We could quickly operationalize it. It was the right model for us, internally and for our clients.

Internally, we became masters of our schedules. No commute times, no snow days, flexibility when kids are sick or school is out – all add up to more efficiency and productivity in the way they reduce the practical issues that arise when work and life are perpendicular. Hours can be flexed as needed, easily, without a visible disruption to the team. Since we’re deadline driven, the client’s needs set our goals. The time of day we work doesn’t matter so long as our work integrates and we deliver.

As a manager, tools like Dropbox, Harvest and Growl (for realtime updates on what files are being worked on, and by whom) allowed me transparency into production and productivity. We can chat and collaborate in text, voice, video or screen sharing in a click. Efficiency went up, staff and clients were happy, and our bottom line improved. Online services, even taken as a whole, are less expensive than rent and associated costs.

The benefit to our clients

For our clients, they learned all budget was focused on the project, not non-project related overhead. Many clients had no idea we were remote, or they were working with people from around the world. We are as attentive and plugged in to their projects, needs and success as we would be if we were seated with them in the same room.

Where we are now

This is how we have worked for over a decade. That said, we have opened up a space again this year to allow staff to drop in and work as they prefer. It’s Dog and Pony’s headquarters, but more along the lines of our own private coworking space. For some of our clients we work with across the globe, it puts a pin in the map. But even inside the office, the same tools, procedures and processes are used.

In the coming days, we’ll post our current list of go-to tools and tips for remote work. With over a decade of experience, I hope our ideas will help you and your organizations during this time of uncertainty and rapid change.

Stay well. We are here and open for business as we navigate this crisis together.