The ongoing situation forces companies around the globe to rethink the way they work and interact. While offices were closed for safety reasons and by now are partially reopening again and travel activities came to a halt for obvious restrictions, the need for digital transformation and new digital business models, as well as the questions and tasks that come with pursuing those, will not pause. As a Corporate Venture Builder, here at Bridgemaker we’re dealing with similar if not exactly those very challenges in our daily strive to develop creative ideas and the most successful business models for our clients - while continuing collaboration and interaction with our partners and other involved stakeholders in a remote way, we need to ensure the same level of quality in our project delivery. Creativity and collaboration are not just two of the keywords we’re dealing with here, but also two of the foundations of our profession.
As we managed to maintain both, creative outcomes and efficient and effective ways of collaboration, we get the opportunity to look back and examine some of the formats and internal interactions and incidents that we went through: One of our most creative workshop formats for example, the Ideation Night, is part of our Ideation module, where, based on previously identified customer pain points. We generate business ideas in a very creative and interactive manner and involve clients, colleagues as well as external partners. Workshops like these are the base of successful venture development but also remind us of how much we depend on a certain level of interaction between our teams, the client, and external stakeholders like interviewees or subject matter experts. Throughout the entire Ideation process, we execute a common research methodology and talk to as many affected users as possible. In the end, we come up with a set of identified ideas that are generally used by our clients as a foundation for promising business solutions. All these steps require discourse, joint decision making and recapitulation. Reviewing the past weeks, partner workshops as well as internal evolution, we come to a number of observations and conclusions, that we would like to share in the paragraphs to follow.
1) People are keyWe have trusted our employees before and we knew when they need support and when they are able to work on their own. Remote work changes nothing to that. In order to make sure any business model can run with remote work, one has to trust their employees and to help them where help is needed. Leadership needs to invest time in staff, now more than ever.
2) Methodology and ProcessesWhile most of our processes and the methodology that we use were designed in a way that makes them pretty robust and adaptable, one true challenge that we’ve experienced was the initial conduction of workshop-formats. Especially the ones focussed on producing creative outcomes based on joint brainstorming sessions with 15-20 stakeholders involved.
Instead of jointly working in meeting rooms with paper, pens, and whiteboards, these formats would have to move to remote setups, too. We decided to look for tools that support our established processes (more later) instead of adjusting our processes and methods to the most popular tools. Also, we made sure in every meeting that ground rules were established and moderators made sure participants played according to those rules.
3) Use of technology and ‘state of the art’-softwareWhile the standard remote working software, like video conferencing and time tracking, was long in place at Bridemaker, we quickly realized, that it was one thing to use those tools internally and a completely different thing to use them with clients. The secret here lies in a flexible IT setup, that allows employees to use and install numerous video conferencing tools, without too many obstacles, and to stay open-minded to constantly switch from tool to tool. On average our employees have now installed four to five different video conferencing tools. Also, we needed to add some tools to our software stack in order to maintain the same level of creative interaction as before. As stated before we picked tools that work with our processes like Miro Boards for creative interaction or Mentimeter for joint decision making.
4) Communication is keyWorking in service environments requires to always communicate in a precise and clear way. This has been the case before we moved to a more decentralized and remote setup but is now more important than ever before. Three main rules have been established that help us to maintain a successful communication: First is regular communication, teams use daily digital standups to make sure everyone is informed about changes in time. Second is clear ground rules for every meeting, that need to be followed at all times. The third is preparation for workshop meetings. Using digital tools does not change the required time to prepare workshops, sometimes on the contrary.
5) More InclusivenessDecentral and remote work allows for broader inclusiveness and borderless collaboration. This refers to ourselves as much as it refers to our clients: Moving away from physical borders in offices, often separated by different rooms, floors, or teams, we observe decision-makers to be more open to mixed teams and the inclusion of stakeholders from different departments to join our Ideations. This comes with two effects: Firstly, our clients strengthen their internal ties to other stakeholders and therefore win more supporters for their transformation projects. Secondly, we win more perspectives and therefore generate more and better ideas at the end of the process.
6) Experience and ConvictionBridgemaker has conducted more than 50 Ideations in the past 3 years, with clients ranging from Manufacturing to Banking, Insurance, Retail, and Automotive. As the years went by, we’ve further developed our delivery model and implemented SOPs and a comprehensive knowledge base. Today, this combination of experience and conviction for or proprietary processes and methods makes sure we can deliver the best results even with employees that have joined our team just before or during the crisis.
7) Time & EfficiencyWorking from home can indeed be challenging and stressful, especially when there are kids around or toddlers to be taken care of. This accounts not only for us but especially for our clients and the people we’re working with. This undeniable factor taken out of the calculation, we’ve realized throughout the past weeks, that working from home - when organized properly - can help with focussing on what matters. Spending less time with commuters and traffic jams opens the door for less disturbance and more of what matters: Creativity, efficiency, interaction with our peers and clients, and results that make a difference. Motivated employees to take focus times for work and also to take a step back to have a coffee and relax for a minute in between.
8) The Cost FactorThis is a pretty simple one: Travelling less saves you time and money. When equipped with the right tools and hardware, working from anywhere (in this case: home) suddenly becomes a reality. Being required to stay home, the usual consultant-client-obligation of personal meetings at the client sides or in our offices becomes negligible. Today both sides know, how fruitful personal meetings can be, when necessary. On the other side, one appreciates the fact that traveling less not only saves you time but also contributes to becoming a bit ‘greener’ every single day.
9) The Bridgemaker OrganisationWe quickly realized that our previously established working culture and the existing structures, with offices in Berlin, Munich, and Poznan (Poland), helped us to quickly overcome initial biases and pretexts towards the challenges approaching us with moving the organization towards the home office and decentral work. After a comparatively short process of discussing the changes ahead and adapting to them, we started moving meetings, town halls, project operations to the digital space. Being a decentrally organized company since our early days, with ventures dispersed all over Germany, we soon reached a level of confidence to continue working with our clients.
10) Long-Term Relationships and TrustIn a new and unprecedented situation like the one we’re currently experiencing jointly, long-term relationships are essential when ‘being in this together’, a circumscription often used by politics and media. As we see now, this is particularly true when deciding which company or consultants to pick for transformation projects and company building as well as many other service segments in times of uncertainty and economic insecurity. All financial aspects apart, it simply makes things so much easier when working with trusted partners, constrained by remote work conditions or economic uncertainty.
Conclusion:Remote working is our new reality. The current crisis offers us a unique chance to experiment with new approaches to cover distances without lengthy, cost-intense, and polluting travel. At Bridgemaker some of us where skeptical whether this new reality would be positive or negative to our work. We now realize that it just changes the way we collaborate. As some things become more complex (e.g. creative work sessions), others go offhand easier than before (e.g. focused work sessions).
Wrapping it all up, we come to the conclusion that, while tools and collaboration modes might change, our work will outlive the current crisis.
Author: Kilian Veer (Partner) & Simon Kozlik (Venture Partner)