Completing work from offsite is not a new concept. For many years I had advocated for the efficiency and lower cost of remote implementations. However, the industry norm has been for ERP software implementation consultants to travel to their customer sites weekly. The pandemic forced hospitals and software companies to rethink these industry standards, leading to much less travel and much more work from home in 2020. Now many of those same people are asking, are remote implementations here to stay?
It is indeed hard to replicate the experience of being there in person. We have all experienced Zoom meetings gone wrong. Garbled speech, barking dogs, and interrupting kids make meetings less efficient and sometimes frustrating. Engagement can suffer, particularly when video is not required.
On the other hand, conference calls can be much easier. Working from home simplifies scheduling. Busy hospital staffs find it much easier to jump on a conference call than to leave their office and move across campus to get to a meeting location. Taking calls from their office allows them to look up information and respond to questions live, rather than taking notes about the requested information in a conference room and trying to remember to provide that information later. Time can be managed more efficiently for consultants and hospital staff.
I traveled almost every week for nearly 20 years. The “romance” of traveling gave way a long time ago to the monotony of security lines and delays. Trying to complete work on your laptop on those tiny airport trays is not productive – and that assumes you are lucky enough to have working internet. Traveling software consultants spend endless hours sleeping on airport benches and waiting in line for customer service when their flights are canceled. Not to mention that on many projects, consultants are sent to a desk to complete their work, often a good distance away from the hospital staff, when they do finally arrive as desk space is always at a premium in the hospital setting.
All of this travel time is a hidden cost on projects. There are direct costs related to the travel itself, but also time and efficiency costs that get absorbed by the hospital even though they don’t provide profit for the provider. The indirect costs of lost time as travelers fly in on Monday and out on Friday must also be considered as availability and productivity on those days is at the mercy of the airlines.
Remote implementations can be just as effective as being there in person, if not more so – with the added benefit of lower costs and increased hours spent doing more productive work. However, planning and organization are absolutely critical. Without the ability to wander down the hall and get someone’s attention, scheduling meetings and commitment to attendance and engagement from hospital staff are vital.
Collaboration tools, including video meetings, shared scheduling, file sharing, and communication tools such as chat are some of the keys to success. Newer tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams offer simple, lightweight, and affordable solutions that connect project team members in various locations and from different companies.
Rules must be established and enforced. Attend meetings promptly. Keep your video on and stay engaged. Avoid emails and phone calls just as you would in an in-person meeting. Get a good microphone and please feed the dogs (and kids) before the meeting starts.
When the pandemic is over and travel resumes, I believe that we will see a new normal established that keeps many of the changes that were made over the past year. Some activities, such as project kick-offs, training, and go-live will likely continue to be completed in person, as they benefit the most from everyone being in the same room. Other project activities such as configuration, testing, status updates, and training material development will likely remain remote on many projects, allowing for a focus on task completion as opposed to the logistics of travel.
The result for consultants could be increased productivity and better quality of life, though their frequent flyer status may suffer. For hospitals, the result of remote implementations will be reduced project costs and space needs, and increased stakeholder engagement.