Without exception, the way we work has changed in the last couple of months. However long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were lucky to be already thinking about how we revolutionise work. While we had been evolving our ideas for some time, we were implementing changes at the beginning of this year. When lockdown hit, we were well on our way to putting in place a model and methodology for delivering services remotely.
Since Q4’s story started, we’ve been providing digital workforce delivery and consulting services to several overseas businesses – namely large enterprises in Australia. In the challenge to get the high level of skill required to support many of Australasia’s finest, we were needing to look further afield than just the New Zealand and Australian labour market.
Changes to the way we all work were coming – but they’ve now accelerated. Where we work is becoming less material – anyone who’s been working from home knows this all too well – but we’re also seeing global teams working together, leveraging diverse skills across time zones, in a way that’s distinctly different from traditional off-shore models. We reckon there’s much yet to learn regarding how to do this smoothly and effectively.
We want to share those learnings with others in business. After all, it’s long been our belief that if we can revolutionise work in a positive way, it will be possible to arrive at a place where people, organisations and society can live, work and function in a healthy, meaningful and efficient manner.
So, we caught up with our Executive Director, Maurice Dubey and Senior RPA Consultant, Geoff Dodd, to enable us to share more.
What has driven your focus on creating a global team?
Maurice: There’s a couple of aspects to this for us really. The first is that we needed a way to get really capable people in the digital workforce domain to easily be able to work on programmes for our customers, regardless of where the customer was based. We have the best automation talent in Australasia already in our team, however there isn’t enough capability overall in this market – and we know that high-level RPA experience is vital to doing this stuff right. The global team has enabled us to tap into people with even more skill, many of whom are 4-5 years ahead of us and anyone else in this part of the world on experience, having been involved in very large and successful implementations in other parts of the world.
The second aspect has been to do with attitudes. We’ve always been strong believers in supporting people to do the things that motivate them – so while we could find additional people locally who are doing this stuff and upskill them further (which we are doing as well!), we want to get people who are passionate and self-driven when it comes to automation. They’re already leading the way.
How is your global team model different to outsourcing?
Geoff: I would say there is more of a human element to it. When people usually think of outsourcing, it’s about defining a job which needs to be delivered, and passing it over the fence to faceless, unnamed people to deliver – without much more than that. To us, our global team is our teams working together with the best people on the job, regardless of where they are situated. For instance; we have one of our top guys working out of Nelson as one of the key team members amongst the Digital Workforce COE at a leading Australian bank, and people in Auckland working besides teammates in Chennai for three different engagements in New Zealand.
At Q4 we are focused on interactions with people who feel and believe they are part of something bigger and contributing to something larger. They have the opportunity to grow outside of their normal role, without leaving their normal lives.
Maurice: I totally agree; this isn’t just a case of tossing stuff over the fence. A few of us in Q4 have had experience managing external teams through traditional outsource models before, and we’ve seen it fail – mainly because the people in the team who aren’t sitting next to you aren’t treated as part of the team. There’s no ‘forming, norming and definitely no storming’. Instead, there’s this idea that you’ve got to spec requirements to the nth degree, or you don’t know what you’ll get back – and this doesn’t work in the agile world we are now in. All our guys are definitely part of our business and our teams. We have virtual social catch ups that include all of our team members, regardless of if they are 10, 1,000 or 11,000 kms away. We get everyone’s full engagement, because we’ve created a way for them to be part of something bigger.
What do you see as the key advantages to this way of working?
Maurice: As we touched on before, our global team allows us to get access to people with the leading skills. From our own business perspective, and with our growth plans, this means we are able to scale really fast to meet customer’s demands. There are far more people with the skills we need sitting elsewhere around the globe than in Australasia, so we’re able to tap into them and use them as part of the new model, without needing to wait for lengthy immigration processes – which of course is more of a challenge right now.
Geoff: I would add too that when we bring these guys onto a project, they can hit the ground running. I know we keep talking about experience, but they’ve worked on a range of programmes with different stakeholders – including one of the largest digital workforce implementations on the planet. We’ve created a learning eco-system; every bit of learning our global team are doing flows back into our environment as all members present and share their knowledge with each other.
What challenges or learnings have you encountered so far?
Maurice: We got to start our learnings on this during a large engagement in Australia, where we were working with resource teams in India, as well as doing some of the delivery from back in New Zealand. The key thing we learnt was the importance of establishing a relationship with the other members of the team – regardless of where they are. This helps promote things like shared goals, brainstorming, feedback etc and it also dramatically reduces conflict, animosity and miscommunication.
I also have to say that investing in really good telecommunications cannot be underestimated. I remember one interview we did with an RPA consultant who had his iPhone earbuds plugged in. All would be going well and then his microphone would rub against his beard and we’d lose everything amidst this loud rustling – mid sentence! We’ve learnt that it’s no use trying to conference call from a cellphone to a cellphone – that won’t cut it. These are significant projects, where a misunderstanding can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so you need technology to support clear understanding. We use Microsoft Teams and proper Jabra telecommunications gear.
Without going into too much detail, I have to lastly stress the importance of some basic conference call etiquette – like no side conversations, people sorting out tech before the call, clear agendas and follow-up, and probably most forgotten is the simple art of putting your device on mute when you’re not the one speaking.
Geoff: I would add too that while I thought the time difference was going to be a challenge, it’s turned into a positive. We have a cadence that works with the time zones and now we have a situation where work continues even when we knock off for the day. We have regular interactions with our clients, so it’s never long to convey information and the global team keep us informed frequently too. I think it also helps that not all of our interactions are work-related. We have social chats too. These function as the equivalent of chats around the watercooler and provide the freedom for them to raise any concerns from their side. And we’ve still got another monthly business briefing and collaboration meeting that we want to implement too.
And how about some of the successes?
Maurice: Once again, it’s not simply a matter of guys in Chennai working on projects in New Zealand; as mentioned we’ve got someone in Nelson delivering work for a major bank in Sydney, we have teams comprising of people in Auckland and people in Chennai working for several customers in New Zealand. It could even be one team member from Ohope, another from Chennai and another from Prague all working on an engagement for a company in Melbourne. It’s meant that time and space is no longer a frontier, so to speak. But we don’t wear the Star Trek suits…
This model has also enabled us to continue our growth trajectory even amidst all the COVID-curbing measures in place globally. In one case we picked up another new client over this time and have conducted structured client meetings, sorted all the required commercials, set up their infrastructure for automation, gained a full understanding of – and documented – their requirements, and have just about finished building processes all without a single in-person meeting. From all the examples mentioned here we couldn’t have been ‘importing’ this amount of existing talent in the timeframes required, and who knows how long travel restrictions will stay in place.
What has helped us be successful at this, do you think?
Maurice: The guys we’ve got are a really special bunch – really conscientious, smart and friendly. A positive attitude is essential. We’re a values-led business so, by sharing those, we’re able to make sure we’ve got great people. Our team – regardless of where they are – need to be easy to work with, and they’re striving always to be the best, to build and maintain trust, and to get stuff done.
Our other critical success factor is our knowledge sharing. Geoff mentioned this earlier, but none of us are islands of knowledge. No matter where we are in the business structure or geographically, we’re all learning constantly, and this goes out through our whole network; this ecosystem is a huge advantage to us. Geoff has worked especially hard to make sure our global team are involved in this and ensures there is a free-flow of information and feedback loops so everyone is learning and developing, regardless of where they are situated. And the learning isn’t just to do with automation either – we’re learning about each other’s countries’ cultures and business culture, while educating them on our customers’ businesses, wherever they are situated.
Geoff: I think Maurice is bang-on there – part of making sure we have the right people is ensuring they’re willing to share and help each other. All of our team realise that sharing knowledge supports our greater good and our customers businesses succeed, therefore Q4 succeeds. They have the maturity to understand that. However, I also think it’s an ethos that has come through the leadership of the business. We all realise that we are part of a big team and that we all have a part to play. Because we are still a smallish business, when people come in, they interact with everyone in the business and come to understand their strengths and areas of expertise. Everyone in the business knows they’ve got access to whoever they want in the business, whenever.
Maurice: Talk about no degrees of separation too! The other funny thing – which I don’t think is essential, but was a bizarre coincidence all the same – is that we were fortunate enough to entice Geoff over from South Africa to be part of Q4, only to then find out that he’d had previous experience working with some of the guys that we were onboarding in Chennai! And it doesn’t end there. Since day one of Q4, we had one guy in Chennai already, however when we bought on more guys, we soon discovered they had all gone to the same local school – what were the chances?! Either way, that’s probably all helped our working relationships somewhat.
Why do you care so passionately about revolutionising work – both for Q4 and your clients?
Maurice: If I look back at my life, what scares me most is not making a difference. I experienced some life-changing events, and realised I didn’t want to just plod through life. I want to enjoy what I do, and be excited to get out of bed every morning. For me, I see something fundamentally wrong with the concept of work, or more so the fact that the vast majority of people working do not know what they really enjoy doing and certainly don’t enjoy going to work every day. You only have to look at the statistics that only 10% of people surveyed in the UK wanted life to return to its pre-COVID state! Something has to change and that’s what we aim to do.
In addition to aiming for meaningful change, to me this means working with smart people who love what they do and care passionately about it. I don’t want to have a business where I need to hire others for the purpose of motivating people. I want to surround myself with self-driven experts who know what they like doing and want to be the best at it, and that’s what we’ve got.
Geoff: Our passion is our edge. It also gives us the confidence that our people will continue to learn and will provide the best advice and deliver results quicker to customers, which we need to do in an industry that is moving as quickly as this one. We need people at the top of their game. Clients know when you are just talking the talk – when you’re throwing out the big words – so it matters for us to be at the forefront and doing this stuff ourselves too. This, and our passion, ensures our clients know ‘these guys are going to try for me; they’re on my side.’
For more information about what’s been working and what our challenges have been in relation to forming teams from multiple countries, please reach out to Maurice.