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How to cut the fat from your workflow and become a lockdown-proof team

Covid-19 is posing content teams a double-headed challenge. The first is how to make the best of the current circumstances and carry on operating even amid the obvious limitations of lockdown.

The second is how to plan for the mid-term future, given the likelihood of significant changes to the working environment for the foreseeable future.

While many of us have got used to working in leaner operations and without the usual tools and resources, what happens next? By experimenting with how your team collaborates, communicates and experiments, you can cut the fat from your team’s workflow and become a lean lockdown-proof team.

1. Refine your tech stack

If you haven’t done so already, you need to give some thought to formalising the tech stack that you and your colleagues need to run your lean, home-working operation.

Think about which specialist technologies and which general tools you need to keep going – for example, whether Zoom, Skype or another teleconferencing provider best fits your team’s needs. Are some of you using Dropbox and Google Drive, and others working from OneDrive? Are team conversations getting fragmented across Slack, WhatsApp and Basecamp?

At Speak, for example, we’ve trimmed our content-focused stack down to three core apps: Basecamp for top-level project management and comms; Airtable for editorial planning and tracking; and GatherContent for authoring, proofing and approvals. And, of course, like everyone else we’re still flitting between WhatsApp and HouseParty for all-important virtual social interaction, including ‘Friday beers’.

Perhaps lockdown has seen colleagues identify useful new tools – should these be rolled out across your team, or have some of them been incompatible? How well might they work back in the office? Refining your tech stack for a more streamlined workflow, and working with your IT support team to ensure smooth roll out and remote training for any new apps will help ensure your team can get on with what they do best.

2. Innovate with your working day

Home working undoubtedly has downsides – but one significant benefit for many is that they’ve regained the time previously spent commuting, providing new opportunities to change working patterns. After all, there’s no rule saying that we are only ever productive between 9am and 5.30pm.

Some of your team might appreciate the opportunity to start working earlier, or later, or have longer breaks during the day. Some may value flexibility over routine, or vice versa. Balancing those preferences is crucial – flexibility need not mean unreliability, nor should an overly strict routine be a rod for your back. Clear communication is key – keep discussing this with your team, be open to new ideas and always keep productivity (and client deadlines!) in mind as the overall goal.

3. Be more efficient with team meetings

Remember how much people disliked those long meetings you used to have in the office? Do some of your virtual meetings risk taking on the same, meandering form?

In these leaner times, little and often is much more the order of the day. Virtual meetings should be covered off in 10 to 15 minutes, and you might want to hold them in both the morning and afternoon to ensure everyone is powering on. Refine the format so that you are maintaining accountability on tasks and continuously encouraging productivity rather than eating into people’s stretched time. And of course, use them as an opportunity to chat and enjoy each other’s company, but don’t let that get out of hand!

At Speak – in the absence of physical meetings – we’ve upped our ‘facetime’ with clients. These short, sharp check-ins allow us to stay up to date with their thinking in this rapidly changing ‘new normal’, and to have those conversations about how to respond that just aren’t possible over email.

4. Get used to interviewing virtually

Video or voice interviews have inevitably become more difficult under lockdown. If you’ve not already, we advise taking a leaf out of the broadcast media’s book and recording interviews with people direct from video conferencing channels or even webinars. You could also ask them to record their own audio on their phone as a backup and send it to you afterwards.

Here and here are a couple of videos that we produced for Barclays, showing you how to turn home-produced video content into something more polished. While the high production values you once aimed for may take a hit, the people consuming that content understand the situation, and are going to cut you some slack.

5. Develop your freelance network – at home, and beyond

Now that we’re all virtual teams, look for ways to extend the capabilities of your virtual team by bringing in freelance help. This more flexible resource could be preferable to making full-time hires in the current climate, and these freelancers will often be used to home working.

Virtual working also means that location is irrelevant – turn this to your advantage. We recently developed a publication for a client which required swift turnaround, so used the skills of a proofreader based in Australia to help us to clean up our copy while we were all in bed. This massively helped us to hit deadlines that we might have struggled with had we not looked beyond the UK for talent.

6. Keep a sense of lockdown perspective

As a content professional, you may have had a safer, more comfy lockdown experience of home working, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Content you create needs to avoid generalising about what has been a difficult time for different people in many different ways. Similarly, while some people will have taken positives from lockdown or want to create change as Covid-19 passes, these views won’t be shared by everyone.

This is particularly true as different businesses and sectors leave lockdown at different times and in different ways. A piece of content which feels relevant in development this week might not still be fresh if it only publishes next week – keep an eye on the news and think ahead.

Written by Caroline Rothery, consultant at marketing agency Speak Media

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