Zahara – Working From Home

Home office

Working from home for the Zahara team hasn’t been a stretch so far.

We are fortunate to use some great software apps that enable us to communicate, share and collaborate quickly and easily. The team is spread out with development in Krakow and sales, support and marketing in Bath, with various team members working in different locations around the world. I thought you might like an insight into how Zahara operates when we aren’t in the office.

Technology

Microsoft Teams sits at the centre of our software world. As Office 365 users, we try and use as much of the Microsoft Estate as we can. Teams is a very neat, orderly application that allows us to use the Channels for the relevant parts of the business. Sales can natter about leads and enquiries while the support team will be riffing a customer issue. The developers will ask us blunt questions about new feature requests in the development channel. The best thing though is that we can drop into a screen share or video call with just a few clicks. Everyone works with a headset and laptop with cameras. This means you have to get up and get dressed in the mornings with the expectation being that any internal calls will be video based.

When Microsoft released their phone system, it felt like a natural thing to use within Teams. However we had also settled on using Zoom for our demonstrations. The reason for this is that not everyone is a Teams user and the simplicity of Zoom, of getting up and running and not challenging an enterprises firewall, was very appealing. If you distil it down that you are either Microsoft or Google – the Google crew with their Slack and Gsuite aren’t going to want to use a Microsoft tool! So Zoom has been great, and gives a good sharing experience. When they released their phone system we decided to migrate over from a hosted Skype for Business. The transition took far longer than it needed to but we are there now and we love the desktop and mobile experience that their phone system offers.

With Teams and Zoom being the core apps for communications, the backbone of what we use is then Zoho CRM. It works well for us. We have customised it as needed and have linked it up really well. The support team use Zoho Desk and run the customer experience through that. We introduced Zia recently – Chat with an AI out of hours bot. It’s great fun reading the the transcripts each day especially when a customer is colourful with their language.

Zapier has been an amazing tool for us. Every event that happens results in a Zap that creates an entry in our custom stats module in Zoho. This could be an invoiced raised or paid in Xero, a new support ticket opened or closed or any number of sales touches like a trial, demo or web form. Everything that happens is logged in one place so we now have a greater insight to whats going on.

Zapier and Microsoft Flow are great for creating event driven integrations. One of the things we want is less email and more notifications. Creating automated channel messages in Teams – such as “Invoice Paid” or ‘Proposal Accepted” is a really great way to work. The less noise in our email the better – Yes high street chain of shops, I am aware you are affected by the Corona Virus. We all are!

Some other great tools you would need to wrestle off us are Better Proposals and Timetastic. Both do what they say and need no further endorsement from me, other that to say great value both in terms of monthly outlay and value added to the business. One of them is far too cheap though!

A recent edition to our software estate is Monday.com We have searched high and low for a Project tool that could make on boarding and customer projects better. The majority are too expensive and too complicated but Monday is super elegant and one of those applications that puts a smile on your face.

Environment

One of the important things when working from home, especially if you are involved in front line sales or presentations, is to create the right environment with the right acoustics. I work from a basement office. It has a hard floor and a low ceiling. The acoustics were terrible. I had to bring in a rug and then hung several canvass pictures. It was still too echoey. I then added a screen in front of my desk and finally hung a curtain across the facing wall. It’s now much better. I couldn’t produce a radio show from it, but with my Plantronics Blackwire headset on I sound better. The other thing I had to do was fix my lighting. I had a spot light right above my desk that illuminated my bald spot. It was cheaper to swap the spot light for an angled down-lighter than head off to Turkey for a hair transplant. I’m now in softer lighting which is better for someone of my age. I had a video call with a customer recently and he was by his office window. All I could see was his shadow. He looked like he was in witness protection and I was the Panorama interviewer. We can do better people! Get your environment right – and check for mirrors if you aren’t dressing professionally each day!

With all the right tools behind us, working from home is something that’s easy to do but making it enjoyable is something else. Here is my recommendations for this:

  • Get up on time and dress for work – be business ready
  • See faces as often as possible – use Video calls every time
  • Have some fun – encourage nonsense chats in your channels – comment and be part of the team
  • Send video messages to the teams as well – if you are a leader, lead from the front and let the teams know how you are doing
  • Have regular Video team catch ups
  • Have someone different do a morning message and evening sign off message

Some things that really aren’t going to work well on video – and I’ve heard people are trying them - are virtual happy hours and virtual Deliveroo meals together. That’s just weird! We may be holed up in our homes but we have our dignity. No one wants to have a close up of us eating.

I hope this blog is helpful. If you are adjusting to working from home then you will soon get the hang of it. Life may be changed for ever after the Virus leaves us for good but we can all take the best of our new experiences and apply that for the future. In the accounts and finance world, perhaps Zahara would be part of your new experience.Start your free trial today

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