Transitioning to Online Tools

Although our two Gemstone Logistics locations in Sherwood Park have been quiet as we continue to work from home, everyone is busier than ever thanks to our continued growth over the past year. Our team members aren’t buzzing around the office and dropping by other Gems’ desks quite yet, but they are managing to stay up to date by communicating and working on projects virtually.

Like any business in the COVID-19 era, we have had to pivot our day-to-day work online and this hasn’t come without some challenges. However, our teams came into the pandemic with two main advantages. First, as a technology-focused organization, we already had many of the systems and tools in place for virtualized work. Second, we have strategically hired true Gems who are willing to adapt to new situations.

Despite all the advantages, we did need to implement and train Gems to use several tools very quickly and have been using them since.

The Three Challenges

The challenges that have come with transitioning to virtual work have been threefold. The main processes affected by moving away from in-person work were:

  • Communications
  • Scheduling
  • Project management

Communication Tools

Our team adopted an all-in-one virtual communication tool right away to replace all of the meetings, chats, calls, and collaboration that an in-person workday would normally involve. The tool is very versatile and includes video, voice, document collaboration, and a team chat app.

Our internal teams were focused on finding ways to maintain an ongoing dialogue that mimics those fluid workplace desk drop-ins and collaborations that the physical space of a workplace provides. There aren’t opportunities to walk up to someone’s desk and quickly work out a problem, or even to sit down with someone to collaborate directly on a project. To bridge this gap, many of our teams keep a virtual chat open throughout the day. It’s a tool that has brought them as close as possible to direct collaboration. In addition to bringing up questions or ideas as they arise, teams can easily screenshare and work on items simultaneously.

Although chat features have filled in many of the spaces in our day-to-day communications, one remaining challenge is the loss of auditory and visual cues. Our teams quickly remembered how much the tone of a message can change the content of a message. To make sure nothing was missed, we committed to meeting via virtual conferencing tools whenever possible. Many of our teams have impromptu video chats throughout the day, and many others have set daily meetings to stay up to date on projects and just to ask about each other’s weekends, families, and wellbeing.

Although our internal communication software was serving us well because we used it consistently, some of our teams found the tool wasn’t always accessible to all clients. As a result, some teams chose different and more simplified tools to reach out to clients. Others have preferred to keep everything in one place, and, at the end of the day, everyone has the flexibility to choose what works best for them.

Scheduling Tools

Once virtual communications were taken care of, it presented our next challenge, which was time management and scheduling. Planning specific time for project work and communications in advance had become more important than ever. Working hours had changed due to added responsibilities at home, and sometimes even a five-minute chat needed to be marked down on a calendar to make sure everyone was available and in the right place.

We quickly implemented calendar sharing to help us align our schedules easily for meetings. This allows us to see everyone’s availability and work hours, so we can spend less time setting up meetings and more time meeting!

Project Management Tools

Our digital project management tools were already well-established before March of 2020 sent us all to our home offices. However, we relied on them more heavily for even the smallest projects and processes.

Project management tools have been especially important in executing and implementing projects. As Woren Braidwood, one of our support desk analysts, points out, aligning project work has been a challenge in the virtual world. Passing work from one person to another to ensure everyone’s expertise has been applied is difficult when you can’t shuffle papers onto someone’s desk. However, it has been made easier with an all-in-one system that allows team members to comment, share documents, and tag one another. This has led to more refined step-by-step processes and, in some cases, has even created more efficiencies than before.

Our Tools and Teams

There are many types of tools available, but nothing quite matches the human component of technology. From the outset, Gems participated in other meetings to learn what fellow team members were using in terms of software, tools, and strategies. This has also helped them stay up to date with other team members and be flexible with scheduling meetings. Thanks to regular communication, any minor glitches in technology have been sorted out quickly.

Now that most of the Gemstone team has finally gotten used to the work-from-home routine, there’s a chance that we’ll be moving back into the office very soon. However, the virtual project management and communication skills we built through this time will carry through into the future. In fact, despite the challenges of the year, Gemstone has been able to continue building a great team, even at a distance, thanks to virtual training!