As we have our head office based in Western Australia (which has been relatively unaffected by COVID-19 compared to other parts of the world), we are in the unusual and enviable position of being able to operate as close to ‘normal’ as possible again with COVID-19 very much contained in the state.
From March to July we opted for all our staff to work from home (WFH), and over the past few months since then, to November, many of our people have been returning to the office – albeit with some slightly different working arrangements for some; based on our lessons learned during the WFH period.
We asked our Managing Director Mark Batina to share his main challenges and key takeaways from the experiences of this year as a leader, and what he thinks the impacts will be for our business and the industry moving forward.
How do you feel about returning somewhat to ‘normality’ in the workplace – at least in our head office?
I am glad to have a chance to start interacting face-to-face with both our team and local customers again.
What were your biggest learning/takeaways personally from the experience of working from home?
We can collectively be very efficient and focused when out of the office, and the technology supporting collaboration works when we need it to. However, the importance of making sure people stay connected to their colleagues and still feel part of the ‘whole’ of Precise (Precise Business Solutions) is really important – whether we are physically in the same space or working away from the office regularly.
What contributed to the success of being able to have the whole team work remotely?
Two things. Technology is the obvious first one – not just tools like MS Teams that let us talk to and see each other, but other task and process-oriented platforms that helped keep us all connected and aware of what is happening around us and accountable to our customers and teammates.
The second is the way the whole company embraced the challenges together, without exception, accepting what needed to be done when asked and being proactive to help others without being asked.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the accelerated pace at which we were all executing tasks has very rapidly ingrained these traits even further in how we do things – that’s one of the great positives out of the whole experience .
What adjustments had to be made?
We had to focus very much on core activities that supported our customers – and that meant some of the innovation and future-building projects we had underway had to be put on hold. We also chose to invest capital in keeping our people rather than cutting heads to reduce cost in line with the fall in revenue.
We have worked so hard over a long time to build this talented group and help them grow into industry and product experts for the markets we serve, and we wanted to avoid losing that if at all possible.
What were the main challenges we faced as a business and that you faced as a leader and how did you overcome them?
It’s always a challenge as a business leader to stay calm and positive in a complete sea of uncertainty…or at least appearing that way! Being a “calm presence” for everyone I think was good for the team and really good for me because I really tuned out the distractions and focused on keeping us alive and motivating the team to work as effectively as they could, given their own individual concerns about health and job security, as our world closed in around us so quickly.
How do you feel our experiences during this time as a software company differ from those of other types of businesses?
We are a software company, but our software only exists to help our customers work better – and we only exist to help them get the most out of the solutions they use. So I think for our customers the real basics of information availability and integrity, control over process, working as lean as possible by dealing with exceptions and satisfying their needs of their customers as quickly as possible became even more important.
That meant that we had to be super responsive and proactive about how they could quickly implement small changes that could have significant impact.
Other businesses that had to try to navigate collapsing global supply chains and closed borders and the like had a really tough couple of months – not so much right away but once the initial demand they were already servicing started to get fulfilled.
COVID-19 may be pretty much over in WA, but it’s not over in other parts of the country or for our customers around the world. What will be the challenges moving forward, if any?
Firstly, it’s way too early to say it’s over in WA. Other parts of the world (even in our own country) have shown us how easy a ‘second wave’ – although I think that is way too simplistic a term – can arrive.
I think we have to accept that this thing will be with us for a very long time, even with vaccines arriving for the broad community though (optimistically and at best) 2021.
We have to learn how to mitigate the impacts and quickly react to local suppression and that’s going to mean continued disruption to local, let alone international trade, travel, and supply. I think many advanced economies will re-gear themselves for greater supply chain independence, and that will take investing in technology to be able to do it quickly and cost-effectively.
Have you made any changes in the business, in the way you work with customers or in the way you work as a result of this experience?
We are even more customer experience focused I think. We need to be even more careful about aligning expectations between us and our customers and working together with the agreed view that a given “thing” – a particular process or tailored workflow or complex dashboard or whatever – doesn’t have to be perfect to get it into service as quickly as possible.
Accurate: yes, maintain data integrity: certainly. But it doesn’t have to cover every single eventuality or input to be able to make a big difference and getting 80% or 90% of the use case covered quickly is better than 100% a long time in the future.
What advice would you give to other similar software companies who will be finding their bearings when COVID-19 settles down in their parts of the world?
Successful businesses always know where the customers want to go, even if sometimes the customers don’t yet.
Technology in the Industry 4.0 generation is evolving so quickly that that term itself is almost passé. We have to help our customers emerge from these strangest of times as strong as possible but be ready to help them take the next leap into Business Transformation.
As a software company if that isn’t where your thinking and products are at then you’d better start innovating and get educated, or you’ll find yourself rapidly becoming redundant and your customers moving on to someone can help them climb that next mountain peak.