From XU Magazine, 
Issue 23

Early cloud adoption helps global architecture firm dwp thrive

This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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We recently caught up with global architecture heavyweight dwp (design worldwide partnership), who have 300 staff and offices in 12 countries around the world. Currently located in Australia, Asia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East, this large organisation is reaping the rewards of a decision they made just over two years ago to become a 100% cloud-based business. Switching from a legacy ERP system to using Xero and WorkflowMax has saved them over 50% on subscription fees in the process.

The philosophy that architecture and design is simple, elegant and timeless is at the heart of everything they do. Proud of their entrepreneurial spirit, dwp isn’t afraid to push boundaries and face new challenges using cutting edge collaborative, sustainable and creative design technology. The team has a huge skillset in hospitality, workplace and educational design, and thinks about all their projects through a hospitality and lifestyle lens.

We asked dwp’s Group Creative Director, Scott Whittaker about the role that technology – specifically Xero and WorkflowMax – has played in their business every day and in the transition from working in the office to working at home during COVID-19.

Scott says, “For business owners, using cloud solutions like Xero and WorkflowMax can mean greater transparency and accountability for management and teams alike. Whether it’s granular insight into how the business is performing at a project level, or information on which clients haven’t paid yet, being able to access productivity, performance and project data in real-time, from anywhere is key to survival and business continuity.”

Cloud solutions Xero & WorkflowMax were key to a smooth home office transition

Over the last two years, dwp put in the time, effort, and planning to become a 100% cloud business, which was instrumental in the smooth transition to working remotely, “We’d already digitised all our systems and processes. It certainly meant that we could shut down 12 offices at the speed of light on a Friday afternoon, send everyone home and be completely back up and running, business as usual, the following Monday. I just don’t think that speed and agility would have been possible without having such a solid tech solution and all the virtual communication tools already in place”, he says.

The team has experienced very little impact on productivity levels, while seeing improvements in employee morale. “Being able to give two or three hours back of travel time to our team members has meant there’s a new quality of work-life balance that wasn’t visible before. People are happier,” says Scott.

Plus, even in the midst of the global pandemic and working from home, dwp in collaboration with designphase dba, launched a new office in the financial and tourism hotspot of Singapore, something they’re really proud of.

Fostering a sense of virtual belonging

As the team transitioned to working remotely, dwp made it a priority to create new ways for their team to stay connected. “In the early days of the pandemic we made a point of over-communicating with our teams. We created an online structure for each office to check in with senior management each morning, plus the project teams would check in at lunchtime and at the end of the day . We lived by this structure religiously and created a ritual of ‘meeting and greeting’ which fostered a real sense of community between our people and all our offices. Plus, we included fun elements and social catch ups to build a strong sense of belonging. In fact, I think I know more about our people now and how the business is performing than ever before and we all feel more connected,” says Scott.

Real-time performance and productivity data is invaluable

Scott led the charge for change and the change management process within the organisation and says that Xero and WorkflowMax have revolutionised how they work and interpret the project data. In the past year, dwp consulted with a WorkflowMax developer who has built a set of robust dashboards that shows all team members an up-to-date picture of how their projects are progressing, the financial performance of the project, the team on the job and how they are tracking against project deadlines. Being able to access this kind of data from anywhere has been invaluable for their clients, job performance and teams. In fact dwp Chairman, David Rose, wrote a letter to everyone in the organisation to say how grateful he was that they had made the decision to move to cloud technology as it’s held dwp in good stead to not only be able to survive, but to thrive during this time.

The continual process of optimisating the tech stack

In a global business like dwp, with over 300 staff plus contractors distributed around the world, training and support are a huge part of transitioning and optimising new software. “If your staff don’t buy into the dream, the solution won’t get used, and all that time and money has gone to waste. Implementation is only one part of it – there is constant training and support afterwards to make sure everyone can use it, run it and be happy with it,” says Scott.

Scott reflects on the value of working with a group of experts from the start to make sure you implement, refine and optimise the systems that support the growth of the business. “We worked with Paul Gardner and the team from Fresh Accounting to roll out Xero and WorkflowMax worldwide starting off by implementing Xero. We both learnt a lot during the process. Scott says, “Paul’s positive way of doing business, managing the change process for our team, and sharing the vision with key stakeholders has meant we can keep iterating and refining our systems and use of the technology to make data-driven decisions.”

The new normal - learning from this experience

It’s not often that as a business you get 8-10 weeks to reassess what’s important and what’s unnecessary in your operations. Early on in the pandemic, dwp created dwp Imagine, a platform for their teams to share and provide feedback about this experience to build their new normal post COVID-19. Scott says, “As a result of the feedback, it’s highly likely we won’t go back to all our normal processes. There are a number of new initiatives we are validating right now. We’re looking to implement a two to three day work week with certain days in the office together to manage and avoid the creative blocks that can sometimes happen when working remotely. We want to include more job flexibility for our people, which will require a change in our management style too. We’ll be staggering the return to offices and in some locations we will not be renewing leases and looking to downsize office space. In our key Asian head offices of Bangkok and Vietnam, we plan to create colab environments where other suppliers and like-minded businesses in our industry can come and connect with our teams, and use our cloud infrastructure and office space as meeting and coworking hubs. We think this is a great way to foster more collaboration, build better relationships and grow our own ecosystem.”

WorkflowMax hacks for working remotely

Using the right technology, processes and communication strategies are essential to keeping things running as close to business-as-usual as possible. Here are some ideas to keep the momentum going:

1) Make it easy to access job information

If your team is using multiple methods to manage job progress (spreadsheets, cloud storage, email and paper documents), this information can become hard to track down or it could get lost as people move between systems.

  • As a starting point, your team should be able to easily access:
  • Which jobs and tasks they’ve been assigned
  • How much time should be allocated to each job
  • Start date and end dates, and major milestones for all jobs they’re working on
  • How to track time and costs and allocate them to the appropriate job
  • Upcoming, in progress, on hold, or cancelled jobs
  • A job management system (like WorkflowMax) lets you manage your entire job cycle in one place and gives you a single point of truth for all job-related data.

2) Keep a precise record of time (and other job data)

Being diligent about recording time and costs is a team effort. Right now is a great time to re-establish timesheet and cost tracking best practices.

Here are some things you could put in place:

  • Set expectations regarding when employees should be filling out timesheets (as work is completed, on a daily basis, etc)
  • A cut-off time for timesheet submission (do employees need to submit more often?)
  • The level of detail required in a timesheet (do time logs need to be more descriptive?)
  • Job-specific requirements (like cost centre allocations)
  • Keeping track of unbillable hours and costs so you can manage resource planning and overhead expenses

To help motivate everyone to do their part, make it as easy as possible for your team to track and submit job time and costs. Job management and time tracking software offer different ways to track employee time (including desktop and mobile apps, daily and weekly timesheets and built-in timers to record time as work is in progress) and then automatically allocate that time to the appropriate job.

3) Maintain a balanced workload

When you can’t see your team sitting across from you, it can be easy to lose a line of sight into what everyone is working on and assess your team’s capacity to take on work.

Here’s what you can do to keep the balance:

  • Develop a process for monitoring your team’s capacity
  • Make adjustments to current, recurring and future jobs more frequently
  • Use a job management solution or scheduling app to get better visibility

4) Establish job milestones to keep your team on track

While it’s clearly important to monitor your team’s completion of individual tasks, when your team is physically dispersed it’s critical to establish and track against job milestones.

Common examples of job milestones include:

  • Start and end dates
  • Budget checks
  • Draft due dates
  • External or internal reviews
  • Tests or inspections
  • Setting milestones

5) Measure job performance regularly

Accurate reporting gives you insights into productivity, performance, workflow and profitability that can inform business decisions.

Customising a set of reports can help you answer questions like:

  • Are our current jobs on budget?
  • Are employees completing work as efficiently? Which employees are the most productive? Who might need some extra support or training?
  • Which jobs are the most profitable? Are any jobs more work than they’re worth?
  • How do our estimated hours compare to our actuals? Are we on track with what we quoted?
  • How much money have we generated?

6) Make time for non-work related conversation

When you can no longer rely on morning coffee banter and the lunch table to connect with your colleagues, it can make it hard to feel like you’re part of a team!

Try some of these strategies:

  • Implement 15-minute team syncs every morning to catch up. Encourage everyone to have their cameras on so you can pick up on non-verbal cues like body language, tone of voice and appearance to get a sense of how everyone is feeling
  • Start every scheduled meeting with 5-10 minutes of small talk before you get into the topic at hand
  • Host an optional remote happy hour or team activity at the end of each week. Play virtual games, do trivia, start a book club, or anything else that helps keep your team connected

Formally scheduling time to not talk about work may seem counterproductive to staying on top of jobs, but informal social time often forms the glue that keeps your team working together cohesively.

7) Be supportive of your team’s mental and physical health

Working on your own, especially when you’re used to an office working environment, can pose serious challenges to one’s mental and physical health. According to a recent report, remote employees are more susceptible to working longer hours and feeling ‘always on’ due to blurred boundaries between work and personal life.

To keep your team feeling happy and healthy (and therefore empowered to stay on top of their work), consider the following tips:

  • Promote flexible working times to accommodate different household schedules
  • Encourage regular breaks! Research shows that short breaks have many benefits for employee wellbeing, including improved productivity, better sleep and reduced stress
  • Organise wellbeing activities for your team like yoga, meditation and sharing healthy recipes
  • Do one of Xero’s wellbeing courses to help with work/life balance, stress and resilience.

This content is an excerpt from a recent blog post by Paige Sopik. Read the full version here.

Why leave it there?

Find out how WorkflowMax can help your business work remotely and stay connected to your people:

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