Adrian Girling, managing director of Graphisoft, which develops BIM and CAD software for architects and designers, explains how the company has benefited from the remote working shift.
With coronavirus we were slightly ahead of the curve. We could see the direction of travel globally and started preparations early. We had our entire global business working remotely within two days, just over a week before the UK’s lockdown announcement.
We wanted to make sure that staff and customers were protected. By being early, we had time to test our systems. When lockdown happened, we were ready to support customers rather than worrying about our own business.
We offered customers emergency ARCHICAD licences and free access to BIMcloud, our cloud-based collaborative tool. We know that in the longer-term customers might go back to their own solution, but for us, it was about helping people move seamlessly from the office to their home. We’ve been pleased with the feedback and we haven’t had any technical issues – it’s been a great test of our infrastructure which has remained fast and stable.
Our biggest concern during planning was with the helpdesk. We expected a surge in calls, and sure enough, we had over 300 calls in the first three days. It was all hands-on deck, with our senior team and other staff taking support calls around the clock. However, after the initial surge it soon went back to normal, and in fairness, many of our customers were already well prepared.
A lot of the problems have been down to processes rather than technology. We had one customer who couldn’t access their system because they’d left their passwords on a notepad that was locked in the managing partner’s desk!
It’s been an interesting experience for Graphisoft culturally, with everyone adapting at different speeds to the new working style. We expected productivity to dip in those early days, but it was not the case. People have welcomed the opportunity to work in a way that best suits their circumstances and preferences.
I do miss the ad hoc, face-to-face time with the team, but regular video calls have kept us connected. In some ways we probably speak more! It’s also helped the business globally. I spend more time speaking to my colleagues in other countries and our CEO does a weekly update with all staff on a Friday afternoon, which is more social in tone rather than focusing on corporate messaging.
The biggest difference has been with our customers. Our sales and training processes were based on face to face contact, so everyone has had to adjust. This has largely been a mental thing. The expectation was that people needed to be in a room together for training or demonstrations to be effective. However, this process has built confidence in our trainers, clients and prospects that it can work remotely. I think in some respects it is more engaging because it feels personal to delegates – it is happening on their own screen rather than on a shared display in a meeting room.
I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call for the industry. Architects have realised that they can successfully work remotely, with much more flexibility. The technology was always there but people weren’t ready for the psychological leap. It’s fair to say that both have been tested now and it’s hard to imagine things going back to how they were. Many companies will be reviewing office and travel costs and will want to keep the savings, and staff will have seen the benefits of being at home.
That said, this period has demonstrated the value of the office. We will go back, and it will be a gradual return, with a mix between people working from home and in the office.
There will always be a need for physical events too. For example, we run an annual three-day user conference. It’s impossible to transfer this online as you can’t get the same engagement and focus for anything more than an hour or two using virtual conference facilities.
Overall, I think the main positive from this time is the greater personal connections and relationships that we have built with our staff and customers. I think it will stand us in good stead as a business in the future.