Remote Collaboration at the GDF

The appearance of Covid-19 has brought several changes to the business landscape. Probably the most significant is the trend to move from stationary work to home office. Meanwhile, almost half of all office workers operate permanently from home. In comparison: According to a research, before Covid-19, only 23% of these employees worked from home just one day a week.

Our daily business at GDF has also changed - BUT our greatest mission stays untouched: Developing digital solutions that focus on the customer and support Allianz Entities worldwide running their daily business.

For creating comprehensive frontends, constant and intense collaboration of development, design and project management is the key. Our teams faced the challenge to translate their agile, multidisciplinary work approach as well as the open culture into a digital form.

The process towards remote collaboration has also led to a set of learnings. With different approaches, rules and methods we can now respond to the general and individual requirements of different projects.

1. Tools Tools Tools

In the beginning of Covid-19, we already had some knowledge of remote working and already made use of it but only in combination with face-to-face communication. To collaborate completely digitally there was a lot to try, to test, to proceed and to decide on tools and workflows cooperatively. Basically, there are of course countless digital collaboration tools that facilitate remote collaboration. Some of them are designed for chat or video communication, others for design or visualization. Different design tools for example allow to create online prototypes that can be tested by a variety of users and stakeholders or to centralize design decisions, feedback and files.

For an agile and iterative work approach, it was especially important that tools are used, which are easily accessible and quick to adapt.

Remember, whenever a workshop took place before Covid-19 it was normal to have it face-to-face. After the workshop the content could easily be transferred into a digital platform for example Confluence. Now, the workshop is already taking place remotely via a digital collaboration tool. So the requirement is to use a tool that offers all relevant functions to conduct a workshop and which is also compatible with the digital platform, in this case Confluence.

Every project has individual requirements that need to be considered. At GDF, we always pay attention to the balance between our corporate tools and those that are helpful for the specific projects.

Btw: You can find out more about our everyday tools here!

BUT a balanced landscape of digital collaboration tools is not the whole solution.

2. Changing Meeting Concepts  

Digital collaboration tools help us keep in touch formally, but what about the interpersonal contact? A short conversation with the team, daily small talk at the coffee machine or having lunch together. Very important social actions that cannot be dismissed just like that. How do new employees get to know the team? How can a team leader be aware of the current state of mind of his team members? How can a cross-topic exchange take place? How can people still maintain the feeling “we are many and we all contribute to the success of our team” when they don’t interact on the daily basis? As you can see, it is not only about how we collaborate together it is also about how we interact in general.
We established daily routines dedicated to the purpose of informal communication. 15 minutes a day our daily stand up meetings via video conference, allow the whole team to exchange private or business related topics, share wishes or suggestions and simply get into conversation with team colleagues. Sometimes check-in/out questions were used to invite people to be present and remote energizer were used to drive engagement.
In weekly team meetings the team leader informs about organizational topics and asks how the team is doing. Accordingly digital workspaces are opened to collect new ideas and allow the team to bring in proactive input.

3. Meeting Rules

Hand gestures, a smile or a critical facial expression - it is quite normal in face-to-face meetings to interpret concerns of the participants through body language and visual communication.  Of course, it is more difficult to do this remotely.

A very typical video call situation: about 10 participants, not all of them started their video or dialed in by phone. There is a topic to discuss and two participants start speaking at the same time. In order to be polite, both start or stop talking at once. It is difficult to have a fluent conversation without organizational interruptions. A few simple meeting rules we use can be very helpful to avoid this:

  • If someone wants to say something, they will post a "+" in the chat function shortly before.
  • In every major meeting, two people are designated to facilitate: one to moderate and one to keep an eye on the discussions and requests in the chat.
  • We strategically use interruptions, such as switching between two tools, to increase the participants' attention. It forces them be present and active.

Digital Onboarding: An employees‘ Experience  

Now we know how experienced employees solved the situation. But how is it for new employees? Isn't it a bit strange to start in a new job without meeting your team colleagues face-to-face? No, it is absolutely not. Our communications working student Darleen started working at the GDF during this time and gives us a brief insight in her digital onboarding experience:

"Right before my first day at the GDF, I was excited and also a bit skeptical about how it all would work remotely. Until then I only knew my direct supervisor and I only knew him through a video call. Of course, I didn't have any work equipment like in the office a workstation with my own computer.

In the morning of my first day the doubts quickly went away. First of all, I was given all relevant access, so that I could set up my laptop at home. I received a personal introduction to each tool and the most important processes via Video Call. Already in the afternoon I could start with my first tasks. Everything was well prepared and also written down for me, so that I could have a look in the documents if necessary.

I also quickly got to know the team. In the daily stand ups I was able to introduce myself and also get a quick overview of who is responsible for what. Everyone was super nice and helpful! Despite digital onboarding I have settled in very well and very soon."

Have your own onboarding experience and check out our current job vacancies!