Marion Eickmann, CEO of agile42 tells us about creating a work environment that provides a better work-life balance for all.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marion Eickmann: It’s hard, due to different local rules we could not see our family in Italy, for example, but everybody is healthy, and we did not lose anybody.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded agile42.
Marion Eickmann: Andrea Tomasini and I started back in 2007 and wanted to create a work environment that provided a better work-life balance for our colleagues and also for us. Of course, the first years have been hard, and the consulting business is based on being at the client. As you can imagine, this requires a lot of nights in hotels, flights, and being away from home. Creating a balanced work environment was quite challenging. Remote work was mostly not an option even though agile42 is based in many countries, and internally we often worked and innovated in a virtual way.
That enabled us quite fast to change to remote work with our clients. However, for most clients, that was not as eases for us, and it was and still is difficult to plan and schedule our coaching services over the days.
How does agile42 innovate?
Marion Eickmann: Before corona, we met with all coaches every 2 months for 2 days to learn from each other, share experiences, and innovate on new ideas. And in addition, once a year we went all (colleagues, partners and kids from more than 10 countries) to a sunny location for one week. We called it the Innovation Sprint. During this week, we brainstormed, challenged, and designed many ideas and products. Our last Innovation Sprint was in 2019 in Morocco, and its topic was: Making money from the coach. And guess what, we worked on online training formats, a workshop which are engaging even remotely and many other things… Somehow this prepared us for Covid without knowing what would come 8 months after the Innovation Sprint.
In addition, we changed our business model and created revenue streams that are related but still new to our classical business. We helped our clients to get going remotely and consolidated our community to provide content and knowledge globally. And more to come as we go and see. That’s what it means to be a resilient organization.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marion Eickmann: Be careful what you wish for. Traveling and staying in hotels away from family and friends has been the biggest burden for every coach/consultant. Now we are all working from home remotely, and my colleagues often say they wish they could be away from home…
The other thing is the scheduling. We are working with many clients in the same week, and while before we were onsite by day now, we need to schedule hours or blocks of hours. The coordination for the coaches is much higher and consumes quite some time. Our clients are facing the same problem, of course, and so things are more complex now. However, the good thing is that international collaboration works very good and distributed teams are not an issue anymore. As soon as all people in, e.g. a workshop are remote, it works perfectly. Just don’t make a mistake and mix remote people with attendees sitting in the same room. Communication works so differently and can’t be combined. I believe being able to work remote is a great advantage which we should keep. It protects the environment and is often much more productive too.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marion Eickmann: Yes, we did. Our Canadian office had to close down since the clients there canceled everything in March 2020, and many offices in Europe and South Africa suffered from the project, which was put on hold. However, our long-term relationship and trust we have in some bigger clients provided us with enough revenue to bring us through the first month. Also, the European governments have been supporting companies and still do in order to bridge financial gaps.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Marion Eickmann: First of all, trust, collaboration, and the feeling of “we are here to stay” made us survive and create something even better. Of course, tools like Zoom, Slack, or Thinkific helped a lot with communication. Electronical “Noice” is the biggest risk and creates a lot of stress, but with good rules and the understanding that talking face to face is important, we managed and still manage to improve our way of working.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marion Eickmann: I always say the market is big enough and the competition is good.
Your final thoughts
Marion Eickmann: I think we need to see and focus on the good thing which comes out of this crisis. For example, I talk much more with friends all over the world; I appreciate flying again, and many things which were obvious become important again.
However, I believe we need to find better ways. We are international – all of us – and we need to find global ways and rules to cope with the pandemic in a better way. Not seeing parents, kids, or friends should not be the solution. I am confident the governments are working on it, but it feels like not together.