Key findings of the evaluation
Relevance of remote assignments: meeting the needs and requirements of the SEC Clients
Also in 2021, the remote assignments seem to have largely met clients’ expectations and needs in terms of content and output. However, the relevance of remote assignments depends on the client and expert discussing expectations and goals for the remote assignment either before or at the very start of the assignment. Often, topics submitted by clients need to be adjusted to be suitable for a remote assignment.
Most clients stated an interest and need for a follow-up assignment. While this indicates their satisfaction with the received remote consultancy, half the SEC clients stated a preference for practical on-site support for their follow-up assignment.
Efficiency of remote assignment: use of resources and achievement of planned outputs
Satisfaction with the implementation of the remote assignments:
SEC clients who had remote assignments in 2021 showed a high overall satisfaction, with 90% of the interviewed SEC clients rating the implementation of the remote assignments as “good” or “excellent”.
The main reasons for their satisfaction were professionalism, expertise, availability, and openness of the experts to share their experience and knowledge with them.
SEC experts who carried out remote assignments in 2021 were less satisfied with the implementation, showing an overall satisfaction of 66%. The lower satisfaction is attributable to the difficulty in connecting with the client (personally and technically), and the reluctance of some clients to implement SEC experts’ recommendations.
Communication, contact frequency, assignment duration:
For the remote communication with each other, the Clients and the SEC Expert used different tools and formats for specific purposes:
|Virtaul meetings and Ad-hoc exchange and phone calls
|Zoom, Skype and Messenger services such as WhatsApp
|Sharing formal information and documents
|Documenting work environment
The main technical challenge that SEC clients and experts encountered during their exchanges was unstable internet connectivity. On occasion, the language barrier, or the expert’s lack of the understanding of the client’s context rendered the exchange difficult.
Most SEC clients and experts met virtually once or twice a week. Both SEC clients and experts appreciated the flexibility to find a rhythm of exchange that suited them best.
Even though more than half of the remote assignments had to be extended, 72% of the clients perceived the duration of the remote assignment as just right. There was general agreement among experts that the duration of an assignment should be kept flexible, depending on the topics, as well as on the pace of implementation.
Comparison to on-site assignments:
SEC clients and experts noted the advantages and disadvantages of remote assignments:
- No costs for SEC clients
- Facilitation of access to expert advice to SMEs with limited financial means
- Flexibility in organizing meetings
- Higher attendance rate due to scheduled meetings
- More time available to gather and prepare necessary information
- Difficulties in efficiently identifying and understanding client’s need and context
- Limited number of participants
- Lack of feeling/ verification for the client’s capacity to understand the content
- Limited efficiency due to lack of observation, feeling and witnessing products/services/processes
Coordination of remote assignments:
Most SEC coordinators invest more resources in preparing and accompanying a remote assignment than an on-site assignment. Despite some process improvements and the omission of accommodation, the workload increased for the SEC coordinators as the verification of the information given clients and an assessment of their commitment levels, as well as the training in remote working and online tools took more time.
This also held true for the accompanying of the remote assignments, which according to the SEC coordinators needed more or even many more resources compared to on-site assignments due to a higher frequency of meetings, the longer duration of remote assignments and the more intense follow-ups. On the other hand, this also led to closer monitoring and time management. Record keeping also improved.
Effectiveness of remote assignment: contribution to increased capacities and behaviour change
Most SEC clients were either satisfied or even highly satisfied with the achievements of their remote assignments. In some cases the clients’ expectations were even exceeded. Flexibility in adjusting assignment objectives in case of unexpected problems was key to this.
Some clients observed early signs of tangible changes in their business performance such as:
- improved HR management,
- more efficient processes,
- improved product quality,
- product diversification or diversified distribution channels.
This is an early indication that remote assignments lead to a successful adoption of the SEC expert’s advice by the clients. Still, the re-interviews with the 2020 clients indicate that the effects of remote assignments only emerge over time as most clients are still implementing the plans worked out with the SEC expert.
In contrast to 2020, only 55% of the SEC coordinators consider remote assignments as effective as on-site assignments. The other 45% point out that the experts’ lack understanding of the local context and of the clients’ situation, which is seen as crucial for formulating recommendations. In general, the SEC coordinators argue that the effectiveness of remote assignments depends strongly on good communication and the topic of the assignment.
Impact of remote assignment: contribution to increased resilience and retention of jobs in the COVID-19 crisis
Of the clients who reported that their businesses were still negatively affected by the Covid-19-crisis, 23% of 2021 clients and 60% of 2020 clients explicitly stated that the support of the SEC expert helped to mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 crisis. The findings indicate that the remote assignments have contributed to their resilience.
Two thirds of 2021 clients and almost half of 2020 clients recorded a stabilization or even growth of their profit and/or turnover. Furthermore, most of the clients reported job retention (including rehiring) or creation of jobs. For the other clients, it was either too early to provide information on turnover and jobs or no changes have been observed.
Yet, directly linking this rather positive performance of SEC clients to the SEC remote assignments is not possible as several other external factors influence this development, above all the general economic recovery that varies from country to country. However, following the theory of change of the modality of the remote assignments at least a contribution to the impacts in terms of jobs and income can be assumed, given that SEC clients improved their business performance thanks to the adoption of the experts’ advice.