We Were Ready for Quarantine, We Just Didn't Know
April 22, 2020
The novel coronavirus, this is not a secret, has affected a large number of businesses around the world. Some were forced to work remotely and others, who don’t have that possibility, simply had to close their doors. The transition to telework was easy for those who somehow already relied on technology and had remote teams, but for others, remote work exposed vulnerabilities in the organization and its work processes.
Fortunately, our company was not affected by this that much. We have always worked on a hybrid (presidential-remote) scenario. 40% of our team is in the office and the rest works remotely in other cities and countries. We have heard many times that this is a weakness, but, without pretending to generate controversy, the truth is that we were more prepared than we thought to face this quarantine. That is exactly what I would like to talk about in this article.
What Do Chats and Office Cafeterias Have in Common?
We used to have a problem: team members who are out of the office could easily get lost and do not know exactly what was going on at all times. In our headquarters we have a cafeteria and, as it happens in most companies, many of the most important conversations take place there. Some of the best decisions and ideas actually come from discussions in the hallway and cafeteria, so we wanted to replicate that environment and take them to our online chat rooms.
Today, we have about 250 chats with constant activity. Each of the development teams, sales reps, and personnel departments have separate chats. There are internal chats where product development details are being discussed, and there are external chats where negotiations with customers and contractors are conducted. We structured the flow of information in the form of “one topic per chat”. Everyone in our team clearly understands that the expiration date of chat messages is mere a day. After the day passes, no one will be able to pick up the story, wading through the jungle of information. It is very crucial that each employee reacts to relevant messages and pays no attention to unimportant ones. To achieve this, first, you need to keep irrelevant information off the chat.
Another important aspect of communication effectiveness is that work matters should be discussed in common channels, and not in private messages. If a team member promised something to another associate in person, we automatically assume it did not happen. We want to avoid one-to-one communications as much as possible because it is very difficult to control.
Sometimes it becomes important to communicate face to face - for example when it is obvious that the conversation becomes emotional. It is important to catch this moment and turn communication into a verbal form.
You can’t ignore the fact that many people are not accustomed to communicating in text form, it is much easier for them to convey their thoughts verbally. Therefore, it takes time and patience to develop a habit of written communication in the company.
The Immortal E-mail
For the past 20 years, e-mail has been pronounced dead so many times. But in practice, we are convinced that it is most likely to live forever.
We can’t always have a chat with customers or contractors in Slack or Telegram, because not all participants in the correspondence use these instant messengers. With e-mail, that problem simply does not exist, because it is a universal tool.
Another plus is that e-mails can be stored for decades. Unlike chats, where any information has its expiration date, mail can be an ideal, well-developed repository.
For many companies, short or even long term goals are written in color sticky memos on a whiteboard. Now, obviously, this is impossible, and you have to switch to task tracking. This is sort of a test that can make defects in management and task setting visible.
This process was settled for us even before the crisis as we already used Redmine for task tracking. This is an open-source solution that allows us to add our own code and tailor the program to our needs and our CRM.
It is quite obvious that if task tracking was not used in the company before moving to remote work, then it will be rather painful to implement it now. But if not now, then when?
When people started massively switching to remote work, it suddenly turned out that the Internet is not that reliable, and if something goes wrong, you may be unprepared for data loss.
Recently in the center of Kyiv, there was a major accident. A huge amount of cable burned out, and, accordingly, a huge number of people were left without the Internet. Where will you quickly get the replacement parts and the workers themselves, if everyone went to quarantine?
This is exactly the type of force majeure that an IT team should be prepared for. A high-level, qualified approach to data backup is required, as well as the tools that allow configuration and deployment in the cloud.
We accustomed ourselves to regular backups and reservations in different places. In addition, we are accustomed to being suspicious of servers that never crash. The longer something doesn’t break, the worse it will be when it happens, and the more irreparable the damage will be.
It is very important to configure and remotely control hardware devices. Imagine that you need to restart something that is in the office, and you are in quarantine. You need to get permission to move around the city or wait for the quarantine to end - in any case, the team’s work is paused. The task would be many times simpler and less painful if the equipment could be controlled remotely.
That’s exactly what we have arranged: Throughout the office, there is a system of smart controlled outlets, and the cameras are connected via PoE switches. It is expensive, but it is worth it - especially in the current situation.
So, we were ready to switch to remote work as painlessly as possible, although some processes had to be worked out hastily. But not everyone is that lucky: for companies in which there is simply no culture of chatting, where task tracking takes place on a whiteboard, and the data is stored on one server, the necessity of remote work can be a real challenge. And if the company succeeds in passing this test, it will emerge from the crisis with new experience and improved work processes.