Due to the current circumstances, a lot of companies sent their employees to the home office. For some of us individuals, this is a new situation – for some of us, this is routine. But having 100% of employees working remotely, for sure, is for most of the companies a new situation. Some companies, such as automattic (WordPress) or gitlab, are remote-first companies. They have been designed from the ground up and have been growing as such. Most of the enterprises here in Austria had 1-2 days to switch from almost 100% on-site to nearly 100% remote. In this blog post, we as viesure, want to share some of our current insights and how we are dealing with the situation. We will split the insights into a culture and a technical part as these two seem the most relevant to us.
As people always come first, we want to start with our cooperate culture. Over the last year, we have built a culture that fits well for remote work. Viesure was always a result-driven company. What we expect from our employees is to deliver results as a team. Therefore we trust them in how and when they want to work together. This trust relationship is key in a situation like this, where we have to be sure that others are still doing their best to keep everything running even if we can not sit in one building. Having a team that each of us can rely on is for us the number-one success factor, remote or on-site.
The recent events showed us that there always will be a situation we have not expected. Being flexible in dealing with situations that we have not planned is part of our work routine is the skill which has turned out to be very useful in the past days. From quickly redesigning on-site workshops, creating home office workplaces on our kitchen tables to having our coffee talks now via video conference. We currently do our workshops using Slack video calls, group the people in smaller working units, each video call per unit. We use Trello boards to structure group tasks and Slack voting plug-in feature to decide on issues.
Other rules we established in the past also turned out even more useful for working remotely. For example, our meeting culture: For each session, there must be a meeting protocol containing what has been discussed and action points. As some of us have to take care of their children as well and are not able to join the meetings, they have a place to look at what has been discussed. Working remotely also forces us to have more discipline. One important rule is: come prepared for meetings. As meetings are now calls and are a little bit more exhausting than in-person sessions, this becomes more and more crucial to keep the calls short. Each meeting must have an agenda and information (paper, links, etc.) in the meeting invitation that everyone can prepare for the meeting. Therefore the call is just used to clear up some ambiguous points or align the views. Some even say our meetings became more effective due to the missing opportunity of having side talks during the meetings. The actual situation is a proof point to your governance and communication structure. Yes, you will find flaws, but correcting them quickly is key for managing the current situation.
There are even some positive effects. We always wanted to record our weekly tech talks and never made it do so. Now, as they are via video conference, it’s just a click, and we are currently recording them so that everyone can view them later on.
We also do not let our social interaction suffer from the absence of physical proximity. Turning your social habits from on-site into a digital way is not always easy. But a simple “good morning”, “bye, see you tomorrow. take care…” via chat or sharing pictures of your lunch or having a virtual 15:00 short coffee break together via video chat is easy to achieve and key to keeping team morale high these days. We are lucky having such a great team and coming up with these ideas on their own.
From a technical perspective, we also have been pretty lucky. We designed viesure from the beginning as a company where all employees can work from and whenever they want. There is Slack for chat, audio, and video calls, Google Drive for sharing our files and Google Meet as Backup when Slack is not accessible for a third-party. We also have unlimited space on our online drives to share e.g., video recordings from our meetings. For our developers, there is the usual gitlab, Artifactory setup, with a cloud-native approach for our infrastructure. As we followed modern methods to build company networks with a zero-trust network, we do not have problems with limited VPN or network capacities, as a lot of companies have.
As we have seen, it’s always useful to have a backup for each functionality. If Slack is not working, we use Google Meet, if Google Drive is not working, we can share files via Slack, if no IM is working we still have email as a fallback, if our confluence/jira setup is not working we can use Google Docs to share information. Having that kind of flexibility is crucial for keeping everything running – again, there will always be some unexpected situation, so you better be prepared for it. Having a single point of failure is never the right solution – no matter what you do to prevent it from failing.
We, as viesure, have been lucky. We produce only digital assets so all of us can work at home. We have been prepared from a culture and a technical point of view. Being able to go through this crisis together in a professional and disciplined way will make us even stronger as a team.
For those of you who want to take a deep dive in this topic, we have collected some articles:
Article written by Rene Schakmann and Dieter König