The Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic – An Experience Report
The team here at Cloudogu has also been put to the test by the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and the changes that have come with it.
The company implemented its first set of sanitation measures in the early days of March. We made employees aware of the situation and distributed disinfectants to them. Everything seemed a bit surreal. But then everything happened very quickly. The management closely followed the current situation from the beginning and kept the employees up to date. Already during the initial phase, the company developed a preventative concept. The goal was to take responsible measures relating to the Coronavirus in order to avoid harmful consequences for employees and economic damage to the company. The concept included the sensible step of allowing only a few employees to work in the office. However, it turned out that the employees quickly warmed to the idea of working remotely. Therefore, only a few team members reported to the office on Brabandstraße.
Changing the way we work to Remote-First
We have to admit: We were in a good position before the crisis. We had already provided team members with the option of working from home. However, not everyone had taken advantage of this offer. We like to meet in person as a team, and we enjoy being able to interact with each other. Fortunately, the managers already had the necessary level of confidence that their employees could be productive in their home offices. In addition, we had an already established infrastructure, and we were experts at using the Google G-Suite tools to communicate and collaborate with each other.
Nevertheless, the need to suddenly move entire teams to home offices presented a challenge, and it necessitated certain changes.
Outfitting home offices with missing work equipment
After the first few weeks and once we managed to wrap our minds around the new situation, the first complications started to become noticeable. The reality of bad Internet connections, loneliness, and no more conversations around the coffee machine slowly began to sink in.
Of course, not all of our employees working from home had offices that were fully technically equipped. However, employees were able to solve this problem by ordering new work equipment or making a short visit to the office to pick up whatever supplies they needed there. We were early enough buyers that webcams and headsets had not yet been completely sold out.
After we finished establishing our new work spaces, we naturally wanted to show off what we had done, and so we exchanged photos with colleagues. A team member even used the opportunity of the lockdown and the extra free time that has come with it to make a do-it-yourself standing desk (which you can see in the first image). This was a project that he had long wanted to complete for an optimal home office workplace.
Continuous exchange of information
We organize our work processes according to the Scrum method. This means that we are currently carrying out our sprint planning, reviews, and retrospectives digitally. This is how we bring our team members come together. Our biweekly breakfast briefings, during which we talk as a company about innovation and change as a whole, require that everyone involved take a responsible approach. We have laid down rules to optimize communication during these briefings. So, for example, we have agreed to always use our cameras, for example. Communication with a camera video feed is quite personal, since it allows others to see and interpret emotions and reactions. In order to prevent the audio feed from becoming a garbled mess, we actively use the chat function. Chat messages allow us to target questions, feedback, and suggestions to specific recipients. The moderator of the session can see the chat and can incorporate messages left here into the meeting. Treating others respectfully is, of course, our basic ground rule. These 10 simple rules from our colleagues at EXXETA helped us to get started with remote meetings: Ten Tips for conference calls by Exxeta (only available in German).
Of course, the fun element should not be neglected. Our colleagues used one of our recent meetings for a round of Buzzword Bingo. ;-)
Some team members reported that there have been many more collaborative meetings due to remote working. This is not surprising since we have an environment that facilitates open exchange in the office. In the workplace, questions can be quickly resolved by taking a short walk to the desk of the employee in question. However, with remote working, this can only be done through scheduled collaborative meetings or chat messages. This means that the number of messages and calendar appointments can quickly pile up. And at the end of the day you ask yourself: Where did all of the time go?
People need exercise
The many collaborative meetings and time spent sitting for long periods in front of a laptop can be exhausting. Another challenge is the lack of movement. The commute to work, walking between meetings, or even just getting up to go to the water cooler or coffee machine were now all missing. We also noticed the painful absence of these things on our team. Team members brainstormed about how they could reincorporate physical exercise back into their daily routines. So, one of our colleagues came up with the idea for a short and simulated commute: walking a short lap around the house before and after work. Some employees discovered jogging or online sports classes for themselves.
Another very personal recommendation from a team member was to use the lunch break to take a walk. That way employees could exercise while also taking in the fresh air. A walk in the nearby woods provides a pleasant escape from the home office. It can help you clear your head for the upcoming work session during the afternoon and also overcome afternoon fatigue.
With schools and daycare centers closed, where can we put the kids?
The closing of daycare centers and schools naturally also impacted our team members. So, some were faced with overcoming a big challenge: Managing child care and work at the same time. Here too we were able to react flexibly. Employees were at least able to plan their working hours flexibly and to block out time in their calendar, for example, when they are not available due to childcare. Some team members also gratefully accepted the offer to reduce their number of working hours or incur debit hours.
Socialization in the time of the Coronavirus
One thing in particular has fallen by the wayside despite all of our measures: the opportunity to socialize. We have become painfully aware of this not just in our private lives. Employees also miss the opportunity to engage in conversation during lunch breaks or around the coffee machine. We have tried to address this problem.
During the first few weeks we instituted a “lunch meeting” via Google Meet, through which we recreated our daily lunch break with optional conversational participation. Conversations could touch on any topic, including ones with no connection to work. It provided an opportunity for us to have nice, informal exchanges with each other, just like our lunch breaks in the office. And it also gave us a space to vent. After a few trial attempts, we tweaked the format a bit. We were able to establish punctual meetings and coffee breaks.
And we also had fun online sessions after work with musical contributions from some teammates during which we were able to touch on an incredible range of topics. During a pizza day, we ate pizza together for lunch and had a relaxing conversation. That was a really good session. These sessions provided an opportunity for us to be silly with colleagues and to realize that everyone is doing the same in the current situation.
Nevertheless, despite the many opportunities that are afforded by online meetings, they not replace the experience of getting together in person. We look forward to getting back together physically as a team in the near future.
Cheering each other up and establishing a sense of closeness at a distance
We have boosted the morale of our home-bound employees with special spring tidings. All team members received a mailing with flower seeds at their homes. It was very well received, and employees shared photos of the initial results of their plantings with others after a few weeks.
When the government of Lower Saxony mandated that everyone wear a mask, a colleague and his wife sat down at the sewing machine and diligently created branded Coudogu masks for the entire team. You can see how much work went into the mask making and how great the results turned out to be. We are certainly making progress in Braunschweig and the surrounding region. Thanks again for this great idea!
Maintaining transparency about our current situation
It has been very important for us to ensure maximum transparency concerning the current situation and the associated changes. The management regularly invites all employees to informational events where we can find out about the company’s current status. That gives us an incredible sense of security. The managers are also constantly available for personal conversation in order to dispel employees’ feelings of uncertainty as much as possible.
Continuing the job application process
We have also taken responsible measures regarding recruiting. Thus, we have continued our application process under an adjusted format. We now conduct virtual interviews with all applicants. This is a great opportunity to get to know exciting candidates even under the current circumstances. The video interviews are generally well received. We will certainly continue this practice in the future, including especially for applicants outside of the region.
We find opportunities in the challenging circumstances
In summary, we can say that we have been able to continue to work on our projects just like we did in the past. In addition, as an employer, we are well positioned to provide optimal collaboration terms. We will work towards making our vision for Cloudogu a reality, even under the current situation.
It is important that we not only view the Coronavirus as a crisis that we have to weather. We also must see it as an opportunity to learn something from this experience. We have committed ourselves to the term “transformability” as a company. We are also currently experiencing a transformation in our work processes. The “Remote-First” approach fits into the hotly debated predictions concerning the new way of working, and this development is forcing us to become more flexible at a faster pace. The current extreme situation will show us whether we can work effectively together remotely. Spoiler alert: we can!
We can also learn from the situation as a training provider. We have successfully taught our practical content to participants in face-to-face events. Like so many others, we have now switched to online training. We have long intended to expand this extension of our in-person trainings, and therefore we have been able to react quickly to the changed requirements. We have also become convinced that online training courses will also constitute a useful addition to our training offerings in the long term.
Finally, let us say thank you
It is important not to forget how all of this has been made possible. Our employees play a brilliant role in ensuring that we are able to achieve success with our projects. Thank you to the entire team that has achieved such great results during this phase. We look forward to being able to work together in person again (hopefully soon).