How we got our whole staff working remote within a day

Published at April 22, 2020 ·  5 min read · by MyHammer



“Something good comes out of every crisis.” (Dave Pelzer)

Like every first Friday of the month, we are gathering for our company All Hands meeting. The only difference this morning is that all of us rather than walking to our office kitchen. We are all clicking on our meeting invitation links, and instead of the usual rush for the best place to seat we are sitting in our chairs and looking at our screens seeing our colleagues appearing one by one in the chat room. Today is the morning of the 20th of March 2020 and our first week in remote work. After the announcement and recommendation of the German government, which indicates to restrict any social contact as much as possible and avoid direct contact.

Before the Lockdown

We believe at MyHammer that face to face connections are powerful. Our teams sit all together on large tables in a dedicated team space with physical whiteboards, monitoring screens, and a big TV screen for presentations. This setup facilitates interactions between colleagues and generates a team and company affiliation.

We are running an agile company, and especially in the IT department, we are following the scrum and kanban process. We also additionally use technics from XP Extreme Programming, such as pair programming, for example. Furthermore, our company cares about security not only in the development process but also in general. Therefore, we do have several policies and processes set up, such for example a well defined Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plan. To test ourselves, we regularly test scenarios. But it also helps to validate the plan and trains our employees.

We do have clear plans for all significant Disasters. Among them, we do have a Pandemic / Epidemic case. In this plan, we describe the responsibilities, communication, and action items that we need to take in a specific case to assure the continuity of our business and limit the damage. We run regular tests from these scenarios to ensure that the process works as expected and that our people are well prepared.

Before the crisis, we offered our engineers the ability to work remotely only in individual cases, for example, if they expect any package delivery or if they have appointments that are closer to their place. But we did not have any policy in place in the company defining rules for remote work.

The Lockdown

Our Business continuity plan defines the action that needs to take place in case of an Epidemic / Pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 situation. In such cases, the plan is to pursue the business by sending all employees to remote work. To make this possible, we need to ensure that all departments have the technology and hardware to work remotely.

Our engineers in IT are working with laptops and therefore well prepared to work remotely, other departments in our company such as our sales team do have only desktop computers. All of our internal and external tools are additionally secured by multi-factor authentication and can only be accessed through our VPN. Also, only a certain number of people need access to internal tools. All others do not need VPN access because they are only accessing publicly accessible tools such as Salesforce.

Furthermore, all of our business processes are already digitalized. We can easily continue with the same process working remotely.

All of this preparation has helped us dramatically in moving from an entirely on-site company to a fully remote company within only a day.

To ensure business continuity for all departments, we have started providing hardware to all employees who do not have laptops. We moved our entire communication to Microsoft Teams, email, and phone calls. And we introduced an IT support hotline that assisted every employee so that everyone can work properly remotely.

Probably one of our most exciting situations was to handle our All Hands meeting that we regularly have with the whole company. We wanted to have a similar platform like in the office where everyone can ask questions, and leaders can present their updates without restrictions. We decided to use Microsoft Teams because this is the chat tool everyone was using in the company already before the crisis. Microsoft Teams offers the ability to have a large meeting with more than 100 users.

Our IT team did some tests before the actual meeting and was confident about the solution. With a few rules like everyone joining must be muted and has his video disabled, only the people presenting are sharing their screens to show presentations. To be able to ask questions, we used the chat function, so people who have a question can write in the chat, and the person presenting can answer them.

Learnings

Working remotely has challenges like with daily communication. In the office, people see each other all the time and can start a conversation quickly with someone next to them. Also, side conversations across teams are more difficult because people tend to communicate only in their teams. To solve these challenges, we have introduced a few virtual meeting rooms. For example, our teams have virtual coffee rooms where employees from different teams can meet and have informal chats like they would have in the office going to the coffee machine. This has helped to keep people from all teams connected and being updated about each other’s work.

Looking forward

As with every crisis, we should look at the benefits we can take from this challenging situation. I hope that the current necessity to use more digital solutions will further drive digitalization more rapidly. Also, since almost any company currently runs its business remote, I hope to see more flexibility for employees in the times after the crisis. Especially as the need for qualified people is increasing more and more and the recruiting for talents becomes even more complicated, it is a considerable advantage to access talents from across the whole world.

Nothing is like before, and indeed, many thinks will be different afterward. But as from every crisis, we can use the opportunity to learn and come out stronger as we entered it.