As I write this, it is now (working) day sixty of our full team working from home in isolation, starting back in mid-March.
In that time we’ve seen restrictions increase in phases and have only recently seen the beginning of a careful scaling back of these rules. In order to minimise the risk of contagion, Kiandra conducted a test run of our capability to achieve this, which ended up becoming day one of our whole business self-isolating.
Personally, I decided to start working from home three days prior. With COVID-19 cases beginning to slowly grow in Melbourne and with public transport as my main method of travel, I didn’t want to take any further chances, especially with peak hour crowds. With my laptop in tow, I set up at home and continued as usual. While I don’t have the normal luxury of two extra screens (I can set up one, at least), I could continue to make progress on my tasks. Luckily, for me, a lot of my work involves coordinating with colleagues working outside of the Melbourne office, so it was almost business as usual.
A successful test run
We conducted our test run and managed to get through the day with minimal issues. It certainly wasn’t perfect, with a few takeaways to follow up on to ensure no interruptions to our day-to-day activities, but it was much smoother than expected. Murphy must have been in a good mood, as normally a big change to working arrangements can be quite disruptive. So, what went right? I’d like to reflect on a few aspects of Kiandra’s work environment that has worked to our benefit during this time.
Kiandra’s working from home policy is something that’s been in place for quite some time. All employees enjoy the opportunity to work from home for all manner of reasons, be it to help a family member, ensure they are able to receive visitors like tradespeople or even to make sure they can make a doctor’s appointment. In fact, as part of our push to develop a global workforce and better support our team abroad, we now have a ‘Work from Anywhere’ policy, allowing our team to work from here, there and anywhere - as long as they are able. We do ask that people take the privilege seriously, however. As long as your work arrangements don’t disrupt others, clients or otherwise, we can find a way to make it work.
With the move to have everyone work from home, most of us have already had our work arrangements tested out and problems resolved ahead of time, so the transition ended up being far more seamless than if we didn’t already have that flexibility in place. Personally, I’ve been using the opportunity to work from home more often, typically when I need to take care of errands or get some extra focus time in on something. As a result, I have had time to work out the issues and iron out the problems I’ve run into in a more controlled environment.
That’s one major hurdle out of the way, but what about the long-term implications? How are we going to manage the isolation in the weeks and months to come?
Adjusting to long term change
Most of us have someone at home that we can talk to, but for others, long term isolation can be quite detrimental. To help combat this, the Kiandra team have taken to adding extra daily social rituals over Teams. We’ve been sharing little slices of life from home based on various topics chosen. This fun activity has transformed into a full-blown competition, with set challenges and rewards. We’ve got a quick catch up group call we can all join if we feel like some company over breakfast or a coffee. Those with an affinity for trivia (like me) can join the digital version of the lunchtime quiz, something we usually run from the kitchen when we’re in the office. If we can help it, a call can go a long way if a message or email can be avoided. These little opportunities for our team to stay social can help the more extroverted of us to keep sane in these challenging times.
It almost sounds like things went off without a hitch, right? Well, I agree that things have been pretty good, but there are always opportunities to improve.
One of the first challenges I experienced was the complete loss of the ‘walk-up’. Being able to quickly stop by someone’s desk to discuss something helps to keep things social and gives people an option outside of leaving a message on Teams or an email. Those quick catch-ups can also prevent an avoidable meeting adding to one’s calendar. Further to this, our team often rearranges seating to allow project teams to sit closely to one another. While working remotely, it’s important to find substitutes – in our case, Teams has taken up the responsibility. People working together can continue to meet online and can even share a lunch break together to help to maintain that social closeness. If we can leave a message and hopefully hear back some time later if the other person is busy, we can make it work. As someone a little more on the introverted side, it’s not the end of the world, but it is a handy benefit of working together in person.
A common expression that I’ve heard over the last few weeks is that this quarantine time is an opportunity to learn new things – in this case, sometimes you learn a few things to improve your day-to-day work processes. At other times, you can even discover something you thought was working wasn’t quite working as you expected. An interesting challenge I encountered early on had to do with managing phone calls. We use soft phone technology to link up our physical desktop phones with our laptops – from there our plugged-in speakers and microphones of choice substitute for a normal handset. Since I’m normally working from the office, I don’t normally get to test the soft phone out, but circumstances forced us all to test it out on the fly. Things were working out well and, in the process, I learned how to use certain features that I use regularly on the desk phone like merging calls. With that said, I ran into a few configuration issues caused when restarting my laptop that caused a call on one day to ring out at an empty office!
Our success here has allowed us to continue normal operations, building awesome software for our clients all around the world. I’d like to write another one of these once we’re all free of the grip of COVID-19, to look back at how things went – perhaps there are more challenges to come for our team to work together to manage. I'll see you all on the other side for the next instalment.