It’s safe to say that the past 12+ months have been anything but business as usual. Besides uncertainty and challenges, last year has been a time of intense learning and adapting. Looking forward, we understand that the way we work, collaborate and do business has forever changed. 2020 also ended up being one of our most productive years yet.
So we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on this experience and the lessons we carry with us moving forward.
The initial transition to working from home
Looking back, we can say it was both challenging and smooth at the same time.
It was smooth because most of our colleagues resumed their work from home following the lockdown, without noticeable interruptions. Our teams in the Software Engineering Services function as distributed teams for our clients, and they have a working setup designed for remote collaboration. They have all the tools in place to communicate instantly, to manage tasks, development and testing work. (Our colleagues in the Electronic Equipment Services had a slightly different experience but will touch on that in another story).
The difficult part was handling the situation on an emotional level, dealing with the unknown , and supporting each other through it all. While we managed to keep our cool and be proactive, the worry that one of us would get sick still lingered in the background.
We were also worried about our clients and how this new context was going to affect them. Were they going to pause some of the projects we developed together? Or drop them entirely? Those were the questions we had in mind at the very beginning.
Work from home and our teams’ productivity
Because none of us had worked entirely from home before the pandemics, we were expecting to see a dip in our colleagues’ productivity.
Managing work from home means more than just having all the tools & hardware needed. It involves getting into a working mindset, setting up a space to work in, and perhaps caring for your family at the same time.
Much to our surprise, we realised that some colleagues were now more productive - they became more focused and engaged with the work. On the flip side, we had other colleagues who could no longer work at the same pace. And few of them requested a break in the coming months to recover.
How we tackled the biggest challenges
Maintaining the same level of communication
Perhaps the hardest aspect of working from home was maintaining the same level of communication, within the company as well as with our clients. Our company culture is rooted in collaboration, close interactions, team events and we value relationships and knowing the person you work with. Not being able to interact with people face-to-face urged us to adjust the way we were doing things.
We moved more towards a horizontal communication style, relying on a network of teams that “speak” to each other. We began organizing weekly meetings with our team leaders, to catch up on how they were doing and company updates. And in turn, encouraged team leaders to keep a closer communication with their teammates and also with our clients. In doing so their role in the company expanded and we could see how their sense of purpose and duty increased.
Maintaining a good communication with our clients was equally important, especially as we couldn’t travel for the foreseeable future. So to make up for the situation, our team leaders started to communicate more frequently with our clients, and that helped forge a sense of support and community.
Making our communication more engaging and bringing teams closer is something we are still working on. Some of the ideas we adopted are online team lunches and cocktails, delivering presents in person for different occasions, an internal newsletter and even online team buildings (trying activities such as hacking a system or escaping a scary room).
Taking care of our teams’ morale
Being socially isolated, having to balance work and personal life from the same place and dealing with an increased amount of unknowns put a strain on everyone. And so we realised we needed extra support to navigate the situation. Starting with the fall of autumn 2020, we began organizing group therapy sessions for anyone who was going through a harder time and needed this kind of resource.
Building business scenarios to give us predictability
The first 3 months following the lockdown were filled with questions. We didn’t know how the situation would evolve, how our clients would be impacted, and how we will be affected. So we tried to think of several possible scenarios, build plans around them and be cautious with our spending and budgets.
While at times it felt like we were more conservative than needed, it was probably a wise approach and 2020 ended being our best year financially so far. We are also fortunate that after the initial shockwave passed, our clients picked up their activity and we got more work on our hands than before.
Finding new ways of doing things
One of the most obvious areas we had to adjust was recruiting and onboarding new colleagues. We managed to successfully organize online interviews (and figured out it’s easier to arrange more online discussions if needed than in person) and bring new people to the team. Our team leaders were more involved in the onboarding process and that made the process easier for the new colleagues.
We moved our internship programs online - and despite fears of how our interns would be able to learn and bond, we managed to complete these programs and hire several interns at the end. We even developed an application that supports the candidate selection and testing process. With the risk of sounding like a brag, we’re very proud of making this step and not letting the situation affect our projects and plans.
What we did well in adapting to remote work
In this entire process of changing and adapting, we feel that there are a number of things we got right from the beginning.
- We maintained open communication with our colleagues and clients. Transparency in communication has been one of our core beliefs. And with this new context we felt that it was even more important now to keep everyone updated about how the company was doing and the future.
- We implemented a working environment fit for distributed teams and, thanks to our business model, we were prepared for remote work well before the pandemic.
- We are constantly preoccupied with the well-being of our colleagues and with giving them all the resources they need to be productive, from online therapy sessions and coaching to tools & equipment. We are still learning about their needs and trying to come up with improved solutions to meet them, whether it’s providing better equipment, facilitating online team events or learning experiences. But we feel that by staying open to feedback and making sure we listen, we’ll get there.
- We accepted the fact that we couldn’t use the same tactics to obtain the same results like we used to pre-pandemic. But instead of discontinuing projects, we adapted and moved on: we continued to hire, adapted our employee onboarding process, delegated more responsibility to team leaders, moved our internships online, and continued to expand the company. We just completed the acquisition of CoreBuild, a software company that complements Wirtek's services offering (with most of the due diligence process happening remotely, something we couldn't imagine before).
Top learnings this past year
After a trying year for all of us, we can truly say that we’re looking to the future with a clearer perspective and we’ll keep to heart what we’ve learned during this time.
- We learned that we can accomplish things that we didn’t even envision or think were possible: work from home for over a year, organize online internship programs, hire remotely, conduct an acquisition process mostly remotely, and much more.
- This past year was a reminder of how powerful transparent communication is. People feel seen, included and valued when they know how things stand, good or bad. And in return they feel more empowered in their roles.
- We realized that we are in a fortunate position, being able to work remotely and carry on with our work. When so many people lose their jobs, we have the opportunity to work from anywhere and we are deeply grateful for this.
- Last but not least, we learned to be more empathic and supportive of each other. We had a sneak peek at each other’s personal lives through video calls and realized that everyone is doing their best. And we strive to acknowledge this every day and feel very lucky to work with clients who think the same.
While we are looking forward to being able to resume travel, meeting clients and colleagues face to face, we know that some things will no longer be the same.
We need to constantly find new ways to transfer our values and culture online, and preserve a team spirit even from distance.
At the same time, we understand that there is no going back to the “old normal”. And so we are working to build a hybrid workplace, one where we can work remotely and also come into the office when we choose to.
We’ve learned the hard way what we weren’t ready for, what we did well, and what we can improve in the future but overall 2020 was a good year and we would’ve never expected that we could function so well in this totally unexpected context.