2020: year in review

Oh boy, where to even begin?

Harry Keller
Dec 31, 2020 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Hello there, we still exist!

This year was bonkers and traumatic and challenging and interesting on so many levels that it feels a bit overwhelming to summarize — but year-in-review posts are a tradition (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), so here we go, in little tidbits, without any expectation of completeness.

On December 4th our company turned five years old — wow, how time flies! Over these years we went from four people to thirty, from one client to dozens, from zero revenue to millions. Pretty incredible, looking back at the whole timeframe.

Image for post
Image for post

We traveled to Austria to visit two of our clients, looked at more office space (lol) in Kreuzberg and had one last team event, going bowling. Then, literally three days later, we all went home and most of us haven’t returned to the office since.

Image for post
Image for post

Then, in early March we became a full-remote company … good thing was that we were relatively well prepared — with our dev Sev in the UK we had a full remote employee already and workations had become popular as well, which definitely gave us a leg up. It’s slightly funny reading our blog post from June 2019 when we curiously and voluntarily went down the remote path.

Image for post
Image for post
Remote before the pandemic 🤡

That doesn’t mean that we didn’t struggle though … economic uncertainty in the first half of the year, several people with kids suddenly at home, sub-optimal home office setups and no clear boundaries between personal and professional lives meant our collective mental health took a beating. As the year went on a few people struggled with exhaustion and burnout, others had close relatives die of Covid, some of us got the virus themselves and we admittedly didn’t put enough focus on keeping up the team spirit. Going out of 2020 we definitely retain some scars.

As the year unfolded we hired four new people and were happy to welcome Mitch (from New Zealand, now living in Berlin), Ashley (from Zambia, now living in Portugal), Kuba (from Poland, now in Berlin) and Güngör (from Turkey, now in Berlin as well) to the team!

Image for post
Image for post

While there was a lot of uncertainty how the pandemic would play out economically at the start in March and some smaller projects did get canceled, our project work more or less continued as expected throughout the year, closing with a few strong months in Q3 and Q4, reaching similar levels as 2019 overall. We didn’t need to switch to short-time work either (only did for parents to protect their sanity) and didn’t cut any salaries at any point in time; quite the opposite, we even paid out more money to employees than ever before.

The novel work situation also prompted new tooling: For the past years we’ve pretty much run the company on Personio, Harvest+Forecast, Slack, Zoom and Notion, but this year we’ve questioned some of these choices:

  • Are we actually happy with Slack and all the noise it creates or are we just using it because everybody else does?
  • Can we move all internal communication to Basecamp to foster asynchronous workflows?
  • Would Asana be a better tool to organize our projects than Notion?
  • Can we streamline some internal workflows by moving from Personio+Harvest+Forecast to Moco?

We haven’t made any decisions for the above questions yet. One new addition to our toolchain though is Miro as a digital whiteboard — over this year it’s become indispensable for running workshops and retrospectives.

So what did we actually work on? As always many projects are under NDAs, but here are a few snippets:

Image for post
Image for post
A visualization of the Europe talks matching algorithm at work

We used to run two event series regularly in our office: our community focused on artificial intelligence and our book club. Both of them continued throughout the year in remote form, arguably running better and being more accessible through Zoom.

With days getting shorter and daylight fading, many people in the team requested a longer lunch break to catch some sun at least. Our working hours had already been quite relaxed with expected availability only between 11–12:30 and 1:30–3pm, but towards the end of the year we’ve completely removed any required availability. The only rule is that you need to coordinate with the people you work closest with … if they are fine with your desired work hours, feel free to work at night! 🦉

This gives everyone more flexibility, fosters asynchronous workflows, makes it easier to mix personal/professional lives and makes working across time zones easier. 👉 My colleague Maria wrote a whole blog post about this change!

At first remote social events felt really awkward, but as the year progressed we’ve become much better at it … some of the things we did:

  • frequent (and entirely voluntary) “checkout chats” at the end of the day
  • bi-weekly “show & tell” format to share our work
  • weekly chit-chats for whoever has time, sharing what happens in our lives
  • remote drinks at least once (of course)
  • some gaming sessions, playing Among Us, Skribbl.io and Stowaway
  • For our Christmas party we cooked (and ate) Risotto together
  • In one project team we did a mad Sherlock Holmes board game on Miro — screenshot somewhere below

Again, Maria wrote about all these shenanigans much more eloquently.

In the end we didn’t get more office space, but made the only sensible choice: We were on two floors before and now got rid of the upper one, focusing on one space again. We expect many employees to work mostly remotely even after the pandemic, so we don’t really need that much space anymore.

Over summer a few people worked in the office and we realized that even with a few people, the need for meeting rooms often exceeded the capacity. So we got Dittmar + Friends to build us two additional meeting room cabins and they are gorgeous … photos below!

I’m running out of topics and this post is already very long, so let’s look at some pictures before we close off:

Image for post
Image for post
A hackday in the office in February — we’ve done two more remote ones since then
Image for post
Image for post
One of the last AI Community meetups in the office
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Going bowling on March 6th — one of the last times we all met in 3D
Image for post
Image for post
Horsing around with Snap Camera
Image for post
Image for post
The epic Sherlock Holmes board game team event
Image for post
Image for post
A very strange experiment beyond Zoom … let’s not do that again
Image for post
Image for post
A remote visit to our Stammkneipe “Zum Elefanten”
Image for post
Image for post
Playing Among Us with a few people after work
Image for post
Image for post
An experimental VR meeting
Image for post
Image for post
Cooking together for our Christmas event, followed by hours-long conversations in random breakout rooms
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
The new meeting rooms quietly glowing in the empty office

It looks like the new year will continue like the old one ended: with everyone working from home and at least a few months longer until a vaccine might be available for us. We’ll use the time to refine our workflows, improvise remote team culture and, above all, design and build things. Thanks go out to everyone who was part of this challenging year: our team first and foremost, all our clients, freelancers, people who referred us and everyone who followed along! Stay safe, wear your masks and see you in 2021!

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

Curious to learn more? We’re also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and we highly recommend our Tumblr. You could also subscribe to this publication to get notified when new posts are published! That’s all. Over & out! 🛰

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based…

Harry Keller

Written by

Grand millennial with a teenage mind: always curious, mostly optimistic, annoyingly idealistic. Developer and partner at @diesdasdigital.

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

Harry Keller

Written by

Grand millennial with a teenage mind: always curious, mostly optimistic, annoyingly idealistic. Developer and partner at @diesdasdigital.

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store