How a hi-tech company with 110 employees switched to working remotely
Last week it became clear that the way things are going, our entire company may have to work from home soon, and who knows for how long. Our company, Soluto, the Tel Aviv division of American Asurion, has 110 employees. We couldn’t just send everyone home at the end of the week with so much uncertainty; we knew we had to prepare in advance for any possible scenario. And it’s a good thing we thought ahead, because sure enough, this workweek began with some extensive new COVID-19 regulations that required us to switch to remote operations.
In this post we’ll describe the steps we took, how we planned ahead (in the nick of time) and what we learned over the past few days — we hope it helps other companies facing the same dilemmas during these constantly-changing times.
💪 Day 0 — being prepared (for anything)
Our company culture never really dealt with working from home; we like working together, in teams, and conducting daily meetings, so we basically had to make the switch from 100 to 1 overnight thanks to the coronavirus.
How did we begin? By tackling our daily rituals. Like many other companies, our workday starts with a DSM (Daily Standup Meeting). We actually have two — a 5 minutes companywide meeting at 10:00 AM (yes, all 110 of us) followed by the different teams’ DSM.
Last Thursday (the last day of the week, since the Israeli workweek is Sunday through Thursday) was dedicated to practice and preparations — we started off by rehearsing a remote DSM using Zoom video conferencing.
In addition to these daily meetings, we also hold weekly demo meetings every Thursday, during which every team gives a status update on their work, and we all enjoy an assortment of scrumptious baked goods. So even though it was just a dry run, this is what last Thursday’s demo meeting looked like:
In addition to practicing remote meetings, the team leads sent out a Google Doc (which is continuously being updated) that covers all and any relevant aspects of working remotely. These include:
👩🏻💻 Administrative matters & technicalities
We decided to keep our offices open, with at least one person from Office Operations or IT present during office hours, in case anyone does need, or prefer, to come in. If anyone does decide to work from the office, they must follow the guidelines and restrictions set by the ministry of health (at this moment, that means no more than 10 people in a contained area, keeping at least 2 meters/6.5 feet between each other). Guidelines about how to track your work time from the office are included here, as well as VPN requirements, and food and delivery guidelines.
Checklists and guidelines were created for the following: ongoing teamwork, the company DSM (daily standup meeting), the teams’ DSM, the weekly demo, working with Zoom & Slack, team updates, 1:1 feedback sessions, recruitment & new employee interviews, and increased syncing among team leads.
As long as everything is written out clearly, preferably in a checklist format, it’s easier to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone understands what should be done and what is expected. These guidelines include direct links to Zoom video conference rooms for meetings and events (including extra rooms for unscheduled meetings, for ongoing daily work) and explanations about how to share slides and present in Zoom when dealing with large scale meetings with multiple participants, each of whom will be presenting in turn.
👶 Working with kids afoot
During this “corona-crisis”, Israeli schools and kindergartens have also been officially closed from this week on, which means that employees with kids won’t be the only ones stuck at home… As the company doc states: “We know that everyone will do their best in being productive, but we know that it may be more complicated at times.” Since people may not be able to work full days from home, the issue of time tracking, compensation, and government benefits was addressed (these vary from country to country of course, so we addressed our local guidelines).
You can see an example of this document here >> Working from home with COVID-19
This is a template that is based on the internal document created by the team leads.
🏡 Day 1 — We’re officially working from home!
Sure enough, after Thursday’s preparations, new government regulations were set by the end of the weekend: only essential workplaces will be open, public gatherings are limited to 10 people, and people should keep a safe distance of 2m/5.6ft from each other (hello, social distancing).
Thankfully we were prepared, and when Sunday came around (our work-week starts on Sunday), this is what our first official remote DSM looked like:
And this is what some of our teams’ workstations looked like:
And just to give you the bigger picture, this is what it usually looks like:
And of course, we can’t talk about working remotely without mentioning our favorite online tools. These are the tools we’ve adopted company-wide, most are focused on communication & collaboration:
- Zoom — video conferencing with a screen-sharing option (Google Hangouts will also do the job)
- Slack — for instant messaging and sharing docs
- Geekbot — for DSM reporting with Slack.
- Google Docs (and other Google tools like Slides, Sheets and Forms) — for collaborative work
- Miro — a virtual whiteboard to collaborate and brainstorm
- Figma — a collaborative interface design tool
- Notion — for sharing notes, docs, task, projects, databases, and more
- Basecamp — a web-based project management tool; its primary features are to-do lists, milestone management, forum-like messaging, file sharing, and time tracking. We use it mostly to publish internal release notes and gather the broader team feedback
- Trello — a web-based Kanban-style list-making application
- Leankit — a project delivery tool
- Zenhub — an agile Project Management tool for GitHub
- WhatsApp — to keep the friendly culture going and especially for sharing fun stuff (like memes:)
- VPN (Pulse Secure) — for remote access VPN
🖥 The home environment
When things got real, we realized there’s another super important thing we need to take care of in order to enable a comfortable remote work environment at home — the actual, physical setup. Our employees asked to take equipment home, like:
- Docking stations
- Computer mice
- Computer screens
- Test devices, for employees that were in total quarantine (those who were recently abroad or were in the vicinity of corona-infected individuals)
- Last but not least, some even asked to take comfortable office chairs, since they were going to code for hours from home…
Take into account that some surreal requests may be made, and that it’s okay to say no. We heard about other companies where employees asked to be refunded for their home internet connection, since they’ll be using it for work… we think that’s asking for a bit much :)
To wrap up day 1, here’s a picture of one of our employee’s home setup, with 100% Soluto equipment (including the chair).
We’ll be back with more updates and tips throughout the week, to help us all stay productive (and sane;) when working from home.
From our teams to yours,
stay healthy! ✌️