Who saw this forced work-from-home situation coming? Even those who did were left with little time to decide how their company will respond to what is now our ‘new normal’. Who knows what will happen next when you tell your staff on a Friday afternoon to pack up and start working from home for the foreseeable future? That’s what many companies had to do over the past week. I asked Sarah and Sam to provide me with some insights into Skynamo’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How exactly did Skynamo’s response to these unforeseen circumstances unfold?
Responding to a unique situation like this was interesting. And continues to be interesting, because it escalated in severity every single day. Last Tuesday, for instance, we had a strategy meeting and decided the following: make hand sanitiser available and encourage employees to carry sanitisers, instruct them not to come to work if they’re feeling sick, and provide clear guidance on responsible hygienic practices. By Wednesday afternoon we realised that this just wasn’t going to be enough. That’s when we brought in risk-travel restrictions, cancelling all non-essential travel, both international and inside South Africa. And then, by Friday three o’clock, the call was made that most of us will be working from home for the foreseeable future. It was a matter of, “Get your stuff together, if you need to take your office chair with you, go for it!”
So, within 72-hours, we went from wash your hands to work from home.
The thing that impressed me most about the way our leadership team managed it, is that they were able to let go of their position quickly as new information became available. I’m proud to say there was no catastrophizing and there was no minimizing of the situation.
As it stands then, we’ve instituted work-from-home as the new normal. We’re supporting those staff that do need to come into the office and asked that they all work in different rooms so that they’re not spending any unnecessary time together. And then we continue encouraging very good hand hygiene. For the ones working from home, we’re supporting them as best we can. If someone needs data or something specific in order to help them work at home, we’re starting to take care of that as we become aware of it. Zoom Meetings has become our best friend, we’re all exploring different kinds of whiteboard technologies. I think we’ve sent up several new Trello boards. It’s a great tool that helps to organise planning and tasks within teams. We’re also seeing how our IT team accommodates for infrastructure shifts that needs to happen for all our people dialing in from the outside.
In some ways, Skynamo has been anticipating remote working as part of the future of work spaces. But how prepared were we for almost our entire workforce stationed at home?
In some ways, yes. Our development team has been working from home one day per week already. They’re encouraged to work from home to get the kind of work done that’s difficult to do when you’re constantly interrupted in the office.
We’ve always had a very flexible attitude to working spaces. If someone needs to work from home, they always can. So, although we’ve never instituted official work-from-home days for the whole company, people can work remotely whenever they need to. We’ve never had a work-from-home day where the whole office works remotely to test it and see if it works. We’ve never needed to experiment with that before. But, being a technology company, we’re pretty well set up for work from home. Most of our staff work on laptops and everything’s stored in the Cloud. So, it’s been fairly simple for us to adjust to the work-from-home reality.
What has been most challenging about doing it on such short notice?
I would say it’s definitely the social adjustments that’s been the most challenging. Practically, everyone just left the building and that was relatively seamless because, technologically, we have everything we need. But where we’re struggling is with social engagement and adjusting socially to the new ways of doing meetings. Remote meetings are very different to face-to-face meetings. You need to show up slightly differently for them, and we’re still learning about that. Then, some of us are still learning about pacing. Normally, you walk form one meeting to a next one, or grab a coffee in between and possibly chat with a colleague on the way. I realised that I’ve been setting up my meetings back-to-back, not giving myself a break. You’re not always conscious of these things when everything is done through your screen – your work, your meetings, your socialising with colleagues. So, trying to find the working rhythm where you’re not just in Zoom calls all day is a big challenge, and feelings of isolation and feeling disconnected from your team. That’s why I’d say the big challenges are interpersonal, not practical.
What impact do you expect this will have on business in the short term?
In the short term, we will see some of our customers really battling as they figure out how they will weather the storm. We expect the storm to affect different sectors to different extents. Businesses in entertainment and tourism are expected to be hit the hardest. We’re expecting that our customers are going to start innovating their strategy to maintain or even grow market share. Overall, I would say that Skynamo customers are more innovative than their peers, so we’re expecting to see interesting requests for support from them. We’re planning to be here to help these customers use Skynamo effectively, to be a part of that innovation that sees them grow.
Strong company culture and relationships are key to all that Skynamo does. Can you name some of the initiatives we’ve launched so far to keep these strong, while employees aren’t physically together?
Much of what we’re doing are experiments at this stage. One example is Slack, an app designed to bring remote working teams together. There’s tool on Slack, called donut, which connects three or four people from across the company to take a coffee break at the same time and catch up over Zoom. These random groupings change on a weekly basis, so each week you’ll connect with different people. Our different departments or teams also do their own daily social check-ins. These are just to say, “Hello, how are you?” or, “How are you finding things that are not work related?” Some teams do this first thing in the morning, while others prefer doing it at the end of the day before they start switching off from work mode.
Living healthy is also very much part of Skynamo’s culture and we like to provide people with information and opportunities to do what they can, where they can. Usually we have various cross-fit, pilates and running groups going where people can slot in depending on their abilities. We’re encouraging people to continue sharing what they’re doing to stay fit. One of trainers also offered to provide training schedules and recommended an app that people can use to track their activities.
And then I’m currently looking into a reward system to replace our chocolate gold coin system. At the office, we have bowls of coins available for staff to give to one another as tokens of appreciation when they went out of their way to assist others with something. It was a peer-recognition system that obviously isn’t happening now. So, we’re looking for a digital equivalent in order to replace it.
Yeah, we’ll be experimenting and keep trying to come up with fun ideas to keep us all even though we’re isolated to have a shared experience with each other.