In mid-March, the Corona pandemic quickly got worse. In Germany and Europe unexpectedly drastic measures had to be implemented. For us as F7 crew it was clear that we should not continue to work in our space station "Humboldtstraße" in the previous constellation. Therefore, since Monday, March 16, the entire crew has been working from home.
Fortunately, we are in the comfortable position of working in an industry where this can be implemented without any problems. For many crew members, home office was already part of their daily work routine. The step to temporarily evacuate the space station in escape pods was therefore not a complicated one: Our infrastructure is designed for this scenario. All crew members have a laptop and are therefore able to work remotely from anywhere in the world ("and beyond"). Only one or the other secondary monitor had to be beamed out of the base when it became clear that the COVID-19 situation would last longer.
Communication is key
We are a space crew, a social team used to working out solutions and adventuring together in the base station. Much of our communication is done informally, away from the often sluggish, regimented and low-dimensional digital channels. The challenge is to maintain social components in communication and create opportunities to keep informal channels open despite the much talked about "social distance" (what a misleading term).
Currently, our solution to this is a combination of videoconferencing, videocalls and text chats. Short messages like "Video call in 10 minutes?", "Give me a quick call when it's convenient for you." help to find the balance here between "bothering for every little thing" and withdrawing too much. It has proven effective even with seemingly simple questions not only to text, but to speak - ideally with a video image. This is above all a pleasant loosening up. Here, the opportunity arises to speak briefly even beyond work-specific topics. Just as one usually does briefly in the lounge, the tea kitchen or at lunch. This motivates and prevents the ceiling from literally falling on your head. In a purely text-based chat, this tends not to happen.
Tools & Techniques
Essentially, we use the tools we were already using before:
- Redmine is our ticket system, through which we map all task-related processes. In particular, the different teams maintain their kanban-boards here (which was partly a change).
- Xwiki is our central documentation tool. All long-term relevant company and project information can be found there.
- We use Zoom to hold all video conferences with our customers and partners. In addition, we still use a Telekom telco line in some cases.
- Internally, Slack is our central communication tool. We use it in the classic form as a chat, but now we also use it intensively for video conferences for the daily catch ups of our teams, short meetings, our weekly lean coffee, and 1:1 video conferences.
- Some of our developers use "remote pair programming" to solve specific problems and learn new things from each other.
- We access our internal network via VPN. This gives us secure access to our internal tools (e.g. accounting) and databases.
- Our entire development structure has been running via GitLab for years. Therefore, there are no differences to the work in the base station "Humboldtstraße".
- All phone numbers have been redirected to mobile or landline numbers, so we can be reached as usual.
Personal interim balance
I'm not a big fan of the home office. The social component, non-verbal communication and working together as a team on site are extremely important to me. At the same time, I have to admit after the first week: It works extremely well! Much, much better than I thought is possible. From my point of view, there is one very decisive factor: we all work from home. If, on the other hand, only part of the team is remote, an imbalance quickly arises. In the "pre-COVID 19 era", this became particularly clear in meetings: participants in a meeting who were present virtually were only dimly perceived. When everyone communicates via video chat, on the other hand, this is no longer a limiting problem. Conclusion: I am very positively surprised. We are productive and communicative! However, we need to be more attentive to each other and be mindful of each other, especially in communication.
We are there for You
We continue to be there for our customers and partners without restriction. Especially when there are acute issues in the context of the COVID 19 crisis. Feel free to contact us!
The crew wishes all customers, partners and friends to cope well with this difficult and challenging time and most importantly, to stay healthy!