“unprecedented”, “difficult”, “challenging”, “current situation” – are just some of the most commonly heard words to describe what is going on in the world right now and it’s fair to say there probably isn’t any other way to describe it. Continuent has been a fully remote working company since its inception, and I have been part of the team for coming up to 5 years, so for me, the usual Monday to Friday “9-to-5” feeling is no different; but for those facing this for the first time, it can present challenges and a change of approach to how you work. In this blog I want to cover a few of the approaches I found that made the transition easier for me, but also look at the technical side and what we at Continuent use to conduct our day to day business and Keep the Lights on.
Work at home or home at work?
The single most important thing when working from home is ensuring you have a dedicated space for your work “office”.
Don’t switch on the TV if you find yourself easily distracted!
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have dedicated rooms, but what is important is that you have a space set up that separates home from work. The first few days it can be very new and the attraction of sitting on the sofa in your pyjamas, watching daytime TV with your laptop on your knee does not make for a good workspace. My workspace is very simple, and minimal – I have just what I need for work. I have a few small personal items to make it “mine” and I often have the radio on in the background to break up the silence.
How you start the day is key!
As tempting as it is to stay in bed until 5 minutes before you “start” work, still keep your routine as though you were about to head to the office. Keep that routine so that when you do return to the office the transition from pyjamas to office attire is smooth ;)
Rest your eyes and brain!
When you work from home you tend to find your day doesn’t really have a set routine – You may work later in the evening, you may carry on working whilst eating lunch. Try not to do that! Make sure you have a lunch break, get some fresh air, use the break for exercise – Whatever you can do that isn’t work. My colleague, Gilles, also offered this great piece of advice:
"Whenever possible, listen to yourself: realize when you’re not effective, unable to focus, and don’t force it. Stop working for 30min or so, do the stuff you would usually do outside working hours (laundry, DIY task, workout…) Reuse this time for work later in the day or the days after, when you’re effective at work"
This can be difficult to get right if you are new to working from home or only doing it temporarily. At Continuent the years of experience have ensured that every team member feels fully connected to one another despite being geo-distributed. We are each responsible for choosing our own equipment and we all have slightly different work station setups. The one common theme is that we all use Apple products. The more standard you can be as a team, the easier the integration is further down the line. My setup is simple but has everything I need to hand.
Here are a few stats about the Continuent team:
- We’re split over 7 countries
- We span 5 time zones with the greatest time difference being 10 hours
- The two most far apart colleagues span almost 9500km between San Francisco and Moscow
- 6 different native languages between us, but we all communicate in English
We communicate using Email, Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom and occasionally the good old fashioned telephone.
- Our Development and QA Team use Jira, Bamboo, Github
- Our Sales Team use Salesforce
- Our Support Team use Jira, Zendesk and Pagerduty
- Our Marketing Team use Pardot, Mailchimp, Wordpress.
Many other tools are used spanning across each team, but all of this is supported by the extensive use of Amazon AWS Services (EC2, S3, Route 53, EFS), Box, Google and Confluence.
Communication is the biggest challenge, when dealing with 5 time zones.
You don’t have the luxury of calling out to a colleague on the next bank of desks for help. Sometimes you feel like you are on your own whilst colleagues on the other side of the world are sleeping. One of the things that we do well at Continuent is talk…a lot…some would say maybe too much, but in such a disconnected connected work space, it’s key. Open, honest and transparent communication. Do we have disagreements? Of course we do. Do we often misunderstand each other? Of course we do. Communication is the biggest challenge, when dealing with 5 time zones. Email and other forms of non-verbal communication can be the main cause of misunderstandings due to difference in language or when tone of voice is lost. As you are not in the same place as your colleagues, always make time to “pick up the phone” and talk.
Adapting to the “current situation”
As you’ve probably gathered we haven’t really had to change much in the way we work as it’s just business as usual for Continuent right now. We recognise that we are in a fortunate, and lucky, position in that regard and therefore we have reached out to all of our customers offering reassurances that we are there for them to ensure they can "keep the lights on" and offered additional help above and beyond our normal service offering. We had a series of longer company meeting calls over the last two weeks, using video so we could “see” each other – this in lieu of our planned annual face to face meeting that should have taken place in New Orleans last month but was cancelled. We also recognise that we’re all adapting to a “lockdown” in our home towns/cities. For some this is very strict, for others a little more relaxed. For example for me in London, I can, for now, still go out for exercise once per day for up to an hour. So we’ve started some little Continuent Challenges to keep us motivated. Our first challenge, The Great Continuent Bake-Off, – saw us all submit pictures of our baking creations and voting for the best. My only regret is that we couldn’t taste! The winning bake can be seen below, mouth watering macarons from Dmitry, our Lead Online Marketing Technologist based in Moscow.
What we’re going through right now will be the subject of future History lessons for our next generation, and the generations beyond that. It’s down to us how those lessons will end. Listen to the science, listen to your government and stay safe. Doing the right thing now will ensure those history lessons have a happier ending. So, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing to get through this, from everyone at Continuent we wish you and your family well. Stay safe, be there for each other and talk. We will get through this and we will come out the other side stronger.