This is part one of our “Contingency Planning During a Pandemic” series. Check out part two / part three / part four.
I had the good fortune of already working from home for a distributed company when COVID-19 struck. As the virus began to impact life as we knew it, I looked around and saw how other companies struggled to transition to a remote workforce.
While all Redoxers felt the abrupt effects of COVID-19 social changes, because we were already working from home we had a leg up in responding to the impending crisis. We quickly began shifting our priorities to adjust to what may very well become a new normal. As we did this, we also realized we wanted to share our experiences, as other companies surely are or will be attempting some similar efforts.
My hope is that this series, from a remote-first perspective, will help some of you who are facing the same challenges. The focus will be to expose our process and results clearly, and whenever possible, my co-writers and I will offer suggestions for alternative tools or methods to replace some of our own.
Planning for the unexpected
As cities and states began going into lockdown and the world had to start thinking about what to do when schools close or loved ones became sick, we realized we didn’t have a solid system in place for contingency planning around individual workload.
Who would take over for me if I was out unexpectedly for two weeks, and would they know what to do? we wondered. And how could we tap into the capacity demands of each team and watch as it shifted throughout this crisis, so we would know where to focus our attention and provide help?
There was a lot to do; we would need an army. So in a joint effort between the People Operations and Operations teams, Dietke Fowler, our director of Business Operations, and I enlisted the help of every HR recruiter plus our Knowledge Manager to get the ball rolling. We packaged all of the projected work into a single project, which we launched on March 26 and concluded on April 15.
We kicked the project off with some goals already identified. We needed to:
- Implement a method for maintaining a current understanding of our capacity
- Address potential capacity imbalances by:
- Identifying who has capacity and can help out in other areas
- Identifying who does not have capacity and needs help
- Shifting help to where it’s needed
- Build resilience into teams through:
- Ensuring backups are in place for all work functions
- Documenting and storing our knowledge and processes in an easily accessible place
From these goals we built out some key deliverables we thought would get us to our desired end state. The deliverables evolved as we worked through our project, some becoming absorbed by others or outscoped, with some new needs arising. Here’s where we landed:
- Launch weekly capacity pulse checks that can be reported out by team and role.
- Create a virtual Help Desk that allows Redoxers to post their needs, help-wanted style, and lets other Redoxers offer up their help.
- Implement individual contingency plans that identify who is working on what, backups for that work, and whether the work does or does not have process documentation already in place.
In this post I’ll talk about our first deliverable, the work we did to achieve it, and its outcome. Each post following will dive into the remaining deliverables.
Deliverable No. 1: Implement regular capacity pulse checks
We wanted to send out surveys every Monday, and because they had a three-day turnaround they had to be short, with a low barrier to entry. We needed to be able to filter our results down by team and generate data on capacity, when considering factors both internal and external to work, as well as cognitive load. We used a Google form* and kept it simple.
The first component of the survey checks stress levels on a 5-point agree/disagree scale:
- My own stress, worry, or general cognitive load is negatively affecting my ability to complete my work.
- Situations external to Redox, such as caring for children or other family needs, are negatively affecting my work capacity.
- Situations internal to Redox, such as disruptions to my team/other Redoxer outages are negatively affecting my work capacity.
The second component asked Redoxers to compare their current work capacity (availability and presence) to their capacity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic using a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 represents “no capacity,” and 10 represents “still at 100% capacity”).
Finally, we asked Redoxers to compare the current demand for their time against the demand prior to the COVID-19 pandemic using a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 represents strongly decreased and 5 represents strongly increased),
We launched our first survey on March 30th via email to every Redoxer with a follow-up post in our “important-only” slack channel. That same evening, our CEO, Luke Bonney, asked all of us in his video address to complete the survey. This crucial component of our messaging effectively told all that this high priority effort required everyone’s participation.
As the results came in, we fed the data into Chartio, linking the email addresses of respondents from the Google form with demographic data from our human resources information system (department, subteam, coach, location). The resulting dataset served up various charts on a dashboard that displayed the survey results graphically as well as in plain language. The dashboard could be filtered down by team, coach (manager), and status of response (responded or not responded). While we used SQL in Chartio to join the survey data with our team directory, you could also use visual dataset builders or SQL in other data visualization tools, or even VLOOKUPS in MS Excel or Google sheets.
By Thursday of that first survey week, we had achieved 89% participation companywide, and we were pleasantly surprised by this level of engagement. The results were surprising as well—they told us that the average impact of COVID-19 on our capacity wasn’t as drastic as we had originally estimated.
Redoxers were reporting that situations internal and external to Redox were having a moderate impact on their work capacity, and their general cognitive load was adding an additional moderate level of impact. On the upside, there was only a little more work to do on average. For the first week, these results were reassuring and provided us with a good baseline to track against in the upcoming weeks and months as the pandemic’s effects continue to evolve.
In addition to company wide metrics, we also created visualizations that compared departments across the company. This allowed us to pay special attention to departments that were feeling the most impact.
The plan was to survey our team weekly, but Redoxers reported that they were already experiencing some survey fatigue (there’d been a few other surveys launched in the previous two weeks). After some consideration, we decided that biweekly would get the job done just as well, and our CEO again communicated this new plan to the company.
We are incredibly fortunate to have our Knowledge manager, Jessica, working tirelessly to get each of us documenting our knowledge and work processes. Going forward, she will review the biweekly results and reach out to teams most in need to determine if she or others can help them reach knowledge management goals.
For teams needing help beyond that scope, we created a brand-new resource to make it easy to ask for and receive assistance—the Help Desk, which Becky will talk about in our next post for this series, so stay tuned!
As we all continue to work through a challenge most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes, let’s keep up this culture of educating each other, and continue to lean on one another for support.
*We chose this over our regular survey platform Culture Amp, as we didn’t want to overuse and diminish the future effectiveness of this powerful tool. Your organization might prefer a different way to manage surveying.