How to request and offer help when capacity demands change

May 6, 2020
Becky Northrup Communications & Events Specialist

This is part two of our “Contingency Planning During a Pandemic” series. Check out part one / part three / part four.

In the second post in our 4-part series about Redox’s contingency planning efforts during COVID-19, I’m excited to tell you about our initiative to give Redoxers a user-friendly way to ask for help with their work—and offer to help others if they have excess capacity. We call it the Help Desk. 

The Help Desk came about following the work Morgen Donovan, our People Operations program manager, described in the previous post about why and how we took on contingency planning in the midst of a global pandemic. She walked through the steps taken to gain a clear picture of Redoxers’ physical and mental capacities, as well as the demands on our time both within Redox and in the rest of our lives. This was accomplished by sending out weekly pulse check surveys and analyzing the results. 

Though we were already a fully distributed company working remotely across the country, we were all affected in some way by the novel coronavirus—with family members now also working from home, transitioning to at-home learning for children, and the increased cognitive load on everyone from anxiety and stress of the unknown. The baseline checks helped us understand where things stood, and as we gained a clear picture into each Redoxer’s capacity, we saw that some needed extra help while others had help to give.

This led to the second deliverable in our project: a way to facilitate sharing loads under shifting circumstances. We wanted all Redoxers to be confident that if they had to be out of the office with little to no notice for any amount of time, the work would get done and their coworkers would have a reliable, approved guide to seeing needs and meeting expectations. And so we created the Help Desk.

Deliverable #2: Create a virtual Help Desk that allows Redoxers to request and offer help

The Purpose

The first capacity pulse check survey helped us to visualize which teams had more time available and which individuals had experienced an increased demand for their time. The image below shows how a variety of factors affected our teams and their performance. It validated the need for an easy-to-use process to ask for and offer help. 

As a fully remote company, even in normal times workloads across teams aren’t readily visible, and we don’t have the luxury of stopping by offices or cubes to check in. So especially now, how do Redoxers with increased capacity know where help is needed? And how do folks with an increased workload ask for that help, aside from reaching out to multiple people and scheduling meetings, both of which constitute more work? 

We needed to make the needs visible, the work transparent, and to ensure a low barrier of entry to ask for and offer help. The Help Desk is our solution to that need!

Simple bar charts show outage, demand, and cognitive load impacts on teams in the first pulse check.

The Work

Understanding what we needed, I worked with Dietke Fowler, our director of Business Operations, to first build a project in Jira, our project and task management tool. We used this tool because it integrates with Confluence, which we use for knowledge management, and Slack, our communications tool. Setting up a multi-platform integration was important for us to ensure an easy, user-friendly experience. But you can use any project and task management platform; Trello and Asana also have free versions that integrate with Slack and others. 

Systems setup

  1. Jira. The project board allows us to move cards between three stages: New, In Progress and Done. We then customized the fields for tasks (pictured below) to include the information needed to qualify and understand the need, the skills required, priority level, time investment and due date. 
Depiction of a task within the Jira Help board showing the standard and customized fields.
  1. Confluence. With the project board established, we created a Help page in Confluence. The main page includes an overview and step-by-step instructions for requesting and offering help. 

There are three sub-pages: Help Wanted, Help in Progress and Help Completed. With a simple command in edit mode, we added the Jira project to each of the pages to narrow the view down by the stage of that task. This gives Redoxers the ability to have a single source of information for where the needs are, what’s in progress, who is helping and what has been completed at a glance.

  1. Slack. We then created a slack channel called #help_wanted. Jira integrates nicely with Slack so all Redoxers need to do is enter the command for Jira in that channel and a title for the task which specifies the need, and it will be shared with everyone else in the channel. They can then click on the ticket hyperlink to be taken to Jira and complete the rest of the fields for the task they just created. This serves the purpose of making it visible and letting those with capacity to help see the needs in real time. 

Implementation and Communication

With the systems and workflow in place, we began implementation with a demo to our coaches (managers). We walked them through the workflow and process between systems, answered questions and gathered feedback. We then created two short training videos, one for folks asking for help and the other for those offering help. The videos were added in Confluence and pinned in the Slack channel. 

The final step in implementation was to introduce Help Desk to the full company, communicating the new process in the “important-only” Slack channel. Key to our communication plan was clarifying the purpose of the Help Desk and distinguishing this new process from our well-established work request process. We wanted to be sure people understood that the Help Desk is for seeking help with workload, with tasks on their plate as part of their work responsibilities. We wanted to be clear that it’s not for technical support, access requests or other operational, security or people operations requests. 

The Results

The full setup and implementation process took about 10 hours across one week to complete. In the three weeks since kickoff, nine requests for help have been submitted: five were completed and two are still in progress. The requests have come from finance, operations, legal, security and sales operations. 

During this time of change and uncertainty, Redoxers are flexing to support each other in meaningful ways. Even though COVID-19’s impact on our capacity has been less than we’d initially suspected and the Help Desk hasn’t had the amount of traffic we’d planned for, we anticipate the need for this kind of fluidity to continue into the future. The Help Desk is a useful, easy way for Redoxers to ask for and offer help going forward.

In the next post in this series, Jessica Malloy, our awesome Knowledge manager, will discuss the company-wide process for contingency planning and process documentation, and the following week Dietke will wrap things up with a lessons-learned post.

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