WFH in COVID-19 times; what have we learned?

Mircea Scarlatescu blog

A bit of background info: Two months ago, via a Slack channel message at FYB Romania we have started debating where we should try the WFH scenario since the COVID-19 pandemic was about the hit Romania. It proved less than a debate and more a quick agreement and a decision to start the implementation the next day. That was on a Thursday, next Monday we were basically in WFH mode full power. 3 days; being a small company helps in these types of situations 🙂

Fast forward to today, Romania is getting out of the semi-lockdown quarantine, bit by bit  and we are beginning to plan for the future and the return to normal life (or something that will resemble normal life as we knew it before March). Companies that have implemented the WFH procedures, especially IT ones, face the decision of getting back to the offices or prolong the remote work process. It’s quite a complex decision since we do not really know how the virus will spread from now on with the lock-down suspended and also since the schools in Romania will keep closed up until September for most students so some parents will have to continue the WFH regime. For us the normality will consist of opening the office on June 1st and allo WFH for each colleague as per their individual needs and preferences and we’ll see just how things evolve, week by week.

But the more important aspect of the past two months is the way this period has changed us, our way of working and how do we go on from here? Is WFH the future of IT work or just a placeholder? Are office spaces needed anymore on long-term bases or maybe co-working solutions will prove more and more efficient for companies like ours? In all, the final conclusion remains to be validated but we’ve come up with some answers to quite difficult questions we’ve been faced to and sharing seems natural:

Work Efficiency

It’s a tough one; at the beginning of the crises you could have found lots of voices explaining why work from home is better than from the office, how things don’t change and so on and so-forth; as time passed, these voices became a bit more…..toned down :). Our experience proved that if you’ve been efficient in your work from the office, chances are you are still productive from the environment of your own house, assuming you manage to create a bit of a bubble around you or by the nature of your family life this bubble somehow already exists. Having one or more kids around, a large family next to you, not having a dedicated office or study room inside the house or not having a small garden to relax or run away proves quite a challenge in keeping work productive and your bubble intact. 

On the other hand If productivity is an issue in the office….for sure the home will not improve any of that 🙂

In all, we haven’t really seen any major improvements in working from home vs office work, that’s a busted myth BUT no major decrease also….

Disclaimer: since we have separate working locations in Romania and Moldova, remote resources and clients all over Europe and America….remote collaboration and communication tools were already in place and familiar to us so this has helped a lot.

Hardware issues, devices usage

For all it’s worth this period really pin-points the fact that fixed work stations seem to be a matter of the past. From laptops and netbooks to cloud storage solutions and mobile devices… there’s no getting around that, all of us will have to make sure that into the future we are prepared to adapt and change quite quickly from one way of working to another, from one location to another and do that not in a matter of weeks but in a matter of days.

Yes, graphics designers used to work on huge powerful stations, video animators, photographers will have much more complications here than the average web coder but still, the fact of the matter is location will be less important than it used to be getting out of the lockdown

Internet access, security, privacy

Internet access in Romania is no issue for most towns and also the bandwidth is no real problem over here so that was maybe the most easy part to handle. If needed, some rapid upgrades of Internet subscriptions have been put in place but… no really bottleneck

But more than ever, secure access to sensitive information has been an issue to pay attention to. Things covered easily with an IP whitelist before COVID-19 have become much more complex to handle. From having a different range of devices accessing secure locations to making sure that keeping that list of devices as short as possible and also access to those devices granted only to the right persons….proves to be a challenge from time to time. 

Privacy issues from the team’s point of view, like opening your own house to video calls with clients….also things to take into account for future planning of WFH procedures.

Response times to emergencies

We’ve made a name for ourselves from fast response to our client’s emergencies. We had no difference here and having around us devices that we could easily connect to client locations and manage things really helped and even improved our response time. It’s maybe the biggest win but at the same the challenge of separating the team’s personal and professional time seems to be an issue for the future and it’s something very complex to take into account when it comes to making WFH a permanent feature of a company’s workflow.

Team building, socializing?

For sure the loser of this period. Without an office to meet, socialize, drink coffee, eat and more… keeping a team together becomes quite the biggest challenge. Encouraging each other becomes close to impossible, helping each other not so easy, and the overall team cohesion becomes quite a HR nightmare 🙂

So… brace-brace-brace for difficult issues within the team.

All around score?

There’s no real winner between office time and WFH. For various individuals there are pluses and minuses all around but the fact of the matter is that the new reality will probably involve a combination of the two, some sort of balance between keeping office costs effective with less employees there and also allowing people to do work from home when needed or when imposed, with as less of impact on work as possible. 

But, no, apparently there’s no perfect “new way” of doing IT business after COVID-19, we are still learning and adapting 

At FYB, for the short-term period, we’ll keep WFH for another half month and starting June we’ll assess how getting back to our HQ would look like; the medium and long-term perspective is as simple as…. “We’ll see how things will move forward for each and every one of us and we’ll do our best to adapt to it”. 

In the end, the IT business has been known to quickly adapt to the new and most of the times drive this “new” forward so our guess is… we will still do that we will inspire other industries and individuals to do like us. But first….we just need to understand from the inside what the “new way” looks like…..

So reboot, login and… stay safe!!