By Chris Schagen, on Mar 12, 2020

Work is what we do, not where we are

Illustration of someone with a puppy working at their oversized computer.

Governments, businesses and individuals need to play a part in halting the global spread of the Coronavirus/COVID-19. The health of our employees, customers, and community is of paramount concern. That's why we're paying attention to what mathematicians say about exponential growth and Tomas Pueyo's instruction to act now. We’re changing how we conduct business while maintaining our business operations at full capacity.

Contentful serves thousands of leading brands with a team of more than 350 employees, including those in our Berlin and San Francisco hubs and distributed employees in every time zone. Our global footprint helped us prepare for this challenge.

Yesterday, our senior management team recommended that all of our staff work from home through March 28. While that could massively disrupt some businesses, our team is ready. I want to tell you a bit more about how we’ve prepared, in case your business is facing similar challenges.

Crowd management

We’re taking heed of the recommendation to practice “social distancing,” which is another way of saying avoiding crowds. By recommending everyone work from home, we’re vastly reducing the need for our employees to be where many people are gathered.

Great tools

Our philosophy is that “work is what we do, not where we are.” That means Contentful equips employees to do their best work with their preferred tools whether they are in one of our office hubs or thousands of miles away.

Technology

Our systems for real-time and asynchronous communication (Berlin is typically nine hours ahead of San Francisco), and our structured approach to project and meeting management are keeping things running with minimal disruption. We use productivity tools including Zoom video conferencing, Slack messaging and calls, Jira for project management, Miro for brainstorming boards, Funretro.io for retrospective meetings and many team-selected tools to bridge the miles between us. What was once on a whiteboard in an office is now fully digital and accessible anywhere.

Practice

Last Thursday, we conducted a drill that required every employee to work from home with just 24 hours’ notice. Through special department retrospectives the following Monday, we learned how to confidently maintain full business operations despite an office closure.

Our retro revealed a 50% increase in Slack messages, from about 14,000 per day to 21,000 per day, indicating that people diverted their conversations from in-person to virtual, and that employees remained engaged despite the possible distractions of home.

Slack activity

Slack messaging spiked by 50% during our work-from-home drill, indicating strong employee communication and engagement.

We heard from people that they appreciated the focus and quiet that home brings, the hours spent on commuting were redirected to work and collaboration within their immediate teams went smoothly.

On the negative side, we heard about home internet problems disrupting Zoom meetings, distractions from family and pets and loneliness — no surprises there. We also learned how much our employees value Contentful’s seamless Zoom room setup, which enables one-click ease in joining meetings from office conference rooms.

Policy

We implemented a three-tiered response to the Coronavirus. At level 1, we made working from home optional with manager approval. At level 2, working from home is recommended, and our office is open on a limited basis. That’s where we are now. We’re also prepared for level 3, in which our offices are closed and working from home is required.

In our policy documentation, we’re encouraging people to over-communicate when working remotely, to keep regular working hours and to attend all meetings via video whenever possible — not just a phone call. Our team of 13% distributed employees also wrote a blog post with helpful work-from-home tips.

Application

We’ve canceled all employee travel to events through the end of April, which includes the in-person version of our own events. On Monday, following news of a teammate’s possible exposure to the Coronavirus, we closed our Berlin office as a precaution. After a thorough office cleaning and guidance from our company doctor and the German Department of Health, we reopened the office.

Empathy

One of our employees was visiting family in China in January when the Coronavirus protocols forced her to remain there rather than return to Berlin for work. I was struck by the beautiful outpouring of support and well wishes from across every department on a virtual card we created for her.

Even before our all-company recommendation to work from home, we encouraged employees and managers to work together to find a healthy, productive way to keep business on track. Realizing that no policy can cover every scenario, our message to staff includes the importance of bringing empathy and good judgment to every situation.

Since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Coronavirus a global pandemic, we’re doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus and support the global healthcare systems working to eliminate it.

We’re open for business as usual to support our customers while doing all we can to be part of the solution.

Chris Schagen

CMO at Contentful. You can follow Chris on Twitter.