Amongst ourselves we had been talking about the novel coronavirus. Wuhan had dominated the news for weeks and by February, Covid-19 confirmed cases were cropping up all around us in Southern California. Some of us were scared, some confused, others indifferent. Amid the swath of opinions, we were all unsure of what was coming.
It was a Thursday afternoon when our CEO, Mike Merchant, told us to pack up everything we would need to work from home. Orange County had declared a state of emergency and local and state authorities were advising shelter-at-home policies.
A cold storm swept through that spring day in March as employees trotted to their cars, fumbling with umbrellas, covering multiple laptops, extension cables and personal items from the cold rain. It was the last time many of us saw our colleagues in person.
One of our teams had been prepping for an upcoming launch of a major project. They were in the middle of a sprint with things planned out in advance. Our turnaround time to settle at home and launch was a weekend.
There was a lot of uncertainty of the situation and concern for how we were going to make this work given our tight timeframe. Yet, we met the deadline and launched the product successfully, the sprint served as a harbinger of what was to come: adjusting to more sprints, deadlines, projects and constantly pivoting to make it all work.
Although we’re fortunate to be able to continue working through the pandemic, this is not “business as usual”. Like millions of people, our personal lives are being impacted. Codazen’s Executive Creative Director, Danny Petrovich, says, ”As a manager, it’s important to make sure I’m available for weekly, consistently scheduled one-on-one meetings to not only discuss job-related topics, but to also provide an opportunity to listen and help support my team on a more personal level.“
Petrovich switched to using Portal+ for its video quality and sound. It’s helped make conversations feel more realistic and authentic on both ends.
Amid our sense of change, we haven’t been oblivious to the disastrous economic impact that’s left so many Americans out of work. Codazen’s employees recognize that working from home is a blessing.
Yet, the new normal of being with each other by not being near each other is daunting at times. Before the pandemic, we shared work spaces within cross-functional teams. We ambushed each other in Nerf gun battles drowned by laughter. We ate lunch together, some of us went to spin class after work, some made weekend plans for Dungeons and Dragons, we took afternoon walks, we walked to one another’s desks to collaborate.
Codazen had its office culture. Overnight, those things that bound us became unsafe. While we can still connect electronically, we now live in a unique world that keeps us apart as we try to keep healthy.
Friends ‘pivot’ meme. (Source: https://imgur.com/qj8VNMe)
What was going to be a short-term work-from-home plan has turned into a long-term setting. We’ve built home offices that range from the guest room to a corner of the dining room table. But in pivoting, we’ve made the best out of challenging times: we’re using our flexible schedule to remain productive on our projects.
Pre-pandemic, Codazen had a strong tech infrastructure. The company had already invested in top-of-the-line laptops, video conferencing tools, web-based collaboration software, and other cloud-based solutions. As shelter in place began, this model made for a seamless work-from-home transition. Our well-rooted tech infrastructure is what’s enabled us to pivot quickly while staying productive and in touch with clients and each other.
One of our Associate Full-Stack Engineers, Parker Rebensdorf, shares his adjustment and advice, “Being able to hop on a video call to have a back and forth, even if it’s for two minutes, is immensely helpful. Also, it’s nice to see people other than my roommates every once in a while.”
Codazen’s infrastructure has also made it possible to expand its workforce. Petrovich hired Gwenever Pacifico, Associate Copywriter, just days after the work-from-home order began, “she never made it past our lobby and only met the people that interviewed her.”
Pacifico says this new normal is just her regular normal. “The norm for me isn’t working at the office, but working at my kitchen table,” she says.
Gwenever Pacifico, Associate Copywriter, at her kitchen work-from-home desk. (Courtesy: Gwenever Pacifico.)
From home, we’re meeting client needs. We’re still designing and building responsive sites and enterprise applications while experimenting with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality projects. We ship all necessary equipment and tools to employees’ homes.
We’ve built a technology infrastructure that can withstand not only the pandemic but whatever comes in the post-Covid-19 world. Pivoting helped us roll with it. It helped us push past the comfort of our office walls. Ironically, being apart made us reach out for one another more. It made us want to communicate better.
Pivoting, whether in design or life, is an incredibly humane act. To give oneself the room to adjust, and re-adjust when need be, helps us not only move forward to build better products but also deliver better services.
The pivot mindset is really about accepting fears amid change. Anything that pulls us out of our plans and comfort zones can trigger our fight-or-flight response. But, a pivot mindset keeps change in perspective.
It’s much easier to pivot in a project when we have to re-write code, re-design a wireframe, or re-write content. Pivoting to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus has challenged us all to adjust on a deeply personal level. We’re also adjusting to being more supportive when the personal stuff hits hard. We comfort each other as Covid-19 moves through our communities and families.
Empathetic leadership has helped us adjust. Petrovich says one of his team members lost family due to complications from Covid-19. “Reminding people that it’s ok to take time off to help reduce stress or to take care of family matters is important,” he says. From the CEO to the project managers, employees are encouraged to check in on one another and reach out for help. Humor helps too and we highly encourage it.
One of our engineering managers, Joshua Studley, uses humor to engage his team. “I think one thing that has helped the team is that I wear costumes or put funny backgrounds up during morning standup. The team gets a laugh and have said privately to me that they appreciate me doing that,” he says.
Engineering Manager, Josh Studley’s Lego recreation of his home office. (Courtesy: Josh Studley.)
Studley also posts contests, jokes and good news on our internal social media feed. “We miss being around each other and laughing or talking about TV and movies and dumb stuff,” says Studley.
Sheltering in place during the pandemic has humbled us. We’re reminded of gratitude for our health and employment. We’re also consistently learning to pivot not only within our lean, agile teams, but also in our day-to-day challenges. We too feel the shelter-at-home fatigue, the impatience of wanting a normal life again. But we pivot as needed, one day at a time.
We understand this change could be longterm and we’re proving that our infrastructure is strong but, more so, we’re leaning into our principles and honoring our clients’ needs as well as our own.