Distributed work – business as usual

How we stick together in regular times also extends to times of trouble.

Slowly you get used to the empty streets and finally, you can hear the birds chirping in the middle of the big cities, so now it’s time for us to share our discoveries and routines about being agile and working remotely in distributed teams – not only in Corona-times.

The first advice came from Christoph Steindl, CEO of Catalysts and member of the board at Cloudflight, on a Saturday afternoon after it was clear that we should create a new life form for a while because of the Covid-19 breakout. He said: “Be prepared to change yourself or an aspect of your life and remember that we will stick together even if we temporarily prefer to keep a safe distance just in case.”

We asked him about how our culture & routine can help us now and in the future too.

MB: You can learn a lot about the Cloud-way (originally called Cat-way from the Catalysts-times) when you start at our company as a newbie: it is a collection of our traditions and cultural habits. How can Cloud-way guide our company and community through this unusual crisis situation at the moment?

CS: The way how we stick together in regular times also extends to times of trouble. When I need something from another person, I will get support. When we need to collect data from every segment (or project), in order to get a full picture of the situation, I know that I will get reliable information. We will openly discuss what options we have. We will prepare plans together. We will come to a decision and then all stand behind the decision, implementing it simultaneously in all teams.

Harald Vogl is the Lead of Colocation and Distribution Discipline at Cloudflight and was the fifth employee at the company. We talked to him about distributed work and solutions for the everyday-life in our workplace.

HV: At Cloudflight it does not matter where people are located when working together on a project. We can deliver projects in a distributed manner in the same way as when we are all sitting together in the same office – on time and on budget. This gives us the chance to stick the best heads of a field together for a project, independently from where they are working from. Furthermore, we opened several larger and smaller offices close to IT universities or to the home of our employees to save travel time and protect the environment.

MB: It is always inspiring when leaders treat employees as individuals and can accommodate their personal needs. How can the company provide flexibility for employees?

HV: The basic enabler for remote work is the right infrastructure – in our workplace, every employee gets a laptop and the ability to dial into a secure VPN to connect to internal and external customer systems. However, the most important aspects are trust, discipline and social acceptance. Therefore, we established some best practices and guidelines – I presented them in a talk at the Agile Austria Conference in 2018 – which we update regularly. This includes rules like our daily standups, the possibility for day-long team video rooms, how to handle internal chat groups, tasks and so on. Different internal and external tools help us with these things.

MB: Remote working is in our DNA from day one – which adventures we already have in this regard? What have we done everyday, regardless of the Covid-situation?

HV: One of the first adventures we had was celebrating a team success with a remote video beer with our colleagues in Nepal. Such things, with bad video quality and big surprises for our colleagues in Nepal at this time, foster the team spirit a lot. We developed things like catphones for better communication or coffeecams and day-long project video rooms to somehow have the feeling of being together, while not being together physically. Additionally, we developed several internal tools for reducing the administrative overhead and to become as paperless as possible, which also saves resources in the end. We are able to do nearly all of our back-office stuff, like time tracking, signing contracts, changing working hours, sick notes without pen and paper – this is a huge advantage in current times.

MB: Was it always smooth with all the partners and clients?

HV: We also had some challenges with customers that they accept our remote work – we always wanted to reduce our on-site meetings, thus having as many face2face meetings as necessary but as few as possible. We, at Cloudflight, tried to be role models in remote working and little by little all customers have seen the advantages as well and adapted to our way of remote working. I can remember a situation where the customer was not happy when they recognized that we have team members from several office locations – for us it was clear that it would work out and we hadn’t even thought to inform the customer that we have a distributed team, as for us this is nothing new — it’s daily business. The funny thing is, that this “surprise” happened only a few months before the go-live of the project, where we had lots of remote video meetings and short video coordination with one or several members of our team and the customer-colleagues never recognized that we are not sitting together in the same office.

MB: What is the situation with remote working and living now during Corona-measures?

HV: Times like these force us to change many things and let us think beyond what we are used to. As an example, we now have breakout rooms for remote coffee and a lunch video stream where people can talk and chat together as when going out for lunch or drinking coffee together to foster personal contact.

MB: What is the biggest discovery for you personally in this situation?

HV: To focus on what is really important for oneself: remote working helps to save time for family and things, which were not in focus in recent times. Having a stable working environment helps a lot to stay calm and produces a feeling of being safe. All the effort in recent years to enable remote work function in the same way as sitting together in the same office room, driven by lots of new office locations, now pays off. It is really impressive to see how we, as a whole company, and each project team manages to work together, with both Cloudflight and customer-colleagues.

According to Christoph Steindl, we will see crises also in the future, and they will come more often and with higher amplitude.

MB: What is your advice for employees at Cloudflight and other companies as well about how to spend their time wisely?

CS: Do a proper retrospective and learn from the current crisis about how to prepare for the next crisis. Look at other companies and organizations: what they did and how we could learn from them.

MB: What is your suggestion about how to best develop ourselves now and what things from this period can also be valuable in the future in your opinion?

CS: Eternal truths remain applicable even in tough times. I used to say: “Strengthen your strengths, find ways around your weaknesses and have fun!” We are quick learners; hence use the time and resources available and keep learning. Fun is more difficult now than it used to be; still, give it a try. Every day, every hour. At least put on a smile. Put a picture of your beloved ones within your field of vision. Tell one of your closest friends or family members that you love them. Love is the most important thing. Listen to your heart.

If you have any comments or questions about remote work: how can you set it up, what are the best practices step by step, feel free to contact our expert Harald Vogl anytime (marketing@cloudflight.io).

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