COVID-19 changed everything and it will continue to do so in the years to come. This was clear for me when it started breaking out in Italy and the rest of Europe. Our personal life was shaken from the ground up and the same happened to our professional one. What was simple became complicated, what was not an issue became the problem. For me, team management, better said team adaptation to the new “normal”, was this year’s challenge.
From a team on-site to remote management
For me, freelancing was never the go-to solution when I was doing development. I needed a team, I craved human interaction and I still believe this is the best way to learn and evolve as a developer. Working from home was a “nice to have” option when you literally had no desire to get out of bed but were still willing to code. So, that being said, you can get the picture that I prefer to have an on-site team to manage.
Well, in March, when COVID-19 broke in Romania, I saw myself in an extremely difficult situation and with a lot of variables floating around:
- a product that was not yet mature
- one of the teams still had 3 positions opened (out of 4)
- another team was being built, from scratch, for a completely new product
- some processes were not so well defined
- the one thing that everyone loved was at risk – the work environment
(and these are just the tip of the iceberg)
So, as everyone did in the industry, I decided to switch to a fully “work from home” scenario trying to mitigate as much as possible the business impact but also keep everyone isolated and healthy. We still had to deliver, I couldn’t manage that with sick people.
As a day to day task for a manager, it was time to make decisions and, as usual, some of them were easy and some of them were hard, but the end goal was clear for me from the start: adapt, make everything work and keep everyone glued as a team.
Not so flexible work schedule
Developers love to sleep and have wild parties in the middle of the week or play video games till 5 AM. This is a fact! Not so many parties in a lockdown but still, it proves a point.
So, my first order of business was to make everyone work in the same “time zone”. This translated into 2 meetings: Stand-up and End of day, 30 minutes for each. Everyone needs to say in the first what they are doing today and in the last what they did and if there are blockers or issues.
With this 2 fixed in stone, at 09:30 AM and 17:00 PM, I managed to get everyone together, make them talk (even if they just woke up) and the most important thing: give them a start and stop for work. Burn-out, especially when working from home, is a real thing.
The hidden agenda for these was to make them talk to each other and it worked. Everyone starts pitching in-jokes and tales, the same as we did while in the office during smoke breaks or lunch. With 1 hour “sacrificed” daily, I managed to keep almost the same vibe and it proved to be, in the end, the most efficient communications channel.
Clear responsibilities and processes
As I stated above, not everything was written on paper and clear for everyone. There were some grey areas that were necessary and welcomed in the office. It let people handle the day to day as they saw fit. In this “new” world it only created bad chaos (yes, there is good chaos also).
It was a monumental task, and I had help from most of my Team Leads (more or less 🙂 ). In the end, it was a team effort to write everything down, explain to people what and how they should do their job, and assure that tracking was in place to not miss anything crucial.
Team meetings, 1 on 1s, calls, and hand-holding – “new” team management
Also important when in the office, these meetings became crucial now. From giving and receiving work-related feedback to a more or less of a support group where people vented. And it helps, it keeps everyone sane in times where some of us feel new things, like anxiety.
So, I dedicated more time to team management and team members and less time to do everything else. I could say that I took time planning up a notch for myself to be able to cope. It’s not easy, not at all.
Did it work? Was it worth it?
Not only we remained a team, but I managed to fill all my open slots and on-boarding worked like a charm.
Productivity rise by about 15% overall and some of the team members became better developers.
Even if it is hard, I am happy with the decision I made and how it all played out (until now). These are not the only ones, but the most important. With time, people adapt better and some polishing is required here and there, but that translates into day to day.
Will it ever be back to normal? No!
As I stated in the beginning, COVID-19 changed everything, including team management. I do not see us ever returning to the old “normal” but I see a huge opportunity for everyone to redefine what “normal” means, both professionally and personally.
You can read more about how I became a manager here.