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Where were you when the announcement about the pandemic hit the news stream? It might sound like a horror movie cliché, but I was at a hotel close to Warsaw, enjoying the forest and good weather.
The beginning of the year is traditionally the time of planning and preparing strategies for the current and next years. And this time, it could not have been more different.
Together with the entire Predica leadership team, we were at a 2-day retreat offsite. We were working on business goals and our 2020 strategy.
Well, we had to adjust our plans and agenda. In such times, you have to be agile.
The news hit that the outbreak was becoming more severe, and the situation started to look serious. We saw it sooner. As we always follow all the markets, it was hard for us to miss what was happening in China. We made some contingency plans for travel arrangements early.
But things were different. Soon we realized there would be a pandemic. We quickly grasped the scale and potential impact of this event and re-aligned our agenda to respond promptly.
It was clear that the anxiety and uncertainty associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) rose every day among our employees. We saw our customers preparing for it.
According to the phrase, which likely originates from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, “…for extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.” So, if extreme situations require extreme decisions and actions, we decided to act quickly.
Although WHO and local governments had already introduced some measures, we felt that this wouldn’t be enough to ensure the safety of our employees and their families. We all had put a lot of energy into building a self-managed and remote-first company.
Now we see that it was a smart decision. It was also a time to put it to the test.
We introduced a rule for all our employees to return from abroad, and stay in quarantine (remote work) for 14 days. The number of such people was significant. With many customers around the world, our people travel very often.
We moved all meetings to online effective immediately. Internal and with customers. No exceptions.
It was not unusual for us. As a remote-first company, we use #MSTeams every day to communicate internally and externally.
We expected that there would be fewer people in the office. We also started to cancel face to face meetings and non-essential flights.
At that moment, we still had some people at the office and skeleton crew on duty (reception, IT). We paid attention to signals and planning. We saw the plague accelerated, spreading all over Europe.
Poland was not yet on the list of affected countries, but we decided to act. We’ve determined to be one step ahead of the situation.
We closed all our physical offices from 12th March till further notice, immediately. That applied to all locations around the world. All events, meetings with clients and internal, had to be moved online, with no exceptions. As the offices closed, it was logical to stop our customers from visiting us locally.
We introduced a policy change to let all people deny flights and travel. We knew that it would have consequences for ongoing work, but we did it right away.
And in the light of the events that were to come soon (closing the Polish borders), banning travel for our employees was a leading move. We have sent a message on social media to all our clients and business partners.
The primary question was how to communicate effectively with everyone across different time zones.
Internal communications on a day to day basis rely on Yammer (corporate Facebook “cousin”, part of Office 365 suite). We used it first to issue immediate communication and announcements. Leadership also made sure that messages reached employees’ mailboxes and smartphones.
These actions raised questions. It is natural for people to have questions. What we did to address them:
If you need it – there is a Crisis Communication app for MS Teams available for free from Microsoft. Use it.
Within a few hours, we prepared a live event for all our employees (250+) with a Q&A session – again on #MSTeams. Here’s a guide to how you can use Teams Live Events for companywide communication.
Predica is a remote-first company. Let’s be honest; there are not a lot of companies, which operate in this way in 100%. We have 6 physical offices in 5 countries, with two hosting a significant number of people.
This situation caused many questions that needed answers. A lot of unexpected problems needed to be solved.
We act on those principles and the following priorities:
This is the most common problem to solve. IT is no different from other industries. We also need direct contact with customers. We don’t just sit behind computer screens and program like crazy.
Well, until recently, we thought that face-to-face contact with clients was necessary for the proper management of projects. The situation with the pandemic changed our point of view.
Yes, the lack of direct contact makes some tasks difficult, but thanks to work in the cloud, it is also possible to collaborate with clients in a 100% remote-first model. Clients are also people. They see the situation, understand, and accept this model of action.
Based on the government’s recommendations to limit the spread of the contagion, the entire economy and all organizations, whether private or state-owned, had to adapt quickly to new realities. The remote-first work environment is a must-have today.
Microsoft came to the rescue and offered free 6-month access to O365 and Teams for all those in need. But most people don’t know: What tools to use? How to facilitate quick adoption? How to communicate changes?
A lot of businesses will probably need our help to run their enterprises in remote mode. Based on the tools we use ourselves and the first solutions deployed for customers this week, we have prepared a “rescue kit” package.
We launched a dedicated page, prepared leaflets and also a newsletter for our clients, established an information campaign on social media. We chose experts who will help.
In IT, we can have an impact. Look and see if you can help other organizations who struggle. Our CTO, Tomasz Onyszko, even jumped on the occasion to help a small government organization move to Teams and remote work during one weekend.
HR, as the name suggests, relates to human resource management. We prefer to say: people. Just a week ago, it seemed that in this department, it is impossible to enter the remote mode completely. Unimaginable!
Example: employee onboarding process. Where in standard times, we collected CVs, made a selection, invited chosen candidates for interviews, signed contracts with the selected ones, then did a 2-day onboarding at the company’s headquarters.
Each new employee received all the required equipment, directly to their own hands. There was personal contact at almost every stage.
We took the challenge and found a way to do it entirely remotely. Without face-to-face contact. It may seem cruel, but unfortunately necessary to give us all security.
We carry on with interviews and recruitment. We switched to MS Teams to do interviews. For new hires, IT redirected the delivery of all necessary equipment to the new employee’s home address. On the day of onboarding, one of the HR team members has a video call with the new employees and carries out the onboarding training remotely.
Here, switching to remote mode went amazingly smoothly. Our finance department has online access and authorization to all necessary portals. We sign documents with digital signature DocuSign or for Polish legal documents, also certified signatures or the electronic banking signature available in Poland.
Planned live events were a challenge. Admittedly, the external ones were canceled, but what about those organized by us? We have a lot of loyal fans, and it would be a shame to leave them without Predica’s knowledge.
Here, we also transferred them to the internet and will conduct them as live online events. The only difference is the lack of physical contact, zero paper notebooks, pens or gadgets. What about previously ordered marketing materials? There was a way around that too.
The average age of people working at Predica is about 30. Many of them have small children. By government decision, nurseries, kindergartens, and schools are now closed.
The fundamental questions are: how to work at home since we have minors to look after? How to reconcile home duties with remote work and not go crazy? Because many parents have the same problem, social media is flooding with advice.
We also have some guidance, or rather, we can say that one of our employees found his ways, which he shared in an interesting article. If you are eager to know how he is doing staying at home with his two young sons, please visit: Full House: How To Work Remotely With Kids?
We are not diviners, and we are not able to foresee everything. But we have the experience, technology and knowledge necessary to help address most of today’s questions and problems.
In the past, we faced various threats. Two years ago, one of our clients, the largest logistics company in the world, had to deal with a cybersecurity crisis.
Although it was not a health-threatening situation like today, in many respects it was similar to the one we are dealing with now. The company practically stopped, and over 100,000 people had to find a new way of working.
How to keep working in the face of a global epidemic? We operate by following our values to fight the current crisis:
Before now, we didn’t have the opportunity to test us being 100% remote-first, and we know it’s not a permanent situation. We think that F2F contact is still relevant. Luckily, we have our way of dealing with today’s challenges – the Predica Way. If it works for us, it may also work for your business.
Additional content contributed by: Tomasz Onyszko, Katarzyna Korowaj
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