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Managing Through COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a terrible experience for all of us.  At the time of writing it has killed more than 1 million people globally, damaged the physical and mental health of millions more.  It created widespread economic devastation and isolated billions from friends, colleagues and loved ones.  Managing through COVID-19 presented a unique challenge for GoldenSource, our partners, suppliers and clients.

GoldenSource has over 350 employees working in offices located in 6 countries.  We serve clients located in 14 countries.  While we have always allowed flexibility for employees to work from home when required, in general we have found that the best productivity, staff engagement and satisfaction comes from working together, face-to-face, as a team.

Lockdown

It was clear by late February 2020 that COVID-19 had the potential to become a global pandemic.  In response GoldenSource’s management team ordered a review of our Business Continuity Plans and testing.  Things quickly escalated in Europe, forcing the closure of our Milan Office on March 9th.  Our London office quickly followed on March 11th when a case was discovered at another firm in the building.  The NY office was officially closed on March 13th.  During COVID-specific planning we assumed that, given the very low number of confirmed cases at the time, the Mumbai office would remain open for two months or more.  But the government of the state of Maharashtra aggressively acted to get in front of the issue by implementing a widespread lockdown on March 18th.  In the course of nine days, every GoldenSource employee shifted from working in a busy office with colleagues to working from home.  And so did virtually every one of our clients, who were managing through COVID-19 in parallel.

Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

This was obviously an unprecedented challenge for GoldenSource’s staff and management.  While we had Business Continuity Plans, none of them anticipated a scenario where every staff member and every client were working from home.  The standard play book that focused on redundancy and disaster recovery sites simply could not be implemented.

Managing through COVID-19

We elected to address the challenge by clearly delineating our priorities and working from there:

  1. Keep GoldenSource’s and our clients’ staff safe
  2. Maintain or improve KPIs and meet all SLAs for in-production clients
  3. Continue to implement, configure and upgrade client’s software
  4. Continue to build world quality enterprise data management software and services, and maintain sales momentum

By clearly articulating these four goals, in descending priority, we were able to quickly prioritize efforts and allocate resources.  When multiple demands for a given resource arose, we simply turned to these founding principles for guidance.

Results

  • GoldenSource met or exceeded each of the priorities outlined above.
  • While there were bumps in the road, the transition for GoldenSource and for our clients, went far more smoothly than I would have predicted.
  • Our teams in NY, London, Milan, Melbourne and Singapore include management, sales, senior professional service and administrative staff. Most of this staff cohort was equipped and trained to work remotely.  This staff group has an average tenure with the company of over 7 years.  These teams did not struggle at all with the transition.
  • The Mumbai team, which includes development, professional services, managed services, support and some admin functions, had a few teething pains but quickly rose to meet the challenge. These are larger groups with lower average tenure.  The teething pains fell into 4 buckets:
    • Access to laptop computers
    • Internet bandwidth and speed – this became an issue regionally as all assumptions underpinning the infrastructure were exceeded
    • Adjusting development methodology to accommodate the lack of physical proximity
    • Creating an acceptable workspace in often cramped accommodation.

At the outset of managing through COVID-19, our biggest initial concern was to make sure our in-production clients were receiving all the support they needed to make the transition themselves.  To their credit, our Managed Services and Support teams rallied and provided excellent support.  After a week or so, the entire global team, with a Herculean effort from the IT/Desktop support personnel, was working smoothly.

We’ve also continued to deliver on our product roadmap. In September, after six months of working remotely, we have launched our Quant Workbench to run quantitative analytics directly on best available data. This is a brand new area for us. Completing the development of this new capability is a key achievement and proof that during lockdowns and whilst working remotely we’re getting on with business.

Plans are useless, but planning is essential.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Lessons and observations while managing through COVID-19

  1. When working remotely engagement matters even more than when in the office. This holds true for peers, staff and clients.  Most teams have a daily stand up.  Some have two.  All managers speak with their direct reports daily or, at a minimum, several times a week.  We touch base with clients, across a range of functions and seniority, regularly.
  2. Agile development can work remotely, but it is difficult. The ceremonies and artifacts are doubly important when physical proximity is impossible.
  3. Despite the absence of a commute, most team members are working a longer day. This is due to the extra communication requirements.
  4. KPIs and SLAs can be maintained and even improved – but it takes diligence and focus.
  5. Clear messaging from management is more important than ever.
  6. Managing a remote staff requires new tools.
  7. Modern communication tools are a must. We live in/on Microsoft Teams.  We actively use Zoom, we text one another, and use many other tools to stay engaged.

We are proud of our results.  We have maintained or improved KPIs across all client segments.  We have met or exceeded all operational SLAs.  Our annual client survey showed improvement across every single segment.  I’ve personally called or emailed most of our clients to (a) check in on them, (b) to make sure we are delivering for them and (c) to ask them to contact me personally if our service deteriorates.

What does the future hold?

  1. Our offices are now open for voluntary attendance. On any given day we have a handful of staff members in across a range of locations.  Today, as I am writing this, there are 6 of us in the NYC office, about 25% of the team.
  2. While many team members have settled into a happy routine, most prefer being physically together for most or all of the work week.
  3. We are learning how to integrate new hires under the new ‘reality’. This is challenging.
  4. We are carefully monitoring engagement and cohesion. While we have not seen anything other than isolated issues, articles are popping up in the press describing this an emerging issue.
  5. Most analysis predicts that a safe effective vaccine will be developed in record time, perhaps even early 2021.  Producing and distributing enough will obviously take longer.  But at the same time, treatment protocols are improving.  Our best guess is that major urban areas will “feel” safe starting in the 2nd quarter of 2021.

This period has been unprecedented and difficult.  Yet despite this, our company and our industry have soldiered on.  We have worked hard, innovated and risen to the challenge – and we will continue to do so.

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