Work in the Time of Coronavirus

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
– Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

 

Each of us at Wibbu has been in obedient self-isolation for 16 days now. Zoom calls, Slack, Basecamp, Houseparty… You name it. We’ve done it. But the truth is, we set this all up 6 months ago, when we made the switch to remote working.

Now, all across the world, companies old and young are scrambling to uproot their systems and transfer them to their homes. Some have experienced smoother transitions than others, but what it has shown is that remote working is possible for any company that operates using technology and telecommunications. And for those that don’t, they are waking up to the need to do so. We are, during this time, being reborn.

Why Wibbu Went Remote

As a game-development company focused on providing digital education globally, we have always needed to attract international talent. Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, recruiting here in this industry became a severe challenge; we therefore made the decision 18 months ago to expand our recruitment reach, and consequently, our team.

This started with the hiring of our Engineering Lead Matt, who made the trip across the pond to the UK for training with us in early 2019, with a view to move back to Pennsylvania to work remotely. Then came the switch from a traditional office setup with a two-year lease, to WeWork Labs desks with the ability to give two months’ notice and to add and remove desks as we wish. Finally, all the freelance artists and sound designers who worked with us last year were based abroad – Spain, Germany and Canada – and our development cycle could not have run smoother.

[On a side note, we are part of WeWork Labs and have access to a global community of founders, entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. It is seriously worth checking out if you want to be part of a thriving startup support network.]


Making the Switch to Remote Working

The truth is that the switch to effective remote working didn’t happen overnight. We spent two months planning it while we were still working in the same location. This included (in true ‘Lean Startup’ fashion) a quick design sprint to evaluate our collaboration tools, followed by two weeks of testing with each of us working from our homes around London.

But what we found, and what many have reported having been thrust into this situation more recently, is that we can be just as productive, if not more productive working from home. As with everything, our attitude towards our work ethic is in our own hands. We should appreciate the benefits of working from home (the absence of the morning [c]rush, the extra 30 minutes of sleep, the feeling of freedom to take more frequent breaks), and show gratitude through an increased effort to collaborate and communicate well, and through a willingness to jump online a little earlier or stay a little later than usual.

Of course, during this pandemic, we don’t have much choice in where we work. But outside these extraordinary circumstances, we still believe that it’s important to help team members work from different locations as and when they need. This is why we set everyone up with access to a local co-working space of their choice. Being able to change the dynamic of your work environment is incredibly healthy and lucrative. I, for example, will often work from home when I need to focus on important calls, do more strategic planning, or complete tasks that require silent focus, such as our company finances or legals. For more spontaneous or design-focused work, or if I want the help of my founder peers, I may go into my WeWork Labs.

 

Keeping Connected to Survive

I have tried to imagine what would be happening now if the coronavirus had hit 15 years ago, at a time where global travel and freedom of movement were already booming, but information was less instantaneous and less accessible. I’d like to think that we’d have been able to switch to remote working as quickly as we have today. I’d like to think that a less-digital business landscape would have made it through somehow. And I’d like to think that we’d have learnt important lessons for the future, as we are undoubtedly doing now. Whether this would have transpired or not, what we can all agree to focus on now is implementing remote working setups and practices so that we can be better prepared in the future. This means developing new technologies, establishing more automated processes, and re-evaluating our communication behaviours.

At Wibbu, remote working has forced us to communicate better and more frequently. Unnecessary meetings have disappeared as people have become more conscious of their time and efficiency, and less interested in maintaining habits. And we have become adept at knowing whether something deserves an email, a Slack message, a Trello comment, or a Zoom call.

Day after day, I’m seeing businesses hold on to hope, buoyed up by their ability to stay connected. In these moments of uncertainty, stress and frustration, we must make an extra effort to do this; because staying connected is what gives us the best chance of getting through this. In truth, I think it will do more than that. We will emerge from this with a newfound respect for automation, communication tools, and flexibility of working location. Long may that continue.

 

Written by Dean Jacobs, CEO