November 27, 2020
I have been working for Intergral for more than 18 years now and during that time, as you might expect, a lot of things have changed. In the beginning we worked together in an office, equipped with our own servers and workstation PCs, but over time it became common practice for employees to work one or two days a week from home. In the following years, new employees started working from abroad and only came to the office once or twice a year. This working model - GitLab calls it Hybrid-Remote - became the norm for us over the years and the experience we gained with it helped us to continue our daily work with a reasonable degree of ease even after the pandemic began.
It was very helpful that we started early to outsource things to the cloud where possible. Examples of this include the transition from self-operated applications such as SVN, Jenkins and Jira/Confluent to GitLab and Attlasian as a service, the migration to Google Suite (mail, calendar, shared file storage, etc.) and the introduction of Slack as the central communication platform.
In March of this year, when it became known that a person from a neighbouring company in the same building was tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, we were able to react immediately. From then on, all employees continued to work from home and our office was more or less orphaned. Following the terminology of GitLab, we made a transition from Hybrid-Remote to All-Remote - and we did this from one day to the next! However, in an All-Remote working model there is no office at all and this usually marks the end of a successful transition of a company to an All-Remote working model.
We still have our office (so far) and now some employees use it from time to time, in accordance with our hygiene concept. However, we also had to realize that the atmosphere we had there before the pandemic will not return in this new normality. Many colleagues miss the social contacts during coffee-talks in the kitchen or during a short conversation from table to table, which only exist when working together in an office. We are still experimenting with virtual replacements for this but it is still in its early stages.
Even before the pandemic began, we applied for the program UnternehmensWert:Mensch plus (uWM plus) offered by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and were granted approval. This program is about using the opportunities of digitalization profitably and making small and medium-sized enterprises fit for future challenges. And what challenge could be greater for a company than a transition to a new working model forced by a pandemic? One in which all employees work remotely? So we decided to take the opportunity and used the uWM plus program to come up with a new working model. We had numerous working sessions and discussion rounds and we already started to establish it.
In contrast to the All-Remote working model mentioned before, we have decided to use a Remote-Equal (aka Remote-First) model. This means that we act as if 100% of the company is remote even if some occasionally work in the office. We made this decision to circumvent the possible disadvantages as described here, willing to accept the additional effort required. Good communication between all employees, a centralised and up-to-date documentation available to all and transparency are absolutely essential to make this model a success.
So to summarize the most important features of our working model are
We are still in the middle of the transition to this new working model and we are aware that this will be an ongoing process that has to be supported by all of us. Considering the uncertain future in regard to COVID-19 and potential successors, it seems essential to position us in such a way that we are affected as little as possible by externally imposed regulations (e.g. lockdown, curfew etc.). When the new working model has become the norm for us and we have addressed the aforementioned communication deficits, we should be well prepared for the future - whatever it may be.
Working as a software engineer for many years mostly in the JVM environment. Skilled in Scrum and Agile practices, currently scrum master of nerd.vision.