You know when a day is so vividly imprinted on your brain that the slightest reminder of it brings you instantly back?
For me, it’s the 17th of March, 2020.
No. It wasn’t some epic St. Paddy’s Day celebration, or a big life milestone moment. Just a regular old Tuesday, or at least what initially started out just like another bog-standard day. What ended up transpiring, however, was the day that we had to send everyone home and close the doors at Cube HQ due to the COVID shit storm that was brewing all over the globe.
I had been on a family holiday and the worsening situation had me cut the trip short and I was trying to get any flight back that I could as more and more were being cancelled. The news getting more hectic and dire by the hour. So, it was from the departures queue at Nice airport, the management team made the unanimous decision that I then had to break to the team via Slack that from that moment, the entire agency was to work remotely.
Admittedly, this was an outcome that I couldn’t have foreseen in my wildest dreams. And what stuck out to me was that I had had to break this massive news to the Cubes by Slack. It seemed so ludicrous at the time. Little did I know, that now, 365 days on, this is the only way we would be able to communicate. As a team we’ve seen our fair share of Zoom fails, technical difficulties and bastard WIFI issues; we’ve also come together, taken on some exciting projects and bossed these unprecedented times.
There has been a steep learning curve since last March, (mostly that when things go south, make sure you have enough bog roll and pasta on hand) but mostly I’m really proud of where we’re at and am immensely glad to see the back of this year.
My Initial Considerations in March 2020
We went into “gird your loins mode”. All our carefully laid plans for the next financial year had to be immediately shelved, and we adopted a 3 month one. Including pay reviews, recruitment, and other investments, as we just didn’t know where the business would be in a few months…or even if there would be one at all.
Everything seemed so dire in the immediate aftermath of lockdown. People were losing their jobs. Entire industries had collapsed overnight. I remember talking to other agency directors and clients were pulling projects left and right in the face of all the fear and economic uncertainty. It just felt like new business wouldn’t be a thing, who is going to be spending any money at this moment in time?
I didn’t know quite how marketing would work. It felt wrong to be talking about ourselves and selling things. So we didn’t. It took a massive pivot to be able to talk to and engage with people in a way that was sensitive to and reflected the times.
I also made the decision for “full steam ahead” with the spend. That is always the first knee jerk reaction to cut, but by refraining from doing so, you get more visibility. Your money works harder for you and you get more bang for your buck and all that jazz.
If I were a betting man, I’d have put money on the fact that production would be ok for a few weeks, but then just nosedive. Yes, we are a tech agency so we were in a better place than most to be able to all go remote instantaneously, but we didn’t have the measures in place to monitor performance metrics.
And the reality was, I just didn’t quite know how to trust my team without seeing them in the office and having that visibility and ”vibe” for how a project was going.
Something that Cube is synonymous with, is our culture. In our bright, happy office space there are daily measures in place to ensure every single employee feels thought of and taken care of. In turn, management was able to see and be aware of anyone that might be struggling or needing some TLC. I couldn’t see a way that this kind of spirit and camaraderie could transcend virtually.
Turns out, I was completely wrong on most of those points!
What’s Actually Happened Since March 2020
This is one I’ll happily hold my hands up and admit that the finance fears and need for that emergency COVID plan were totally unwarranted. We ended up smashing our original plan that we didn’t think was tenable with everything going on.
Something else that was really cool to do was to be able to still implement pay reviews. However, due to the constant uncertainty, we did them retrospectively. As we passed each quarter and continued to hit our pre-covid targets we shared that good fortune with the team, by retrospectively giving the team the raise in the form of a “bonus”. While this isn’t ideal, it meant that whilst we were still unsure of the future, we could reward everyone for the amazing things they were doing during a pandemic.
We did this for 9 months, and thankfully now have got back into the more routine way of doing things!
Where I was anticipating a real famine with new business and existing clients, turns out it was needless. We have landed some really exciting projects in the last year. And the added bonus was that because the work our clients do was responding to the crisis, we were able to continue our work (and then some) without skipping a beat.
Because of the aforementioned amazing projects we have won in the last year, the team has grown exponentially, and we are looking to do so even more in the next year. Since last years crash course in going 100% remote, we have been able to cast the recruiting net further afield and have team members throughout Europe. The world has even more Cubes championing tech for good than it did last year!
Our “Tech For Good Talks” was born when all of our live networking events got cancelled. What started out as a quick turn on a sixpence, has quickly grown with each and every month. We’ve actually managed to host the webinar every single month for the past year, and has been the absolute best way to connect and engage remotely!
There were a couple of growing pains initially, blitz spirit kicked in and everyone worked harder to start with, but we still had performance management issues to tweak. But those were few and far between and my initial concerns over productivity were unfounded. The team massively pulled together, and it was do or die time to implement the performance monitoring that we always planned on. COVID just forced our hand. But I’m really proud of the performance metrics that have come out of this.
Now that they are firmly in place, it just takes all the subjectivity out of it. I’m less reliant on how it *feels in the office by whether a project is going well or not. This has shown me you don’t have to know what everyone is doing all the time, if the output is there, good, and on time, I don’t have to see how. It’s forced me to trust the team more than I ever had to just get on with it and do a damn good job sat on the couch in their pj’s.
Even more exciting than our titillating performance metrics, we have been able to deliver 90% of projects on time. All in the midst of the most tumultuous year that we’ve seen in generations.
Something that has been really cool to see, was just how the team came together when shit went down. If someone was struggling, it wasn’t a question of any one Cube stepping up to lift their teammate up. Luckily, it worked out that we had hit our respective walls at different times, so there were always people to cheer someone on.
We also put more measure in place and even greater emphasis on the importance of mental health. There is now a checks system in place to make sure everyone is doing ok, and we now offer a therapy initiative for anyone that might need that resource.
I for one cannot wait to be able to return to the office and get that good old fashioned face to face time in with everyone!
But I know not everyone is as keen (looking at you Dev’s) and I think that will be the next issue on the horizon to iron out. The asynchronous thing is a lot trickier than all or nothing, having some people in the office and some logging in remotely proved difficult to run an organisation. No matter what we tried, and we tried it all, the ones not actually in the room just didn’t get as much out of the sessions. So if anyone has any killer tips on how to make it work with a mixed bag, holla!
It will be really interesting to see how it works when we return (for the third time in a year, but who’s counting?!).
I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that it has been an entire year since closing the office. What we all naively thought would be a few weeks to “flatten the curve” has turned into one hell of a rollercoaster! The last year has gone by in a blink, but also has been endless groundhog days. Yet, here we are, one year on in the space-time-lockdown continuum and all pretty well versed in pandemic life.
Here’s to hoping the naive optimism about things going back to “normal” I’ve carried since last March, is finally justified!