Last updated on October 25th, 2021 at 8:41pm
We're over 2 months into experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In this post, I'll share some thoughts and perspectives on leading a startup through this crisis.
Pivoting to a New Way of Working
Like many businesses, we had to pivot to a new way of working. Fortunately, we already had in place the solutions (like Zoom) and the infrastructure (like using cloud services and VPN on all laptops) to pivot to a secure, work-from-home environment. But technology is just one piece of the puzzle.
Process-wise, most of our team was accustomed to collaborating with each other in person. From designing the latest feature of our platform to troubleshooting an issue experienced by one of our customers, we've typically found it a lot faster to get into a room and talk through the issue. Slack messages, Gitlab tickets, and emails sometimes aren't as effective. In a virtual setting, we're encouraging the shift from text communication to verbal when it makes sense. If the communication turns into more than a few Slack messages, we encourage staff to simply start a Zoom (with the Zoom plugin for Slack, you just need to type /zoom), turn on the camera, and talk through the issue.
People-wise, we have encouraged staff to have empathy for others during this time. Not everyone has the same work schedule flexibility. Many of our team are doubling as teachers for the next generation of cloudtamers. Some are caregivers to people more directly affected by the virus. We've encouraged our one-on-ones to continue. For our management team, we're stressing the importance of soliciting open, candid dialog about any struggles faced when changing to this new environment.
Some of the unique things we're doing during this time:
- We believe it's important to get together socially to make and strengthen connections. Our normal monthly happy hours aren't possible, so we go virtual each week. It's been great to see the creative backgrounds people are using on Zoom (and holding a contest to crown a victor with Bonusly points!). And we've identified those who are pros at online trivia.
- I have a 30-minute daily call with my senior leadership team where we cover critical local and state announcements that affect our business, Federal actions such as the CARES Act, feedback we're hearing from employees, and approaches other business are taking to return to normal operations. This situation has evolved quickly and frequent, recurring sync ups are important to stay on top of things.
- In addition to our monthly company-wide meetings that are now virtual, I send out a weekly email. In the absence of in-person interactions, this is another way to increase the frequency of communication across the company. I typically share the latest news on the spread and impact of COVID-19 at the state and local level and, most importantly, some of our team wins like new customer announcements, milestones reached, and individual (by name) accomplishments.
All of these activities build on our people-first culture. Our COO, John Lynch, recently shared a bit about our culture and what we're doing now as part of the Introduced|Virtual Technical.ly event.
Tales of Giving Back
Many of our customers are making significant contributions to the fight against COVID-19:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a government agency on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19. They're publishing ongoing updates on cases in the US with detailed demographic data and they've partnered with Apple on a screening tool.
- Both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are participating in the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide with access to the world’s most powerful high performance computing resources. (Interesting fact: ORNL and LLNL host the number 1 and number 2, respectively, fastest supercomputers in the world.)
- Verizon is donating $3 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition, Verizon has committed $48 million in contributions and donations to nonprofits directed at serving students, healthcare workers, first responders, and small businesses.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is bringing together more than a dozen leading biopharmaceutical companies and government agencies for the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership to develop a collaborative framework for prioritizing vaccine and drug candidates.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) offers detailed program guidance and information.
Corporately and as individual employees, our team took a few actions to contribute:
- We're based in Fulton in Howard County, Maryland. The Community Foundation of Howard County hosts the Howard County Community Relief Fund, which is focused now on helping residents during COVID-19. We've chosen to contribute here to make an impact in our local community.
- One of our team members started a running/biking club on Strava (motto: Feet on the ground as we tame the cloud). We had 17 team members join and contribute $800 for various COVID-19 relief efforts. This month, as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we launched a wellness challenge company-wide to help virtually connect and give back.
- We purchased 2 Shore Plastics aerosol boxes for both University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center and Howard County General Hospital to help doctors stay protected against COVID-19. The father of our very own Randy Shore leads the company helping to deliver this innovation.
- Since we are unable to hold in-person events, we are taking some of the funding we normally put into these events and donating them to specific causes. As part of our inaugural user community event, Cloudunity, we are making a donation to World Central Kitchen for every person that attends to provide food relief for areas affected by COVID-19.
What I've Learned
Communication is critical. In times of crisis, communication is even more critical. As a leader, you want to have all the answers but candid, transparent communication is even more important than having the exact answer. People will look towards a leader who is 1) available, 2) shares the progress of the plan, and 3) leads the charge to take actions to progress the plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic has really showcased that sometimes no matter how prepared you are with your business plans, they can get derailed by things completely outside of your control. One of the inspirational leaders that I look to is John Maxwell. Throughout this, John has consistently reminded me that while we might not have a crystal ball and know exactly what the future holds, we do know that 'this too shall pass'. Times of crisis will pass...times of prosper will also pass...what you do every day to lead should be consistent.