Thirty-nine days ago, I was home with strep tonsillitis – at the time one of the most contagious diseases – when I got a call from our MD: can the whole office work remotely?
Why, of course, we can! That’s no problem organising it for Monday, everything is in the business continuity plan…
And then about 20 minutes later, the Taoiseach announced that the schools would be closed from 6 pm and recommended that people worked remotely if possible.
I’m pretty sure at that point, all the HR people in Ireland dropped the f-bomb, especially, if like us, their business was entirely office-based and they now had just about 6 hours to make the switch.
This is how 39 days ago, I dragged my pus-filled tonsils to the office to implement a business continuity plan that I had written about 5 weeks before, planning for a snow-storm or another freak weather event. Now, when I wrote that plan, Wuhan had just been quarantined. If you have been living under a rock, Wuhan is the capital of China’s Hubei province and is now widely known for being the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan counts over 11 million people, that’s almost 3 times the population of the Republic of Ireland. I figured that if an 11 million people’s city could be quarantined overnight, I should probably plan for the Hollywoodian catastrophes too. And the “Disaster Recovery plan for exposition to Covid19 / other World Health Organisation reported contagious disease” was born.
And so overnight, Next Generation became a remote company. I hear you over there at the back of the room muttering about how we didn’t have to do it so quickly. Sure we did. Schools, creches and other childcare facilities were closing down that evening and we have staff with kids, so yes we had to turn this around on the same day.
Agency recruitment is usually a fairly traditional business, we like the office banter and having people on the phone around us drives our activity and productivity. Overnight, that was gone. We had to adapt to a brand new work environment, a worldwide pandemic, a collapsing economy, working while locked inside our home, with our housemates/kids/pets and no other place to escape, changing working hours, changing tasks, learning and adapting to new tools and ways. Basically, we took our work-world, and we turned it upside down, gave it a good shake and expected everyone to keep carry on.On Friday, March 13th, the Next Generation employees discovered team video meetings (talky.io and jitsi.meet because they're browser-based, so there's nothing to download), IMs and trying to find a place at home from where to work comfortably. And because we became an internet-based business, we achieved our 1st Godwin point on the company’s group chat within 8 days. Side note: it's hilarious to see how the internet remains identical, regardless of the size of the audience.
And kudos to the Next Generation staff: everyone adapted smoothly and with grace. We rolled up our sleeves found a corner on the kitchen table, plugged in our coffee machine or our noise-cancelling earphones and kept on working.
So what’s with the Adaptability on steroids?
Well, I’m paraphrasing what Heather McGowen said her keynote on the “Future of Work, Accelerated” during the Recruiting Brainfood hackathon last week – she has just released a book by the way. I’m really proud of how my colleagues have adapted to all the changes that we’ve been through in the last 39 days. If you stop for a minute to think about the list of things that were thrown at us, that changed, that required us to adapt, it is mind-blowingly long and we can really give ourselves a pat on the back for taking all of this in stride.
Maybe we’ll be remembered as the generation that finally learnt how to wash their hands properly, maybe not. What we will remember though is that overnight, this pandemic completely changed our ways of working, and while it is hard now (we do as much as possible to maintain our employees’ mental wellness, but it’s a difficult time) in a few years’ time we’ll look back on the work side of things and just go “meh, we did what we had to”.
Obviously, we are lucky to be able to carry on our professional activity remotely, not everyone can, but in order to keep on working we have had to adapt and we will have to keep adapting at an unbelievably fast pace (seriously, watch Heather McGowen’s keynote, it was mind-blowing), faster than anything in the history of mankind. I was lucky enough to watch the keynote live, and when Heather showed the time-line, I thought of my 100 years and 5 months old grand-mother and all the technologies she had to adapt to throughout her life. In the last 25 years, there have been more changes than in the previous 75 years of her life, and in the last 39 days, we adapted to a sh*tload more stuff on that list.
A couple of weeks ago, Next Generation ran a survey in Ireland to gain an understanding of how the employment market has been affected by the pandemic, and the results showed that over 70% of the surveyed cohort had experienced changes, from redundancies to a change of day to day duties. So my friends, while I don’t have a crystal ball, I think it’s fair to say that we’re in an adaptability blitz for the long haul. Let’s keep stretching that comfort zone people!
And stay safe, stay inside and wash your hands.