On March 6, 2020, FSi Engineers began an experiment in self, company, and community care; we all began working from home. We are striving to make sure we are the same company you’ve always known, with impeccable design and exemplary relationships with our clients. A vendor who provides COVID-19 training to HR Managers around the country told us we were ahead of the curve, well beyond what her other clients were doing. Because of that, we want to share with you what we’ve learned.
One of our primary company values is community. In that word, we encompass care for our colleagues, our customers, and our neighbors. We believe we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of people, and we strive to live that every day. Because we have several remote offices and employees, we already had some traditions in place, and as our Seattle employees work from home, we are building on them to keep our culture alive and continue to enjoy each other’s company. Here are a few ways we’ve managed it.
We knew what was important, and we created actionable plans. Every employee is encouraged to come up with fun things to do, and to take time during the day to connect with colleagues over things that have nothing to do with work.
Have virtual gatherings
Yesterday, for St. Patrick’s Day, we wore as much green as we possibly could and showed it off to each other during a video meeting. There are rumors of cash prizes.
Every other Thursday, we are gathering via video conference to eat lunch together. Thanks to Ali Thabar’s creativity, our lunches have unique themes like dad jokes or chocolate.
One of our engineers, Zack Smith, shared a game of Snack Brackets, where our favorite snacks will advance to the championships. Will it be Cheetos? Wasabi peas? Chocolate pudding? No one knows, but everyone has opinions. Trash talk is encouraged.
We remain connected both socially and professionally, just as we did when we were in the same physical space. It has quickly become second nature for us to have our daily banter and exchange of ideas with our Zoom groups.
Every day, team leaders check in with every team member to make sure things are working smoothly and offer assistance as needed. This helps us get ahead of potential issues before they become problems.
We encourage everyone to connect via video chat. Some of us live alone, some of us like a lot of contact. Video chat gives a sense of really being together. Since we won’t be talking as we get our coffee, we just make a call to a few colleagues every day to keep in touch.
We’ve all shared pictures of our home-office spaces. It has been very interesting to see how people have set up their spaces, and to find that one person has five monitors! The office set-ups often include a cat or dog, a real perk of working at home.
For our employees who do not have cameras on their home set-ups, we’re buying the equipment for them so they can fully participate in all of our meetings (and our workplace shenanigans).
Support the greater community
We are a company of volunteers, with 16 hours of company-paid community service hours to use every year. Many of our planned volunteer events are cancelled or postponed, but we are not letting that stop us from helping others. Brandon Crane, in our Spokane office, has started a fund-raising page for Second Harvest, an organization providing food to people in need. We are forming teams to create other ways we can have a positive impact on our communities while observing all health and safety practices. Maintaining our core values is a morale booster in a difficult time.
Prepare to send hardware home with employees so their environment can be as productive as possible. We have provided monitors, monitor stands, docking stations, headsets, laptops, printers, and more. Keep in mind that not everyone has systems at home that are robust enough to handle all of the professional software we use daily. For much of our work, dual monitors are a necessity. We are also setting people up with the ability to access their work desktops remotely. It increases bandwidth, but has the benefit of a familiar work environment without additional set-up.
Within the last year, we transitioned to Zoom, a fully computer-based phone (VOIP) system that includes chat and video conferencing functions. This has made our transition to home offices much simpler, as the phones can be answered from any computer or mobile phone. Even our receptionist can easily work from home. This was a real help in creating a smooth transition that is completely seamless for our clients. ZOOM is a free service, and we recommend it for both business and personal use as a way to stay connected while we isolate.
We are mindful that our clients may use other video conferencing software. As we talk with our clients, we ask what systems they use, and make sure those are installed on our home machines to facilitate fast and seamless meetings.
There are some tasks that must be done physically, meaning some employees may have to come into the office; the mail needs to be picked up, bank deposits must be made, and servers occasionally have to be rebooted. We are paying for mileage and parking for employees who must come into the office, so they can practice social distancing that is not always possible on mass transit. We are actively working to find ways to eliminate these tasks to minimize the need for travel and exposure.
Clear communication is a basic part of FSi culture, and it has never been more important than it is now. Every employee is trained on our proprietary communication protocols, and we are practicing them with a new enthusiasm. Our goal is to always make sure our requests are clear and complete, and that our responses to requests are what was wanted. This is especially true of text and email communication. One of our standards is, if clarity has not been achieved after two rounds of email, it is time to pick up the phone and have a short conversation.
We have had many discussions about how to conduct client visits safely, from minimizing the number of people in necessary meetings, to tactfully avoiding an offered handshake. While most of our meetings can be conducted remotely, the nature of our work means site visits can be necessary. We will conduct necessary meetings with everyone’s safety at the forefront, and new CDC protocols incorporated into our processes as they are announced.
Some of our managers wear light gloves whenever they need to go out as a reminder not to touch their faces. Other folks have shoes that stay outside the front door to keep from tracking any viruses into the house. Leaving extra time for all tasks outside the home means there is time to avoid clusters of people. And it is easy to inject a little humor into accidental encounters by acknowledging others with a wave, a salute, or a peace sign.
FSi is fortunate to have had highly successful remote employees for years, so our management team has trust in employees and that everyone will work as hard at home as they do at the office. A small company, with multiple offices, we are already adept at creating smooth transitions of work and group projects. We are confident that our clients will not notice a difference in our level of service, though we are in different physical locations.
FSi remains committed to the safety of our colleagues, communities and AEC partners. We will continue sharing what we have learned, with regular posts to our blog and on social media. We invite you to share your best practices as well.
Your partners in handwashing and social distancing,