As Duco approaches 5 months into the global pandemic that has put our Business Continuity Plans to the test, our VP of Engineering reflects on the challenges, adaptations and takeaways from his team’s new normal.
By Daryl Orts, VP Engineering
The prolonged lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis has put operational resilience into sharp focus for many companies in the business, finance and technology sectors. Firms are looking at both their own internal processes and their key suppliers / technology vendors for areas of potential weakness.
This is particularly pertinent for businesses like Duco who perform a mission-critical function as part of the front and back office infrastructure for many of our customers. Now more than ever, institutions need to perform trading and settlement activities as efficiently as possible. As a SaaS solution we are at an advantage, enabling secure and remote access from anywhere, at any time, into our platform, so our customers can continue to operate normally from multiple disparate locations.
For many businesses and teams, the process of adjusting to home working has been painful, with employees having to get used to a completely new way of working. After many months of this, a lot of people across the industry are experiencing fatigue with endless video calls.
However, at Duco, we have always prided ourselves on a culture that promotes flexibility in work styles and practices. Although the move to a fully remote working environment posed some initial challenges, we have continued to meet our commitment to customers to maintain a ‘business as usual’ vision.
Part of the reason for this is that we had a robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place and we regularly conduct tests of that plan. On the last Disaster Recovery (DR) test, everyone in Duco worked remotely for a day. Our BCP therefore provided us with a proven playbook for making changes to our infrastructure and operations.
As a result, I’m proud to say that the impact of Duco switching to remote working has been minimal. Our technology is delivered 100% in the cloud so customers have seen no interruption to service.
Adapting to flexible working
In the build up to the complete lockdown that was implemented by the UK government back in March, smart companies accelerated existing plans to move to BCP, which necessarily involved support of remote working. This means different things to different people but usually it falls into a number of key areas:
- Where will employees work if the office is not available?
- How will you communicate internally, between individuals and teams and externally, with customers, partners and other stakeholders?
- What equipment is needed such as laptops, headsets, wireless routers, webcams and printers?
- What can you do to foster collaboration?
- What applications and other tools are needed?
- How can you ensure the right security and access privileges are in place for remote workers?
How well each company stacks up in answering these questions varies according to how stringent they have been with BCP and whether there is any ‘readiness’ gap.
Across all industries, companies have been forced to adapt at speed to this new remote working model. As a SaaS provider ourselves, we were well-positioned for this change as we already had the infrastructure in place. For instance, every employee had a corporate laptop and access to our IT infrastructure was via an established secure VPN that is accessible for all employees. Our collaboration tools such as Slack, LifeSize, Google Docs, and Jira naturally work well for a distributed workforce.
But what has remote working actually been like to implement and how is it going? Here’s a real-life example of how the Duco engineering team have adapted.
Replicating formal and informal communications
Duco’s engineering team is spread across multiple sites and countries. The team in each location enjoys a high degree of personal interaction. This can be formal, like daily stand-up meetings and paired programming tasks. Often, it is more informal, such as leaning over to ask a colleague “Can you take a look at this?” or a simple watercooler chat about a niggling problem or new idea.
Importantly though, our engineers are used to working from home part of the time and nearly everyone has done that at least occasionally. Therefore, the readiness gap for Duco was relatively small.
Splitting the team
As part of our response to Covid-19, we initially split our engineering employees into two groups in each location. Half the team remained working in the office while the other half began working exclusively from home.
Our plan was to rotate the groups every two weeks. The rationale was that if someone contracted the virus, only half of that office would have been exposed and required to self-isolate. The rest of the team could continue working “normally”.
That approach lasted only a week.
As the situation worsened across all countries, we moved all engineers to work from home just a week later.
So, what do our days look like now?
Daily stand-up meetings are virtual; rather than physically standing up, everyone dials into a shared LifeSize channel. The structure of the stand-up is basically the same: each person explains what they’re working on, what their blockers are, and where they could use help. Some teams have explicitly added extra time just to chat.
Ensuring that we allow some extra time for these conversations is vital – and I’m pleased to say that the teams have adapted well to this.
We’re all going the extra mile to make sure we stay connected and engaged with each other, beyond task-focussed discussion. This is vitally important to ensure that we support our team members from a mental health perspective too. This is where Duco’s commitment to being a world class place to work is reflected in how the company upped its game, for example:
- More frequent communications from senior executives
- A focus on mental health
- Increased social interaction
Beyond stand-ups, various other activities have had to adapt. Without face-to-face informal conversations, our Slack volume has doubled and our LifeSize activity has tripled. We talk a lot more with our colleagues, and we do it for longer.
What the future holds
It’s not all perfect, of course. Our team has experienced some of the same cabin fever and feelings of isolation that so many people around the world are going through. We’re only human after all (unlike our brilliant Duco Alpha machine learning platform – totally unaffected by Covid-19!).
Individuals handle the changes differently as well – so ensuring we recognise that and have various outlets and communication tools available (and evolve these as needed) will be vital as this situation continues.
It is impossible to predict what will happen next. We’ve started to see restrictions easing and, in some locations, people have started to return to office work. An optimistic outlook is that we will see a return to some form of normality as restrictions are progressively eased. A pessimistic viewpoint is that we could see a second wave and a renewed set of restrictions. Either way, it is likely that social distancing will need to carry on into 2021.
I am confident in stating that we are focused on maintaining our business as usual as much as we can. In practice this means that we are still working hard at building, improving and managing the reconciliation and data integrity services that we run for our customers, and that we support our customers in maintaining their business as usual.