In light of the latest developments on the Coronavirus issue, companies and public administrations all over Italy are working, if possible, now only in Smart Working mode. The agile working mode can be applied for the entire duration of the state of emergency, to protect all citizens.
We have been talking about Smart Working for many years now, but many companies have found themselves adopting this working mode just in the past week in order to face the current health emergency and comply with the restrictive measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic. This is not the case with us at Doxee. In fact, we are already familiar with Smart Working and have been using it for some time now. We interviewed our own Massimo Selmi, Application & Infrastructure Manager at Doxee, to understand how he organized and coordinated his work remotely, especially for a very technical department.
1. How did you organize your technical team for such a long period of emergency?
Yes, our department is a bit special and requires a minimum of physical presence in our office to quickly manage, for example, any needs related to physical system failures, to restore data offline on nearline systems (eg. on cassettes), etc.. We have remedied this problem with a staff member working on site, on a rotating basis. To do this, we reached out to colleagues from another area to help support us in order to guarantee a minimum presence of at least two people, for any personal emergencies. Almost all of our colleagues are in Smart Working and with some, while others have chosen to use some of their vacation days.
To organize our daily work, at the beginning and end of the day, we have a quick virtual stand-up meeting. These are opportunities to share information about what everyone is working on and to identify any needs that involve other team members or issues that require further support. This was already an established habit and it allowed us to be effective, timely, quick, and focused from day one. Our team is organized based on different areas of responsibility for ownership processes, technologies to be governed, and services provided. This made it possible, right from the start, without having to change the way we work, even operating remotely.
2. In your department, managing internal systems and adopting agile can be quite a challenge. What do you think?
True, I’d say it’s quite a challenge! But it’s one that also leads to extremely positive results.
The Agile model, in the truest sense of the word, does not lend itself to asynchronous activities (e.g. incidents), but it helps the organization to create responsibility matrices. The “Incidents” are the least significant part of our work for the benefit of Operational Activities for the proper maintenance of systems and services and of the various projects in the field. This does not detract from the fact that, in general, there is nothing that can’t be done remotely, as long as we ensure that we have a good organization of activities, of areas of operation, an escalation model for support and, above all, a cohesive, reliable, and responsible team. All this, combined with effective collaboration tools and infrastructure governance, allows you to operate in the same way as if you were in the office.
3. Have you noticed any difficulties in having a team that is almost completely delocalized?
I have noticed any significant challenges, or at least everything can be quickly resolved.
This particular moment highlights an important detail: it reduces what I call “background noise.” People are more goal-oriented, meetings are more effective, shorter, and people are more punctual. The involvement and contacts with colleagues in the company, suppliers and customers have, in my opinion, improved significantly. Pragmatism, an ability to prioritize things, and collaboration are just some of the aspects that I believe have evolved for the better and in a significant way. I believe that the social aspect of direct interaction is fundamental in teamwork, but this forced teaching is giving us a lot to think about and helps us improve ourselves and our organizational and governance models.
4. In your team/department, how important is technology to the success of remote working?
Technology is always important in our work, but it is not the primary piece. Instead, it’s the processes and the methods that are able to adapt to evolving external situations and the internal context that make the real difference. Technology is an enabling tool, but it is still a tool. The key element is the people, their professionalism, their potential, their sense of belonging, their ability to communicate and collaborate. In my opinion, ours is not the work of the solitary artist, but of the art of knowing how to combine, govern, and guide the mix of experiences, skills, attitudes, and relationships to achieve goals that the individual alone cannot face.
Returning to the question, I believe that our having—for many years now—the tools for collaborative work, together with tools for monitoring and governance of appropriate technologies, allows us to operate in a completely transparent way even in remote working.
Doxee was already engaging in Smart Working for its employees, and this allowed the entire company to start working remotely as early as Monday, March 9, as decided by our management via video conference the day before. In fact, even the non-technical units were immediately operational because they were already equipped with the appropriate tools. I also think it should be recognized that our institutions and technology sector companies have made tools and skills freely available to less prepared companies to facilitate the start of Smart Working. Just one example? AgID Digital Solidarity.
5. For companies that have never adopted smart working before, would you recommend them to implement it after this period of crisis? Why?
Of course I would! We need to get out of the atavistic fears around controlling our valuable resources, which can also be subject to incorrect interpretations and evaluations. An emergency period is not the only time for us to discover the reliability and sense of responsibility of our employees, and I think this is the value and the necessary condition to start from. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to adopt a different approach to communication, to dedicate the right time to planning and preparation, to put verification and management systems in place, especially in different phases of escalation. This may seem like an additional effort, but I think it is certainly compensated by the possible results.
Smart Working should not be a “benefit”, just as it should not become a necessity. On the contrary, it should be considered as a great opportunity to improve how we work and consequently how we live, and knowing how to ride the wave change without being overwhelmed by it.