One of the questions we have been asked amidst the recent coronavirus pandemic is how our business will be impacted.
Because we are a distinctly remote-first company we are in a great position to keep working the same way we were before without needing to change much of how we are working internally. Seeing as this virus is now a pandemic, we will be impacted by external factors, just like everyone else. We are travelling far less and various aspects of our supply chain will definitely be impacted.
One of the most important things in times like these is to keep thinking clearly and to be as well informed about developments as possible. The community must come first, we will lose some profits but that is fine. We as a company can only exist only on top of a strong society and we do not forget this. So preserving the conditions that allow the broader populace to be healthy and thrive has to be our priority, and should be for all organizations out there.
This post is a work in progress, we will update it as new information comes out.
One of the toughest things in difficult times is making decisions. It is easy to do nothing but decisions must still be made and avoiding making tough decisions tends to make things worse. If you are a leader you must step up, this is not the time to abdicate.
One thing that can help you be able to make decisions is to be very mindful of the amount of mental capacity you have available to you. In times of stress you will have less capacity to think than normal. Proactively planning to help deal with future stress is especially important.
Also keep a close eye on denial. Denial is the easy way out, realize it is also a coping mechanism for people.
Building excess slack mental capacity is always important, but in difficult times this becomes critical. In difficult times it is important to not panic, keep grounded and make the best decisions you can.
Avoiding panic is not just a matter of expending willpower. This is because willpower is a very scarce resource that you only have a limited amount of in any given day and you will run out of it quickly in disaster situations. Relying on having a good supply of willpower is irresponsible and will lead you into trouble when you are under pressure, proactive planning is crucial. Disaster planning is about being as effective as you can be when your reserves of slack capacity run out since in a disaster situation you will be operating at 100% capacity far more often than usual (it your company already operates in a situation where everyone is at 100% capacity all the time you likely have severe organizational problems, read our article that discusses why). This means prioritization is absolutely key, you won't have the time and energy to be able to do everything, so tasks must be carefully prioritized and unimportant things need to be dropped. In times of extreme crisis the top priorities are likely to not be business related and this is how it should be. Don't stress out too much about your business if it puts the lives and health of you and your family at risk, even though this should go without saying, good businesses can only run with people that are alive and well.
One crucial aspect to prioritize is sleep. From our experiences with high stress situations such as disaster recovery and "war rooms" we know that sleep can be skipped. If people are showing signs of extreme fatigue resist the temptation to tell them to force themselves through the tiredness or to take drugs (such as energy drinks, coffee, etc) to stay awake (unless it is absolutely unavoidable that they must stay awake for some critical reason). Make sure that people are getting enough sleep and are looking after themselves, tell people to get sleep if needed, if you know you won't be able to go home bring some supplies such as pillows to make sleeping more comfortable. Sleep deprivation massively impacts peoples cognitive functions and eventually becomes a seriously health hazard on its own, so don't feel bad telling someone to get some sleep and don't feel bad asking to take a nap if you are severely exhausted.
Make a point of friendly reminders to people to do the important things. In regular times the important things will only occasionally be missed but in moments of high stress people forget things, even routine things. This is why airlines, despite having exceptionally well trained professional flight staff, have pilot checklists, in tough stressful situations your memory is unreliable so proactively planning for this is of enormous benefit.
Some tips for keeping your mental reserves strong:
- Get enough sleep, make sleep a high priority. Remind other people to get sleep as well.
- Limit notifications for your technology such as phones to just the essentials, you need as much mental capacity as possible and much of modern communications is frankly noise.
- If you are working on anything that is critical enough that missing a step due to forgetfulness would be very bad start making checklists to help your execution. The book "The checklist manifesto" has some good guidelines to how to create a good checklist.
- Stay up to date with the news but strongly ration it. Only mindfully consume the news, if you get sucked into looking at the news too much you will burn up very valuable mental capacity. Staying informed is important but don't let it consume you. Try to find knowledgeable sources for the news.
- Make sure you eat! In times of high stress it's entirely possible to skip a meal without noticing it, or more than one meal. If this is a one off it's not a problem but if you are consistently not eating this can be serious. Whether it's some great food you have ready or basic rations through to whatever MRE you can find, make sure you get enough nutrition! If you don't eat it can impact your ability to think clearly. Remind others to get enough nutrition too.
In times like these it's especially important to think about the impacts that people have on the entire society and health system. We have always been big fans of systems thinking, but now this type of thinking has taken on an importance to the health of our staff and our communities in a far more direct and serious way than it usually is.
One of the most important things is for everyone to do their part in reducing the peak demand placed on the health system. When the peak demand of the health system is exceeded many people will die, not just people with the virus, but anyone who needs modern healthcare who is unable to get it if the health system is overwhelmed.
In regular times it's important to make sure that people who are sick don't come into work, but in times like this it's essential for people to not come into work sick.
One of the best things that companies can do to help the community be less impacted by this pandemic is to help "flatten the curve", which means this is an important time to make sure that everyone who can work from home is forced to work from home.
Every company has a backlog of tasks that would be great to do but can't get around to. Given that there's some time where it might be very much not "business as usual" you can be proactive in getting through those backlog of tasks that you can still do.
As much as possible avoid events with a large number of attendees. If you are organizing events with a large number of attendees please cancel or postpone them if the virus is widespread in your area.
Encourage your clients and business partners to move any meetings to teleconference meetings if possible. It is best to be proactive about this and to start rescheduling meetings to be online as soon as possible.
Start by preparing internally for teleconferences if you haven't already, make notes on what is most effective for you. Share your teleconference notes to help your clients join you this way.
There's a huge portion of our population that end up putting themselves and their communities at risk due to the lack of support net that they have. For example many fast food workers are used to working in extremely bad conditions even when things are going normally. This thread on twitter is a good example of some of the difficulties facing those workers with precariat jobs in the food industry.
If you know someone is on the verge of going to work sick because they are struggling to make ends meet try to help them out however you can, this will not only help them but will help strengthen your community and your country.
We strongly believe that sick leave should always be provided to employees and that governments should enforce this via regulations such that the playing field is level for all businesses. This like this are why we think access to basic healthcare is not only important but should also not be tied in any way to employment status, since pandemics do not care who your employer is.
These are trying times, but like other trying times these will pass. While these events may seem like they will go on forever this is just an illusion, things will return to normal in the future.
Please stay safe everyone!