You should have seen us bug out of the office that morning.
One of our associates was feeling “head cold-y” and the now-too-familiar “abundance of caution” kicked in. We all grabbed our laptops and monitors, files, and personal effects, knowing that work wouldn’t be the same for a long time.
StitchDX was already what we now call a hybrid workplace. On March 12, 2020 we became an all-remote workplace. A few folks from our team shared their reflections on a year of the new normal.
The digital-first, big bang of COVID
Brian Bolton, CEO
March 11, 2020. It was exactly one year ago when the Coronavirus, or what we soon would more correctly refer to as COVID-19, became a reality for all Americans. For weeks we had seen news reports from China and then Italy of a fast-spreading virus that had lethal, pandemic potential. People were concerned but at this point, the news was conflicting and Coronavirus was more of a social media meme than something real. That changed very fast.
Goodbye to the pre-COVID era
At StitchDX, we had just published a blog asking “if your business was ready for a pandemic,” provocatively suggesting that businesses, schools and transportation could be shut down—we thought we were pushing the boundaries. But then on a single Wednesday, the WHO officially declared COVID to be a pandemic, the President held an Oval Office address and announced a halt in travel from Europe, the NBA shuttered its season after a player tested positive, and perhaps most alarming, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced on Instagram they had tested positive in Australia. That was reality-inducing and sobering, and we immediately decided as a team to work from home the next day. Other than a socially distanced off-site over the summer, the StitchDX team has not been physically all together since.
A new acronym: WFH
Fortunately, we were lucky and well-equipped for the new world of Work From Home (WFH). Our business had long since diversified into Digital Workplace and we were already voracious Microsoft Teams users. We immediately adopted a daily, morning all-hands stand-up call which, except for a few rare occasions, we have held every single workday since. That call has been critical to keeping our work aligned and company culture intact.
Due to the nature of our business, all our customer engagements were able to shift to a virtual existence and in some ways we barely missed a beat. We pivoted to a new Digital Workplace partner, Powell Software, who we felt had already positioned their intranet solution to be more aligned to the new WFH normal, with deep Microsoft Teams integration.
It was not all roses. Personally, many of us were dealing with younger and older children all at home, all under one roof, every single day. We went through ebbs and flows of knowns and unknowns related to masks, virus spread, grocery shopping, politics, PPP loans, vaccines, Zoom classrooms, college campuses being open or shut, how to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. I personally lost my father to COVID complications this past January.
But we’ve endured and are positioned to come out stronger as a result. COVID has fast-forwarded “digital first” concepts by as much as 5 years, all in a single year. The normalcy of virtual meetings instead of travel, hybrid work from home and office, digital document collaboration, and even telemedicine is beyond what we could have imagined even one year ago. We’re ready and I know our customers are ready too.
A new world for hybrid workers
Todd Felton, Chief Customer Officer
As an educator, freelance writer, and digital strategist, I feel like I’ve been preparing for this moment all my life…and felt tremendously unprepared when it actually happened. As news drifted in about outbreaks and shutdowns and we shifted our work environments to home environments, I struggled to adjust.
Ironically, it wasn’t working from home that was the challenge for me (I’ve done that much of my career). It was working only from home that I found challenging. I am used to working from home, yes, but also our company headquarters, at clients’ offices, on planes, in cafés, and from my local co-working space.
Missing the energy
What I miss about all those places is the vibrancy and energy of working around other people. I miss physically standing around a whiteboard sketching out ideas. I miss the casual chats around the coffee pot and lunch table. I miss sharing a laugh with colleagues as I walk through the office.
Fortunately, there have been some wonderful replacements. Since we couldn’t check in with each other from our desks, we instituted morning meetings and brought some structure to those meetings. I have never felt so in touch and connected to the work my colleagues are doing on a daily basis. We’ve shifted a number of client meetings that had typically been in person to virtual meetings, and while I really look forward to those again, I’ve also appreciated the notetaking and documentation that we’ve developed to support virtual meetings and hope we continue those practices.
New tools born of the pandemic
I don’t yearn for a return to the way it was. I do look forward to a hybrid world where the best of the digital tools complement and support the warmth and human connection of being in the same room with other people. I am excited by the potential of the new tools and practices that were born of the pandemic and look forward to using them with my colleagues and clients whether we are shoulder to shoulder or across the world.
Remote work? That’s SO 2005.
Andy Peterson, VP Content Strategy
The new normal is actually my old normal.
Before joining StitchDX I was a freelance content creator for 14 years. So I had a physical comfort zone ready to receive me, just as I left it. (Think of those Chernobyl “ghost town” photos, only largely free of dust and known radioactivity.) I didn’t feel all that disrupted.
Still, I’m writing this on a day when I’m seriously missing the in-person “office hang.” The good news: Microsoft Teams has enabled a better-than-reasonable facsimile that we’ve all embraced.
After returning home “for the duration,” we immediately established a daily morning all-hands call (see Todd’s laptop above). This time is ostensibly for us to align our priorities for the day ahead. But it also immediately became our space for processing, joking, sharing, listening, supporting.
I don’t know how we did without that daily hour pre-COVID. I don’t think any of us could imagine life without it now. It has made us an infinitely better team. It’s time that I cherish.
Getting better all the time
Remote work has forced me to get better with the technology, and not just Teams. Because Cody the Wonder Dog doesn’t know, for instance, how to configure HubSpot chatbots or fine-tune a page in WordPress, I do more to seek out the answers before bugging a teammate. (All credit to our young, digital-native associates for their shining example of initiative.)
And the more we work remotely, the more I want to champion strong Teams governance practices. Real-life example: The time I lost searching for a series of marketing reports that were titled instead with “recap.” All of us can always do better.
Remote work wasn’t a big change for me. But it has changed our company—or more accurately, it’s brought out the best in us. We allow ourselves to be more vulnerable with each other, which has helped us all better define and play to each other’s strengths to do better work.
Imagine how much better when we’re all back together.
Adapting, re-adapting, and then adapting some more
Erick Straghalis, President & Chief Strategist
I was working from home, as I usually did, the day we decided to go fully remote.
While I would usually head into the office—for an important meeting, to get some face time with colleagues, or just for a change of scenery—the last few months I had been traveling more often, visiting customers as far away as Switzerland. So, working from home had become the norm.
In fact, I had just cancelled a trip to Europe with my colleague Todd (where we were carefully watching infection rates rising to an alarming level) when we made the decision to send everyone home. With a partially remote workforce already in place, adapting to a fully remote office (at least temporarily, we thought) would be easy.
And it was, at first, relatively easy.
Adapting to remote work
At that point, we had been using Microsoft Teams and SharePoint to organize and collaborate for several years. Customers knew we had a dispersed work force, some of whom worked from out of state or even outside the country for portions of time. So having our team join client calls from their homes rather than a conference room didn’t feel unusual or unprofessional.
And we didn’t skip a beat.
Morning meetings were adapted to morning calls. Coffee breaks became virtual—in our respective kitchens. Lunch meetings shifted to always brown bag.
Interestingly, while we couldn’t be together, our personal connections with colleagues seemed to get stronger. Video backgrounds showed a personal glimpse of life we might never have uncovered in daily office conversation—musical instruments, kids’ artwork, a wandering pet, a horse saddle, and a chicken coop all became undiscovered talking points!
By April, we were reassessing whether to renew our office lease. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t.)
Working remotely, learning Remotely
Things seemed to be working okay, until the day my kids—a fourth grader, second grader, and first grader—came home from school with a note saying they wouldn’t return until “further notice.” That was my cause for panic.
Suddenly, my wife and I, who had adapted our home to allow us both to be “hybrid workers” for years, found ourselve sharing our office space with 3 kids under the age of 10. Our kitchen table, living room sofa, bedrooms, and (when the weather allowed) patio all became makeshift classrooms and conference rooms.
We managed through the last few months of school, spending a small fortune on babysitters.
Eventually, Fall turned to Summer. Vacations were replaced with “stay-cations”, and summer camps with “Kid Kamps” made up of our neighborhood pod. More money was spent on babysitters. Then, as summer faded to fall, we organized permanent work and learning spaces for each of us. Work schedules revolved around class schedules. Lots of work was done at night. Babysitters earned plenty… But we were able to have three meals a day together almost every day, which was one of many bonuses that we enjoyed with little fanfare.
What’s old is new again
A year later, all three kids are back to school in person—at least four days a week. Both my wife and I are still working from home—as is the rest of our staff. But at least in my house, we’re re-adapting to a new, new, new normal—almost the way things were a year ago.
The sudden shift to working from home “until further notice”
Kelsey Flannery, Digital Marketing Specialist
My last morning in the office was an eerie harbinger of what lay ahead. The official decision to transition into a remote workforce happened while I was on my way into the office. Everyone else had prepared for the possible quick transition into remote work – I had not expected the change to happen overnight. I received the call from Brian and entered the empty office with a heightened sense of unease.
At the time, I’d been out of college for less than a year, and while the idea of working from home was enticing (no more long commutes and staying in my slippers all day), I had never expected to experience it so soon. The morning of March 12th, feeling unprepared for the abandonment of office life completely, I packed all my belongings and headed home.
Microsoft Teams helped ease our transition into remote work.
We were one of the luckier organizations that already had Digital Workplace infrastructure in place that allowed us to hit the ground running. We had been using Microsoft Teams and SharePoint to easily share or locate documents, and to run client meetings. Our Teams channels were set up to handle various levels of discussions, planning and were carefully created to increase our productivity and organization.
We learned how to use Teams and our virtual meetings to increase communication and camaraderie. For me, our daily morning meetings became more than just a chance to run through weekly tasks or upcoming projects. They were also a time to laugh and share stories, to learn more about what was visible in the background of someone else’s camera.
I celebrated my 1-year anniversary with StitchDX last June. I fully believe learning to balance the new normal and remote working tools with my team changed our work environment to a more connected one.
Struggling with close quarters and new boundaries.
I miss some aspects of office life. I live with my parents and a dog who often wants nothing to do with me (we’re working through it). My mother and I both transitioned to full-time remote workers the same week – suddenly our house was both a middle school classroom and a marketing agency office.
We battled for internet bandwidth and space on the porch during the nicer days until she went back to school, leaving me as the only remote worker in our house. That was when I truly started to miss our office culture and in-person meetings.
Our perception of the workplace is forever changed by this experience.
Even with the issues that arise with working from home, I don’t see us just “returning to normal” when the time is right. This time has brought with it the opportunity to grow and create skills that will benefit me as an employee, and our business as a whole. It’s thrilling to imagine where we can go from here – whether it is in the office or from our couches, we now have the ability to thrive from anywhere.
Help your business thrive in the new age of remote and hybrid work.
Watch our on-demand webinar “Hybrid Work” to explore how Microsoft Teams, alongside your intranet, can support this transition and bring with it near- and long-term business results.
(Questions? Contact our Digital Workplace team here or click the orange chat button at the bottom right.)