The Liipway in times of COVID19

  • Lukas Kahwe Smith

There are a flurry of remote working best practices blog posts already out there - along with many corona virus specific ones. Rather than reiterate those, in this blog post I want to focus on some different aspects about how Liip specifically addresses such a unique situation.

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There are a flurry of remote working best practices blog posts already out there - along with many corona virus specific ones. Rather than reiterate those, in this blog post I want to focus on some different aspects about how Liip specifically addresses such a unique situation.

Some historical background

We have from day one fully embraced part time work. In fact the average Liiper works roughly 80%. While this makes for occasional organizational challenges it basically prepares us for the inevitable, people going on holidays, people leaving or people getting sick. There is a saying “if deployments hurt, do them more often”. This is kind of the approach we have taken here, if people not being available is going to happen with some frequency, then why not make it the norm, so that it doesn’t cause stress spikes? Our processes, especially documentation and information sharing, naturally evolved to deal with this. Agile development methodologies like scrum and kanban play a key role here. Since Liip has been applying agile methodologies since its inception, these processes are very deeply embedded into our DNA and daily culture.

Liip is a semi-remote workplace

While we never embraced remote first, we also traditionally gave Liipers autonomy so that together with their team they would be empowered to figure out how much home office would work for all people involved. We are a Swiss digital agency working for Swiss customers, one of our key unique selling propositions is our close proximity to our customers to achieve a shorter time to market and optimal user centered design. Here it helps tremendously to have people in the same room, not all the time but with some frequency. But given that we do allow home office and we also collaborate across offices, we do have all the infrastructure in place to enable fully remote work.

On to self-management

Unwittingly our next step in preparation for this day started back in the summer of 2015 when we started our journey towards full self-management. Starting from 2016 we switched to Holacracy as our organisational system. One of the things we realized early was that with self-management we will have a much bigger need for video conferencing. Since with that switch we split the old management tasks over a larger number of roles it is no longer possible to do necessary alignments in person all the time. We do however have a yearly internal conference and company outing along with the ability for Liipers to organize monthly innovation day and weekly LiipTalks - so there is still plenty of room to meet personally. But for daily business we invested in equipping all our meeting rooms with hardware based video conferencing so that joining a call would be possible with a single button tap on a performant ethernet connection.

In the situation we are faced today our move to self-management has two major benefits.

  • We are used to getting this done using video conferences
  • Our governance structure is able to rapidly adapt to our business needs

So on February 25th the first Swiss corona case was confirmed. February 27th, a role was proposed called “Influenza Specialist” and by March 3rd multiple people had been assigned to the role. In parallel Jenny, in her role as “Internal Communication Specialist” took over keeping all Liipers informed about decisions from the government and the relevant local governments and adding Liip specific information into this communication. This has essentially meant that Liipers could focus on continuing work in their roles, rather than having to deal with uncertainty during work hours. In case any action needed to be taken at any of our locations, like hanging up signs or switching to disposable towels, the “Influenza Specialist” could count on the “Emergency Administrator” role we already established last fall with one person per office.

ISO certified FTW

The above noted “Emergency Administrator” role was a result of the ongoing process improvements after getting ISO 9001 certified. As a side note: we are currently in the process of getting ISO 27001 certified as well. Most people's reaction, certainly mine, to hearing about such certification is that it is just theatre to please overly sensitive customers. We have quickly learned that ISO standards go a long way in making sure that relevant data is collected and maintained and processes are put into place to deal with real world issues. As a result we had communication channels and plans in place already.

Summary

Obviously this situation is non trivial for us, just like for everyone else. The IT industry is of course in an easier situation than companies with brick and mortar factories. However thanks to having a remote compatible working setup, self-management and preparation thanks to ISO certifications, the impact for Liip so far could be kept to a minimum.


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