Keeping the Lights on in a Software Engineering Services Company During a Global Pandemic

Software Engineering Services Company in Sri Lanka

As COVID-19 brings countries and economies to a standstill, here’s how we at Calcey are continuing to work, albeit remotely.

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As we write this, all of humanity is collectively focused on battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Towns, cities, and even countries have gone into lockdown, pushing businesses everywhere to allow their employees to work from home.

As a software engineering services provider, we are fortunate that our business model, industry, and circumstances allow us to keep going. But, we also recognise that keeping an entire workforce sane while working remotely for weeks is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of foresight, planning and trust to build a viable remote operating model. 

Oh, and a lot of experience, gained through trial and error over the years.

We thought it apt to share our model of remote work, which is allowing us to carry on unimpeded.

Prepare in advance

Almost a year ago, Sri Lanka was put under curfew in the wake of the tragic Easter Sunday attacks linked to an ISIS terror cell. That was the first time we tried this new model of remote work, and this year, we were able to use that experience to our advantage. Adversity is after all, a good teacher.

COVID-19’s spread around the world was slow at first, and that gave us a small window to draw up our plans. Two weeks before the Sri Lankan government imposed an island-wide curfew, we at Calcey conducted a few remote work trials in which the entire Calcey team participated.

Being a software engineering services provider, Calcey has always been proud to offer our team members the freedom and flexibility to manage their own time. For instance, Calcey had already implemented an optional working from home policy, before this crisis hit. But we knew COVID-19 was going to have a huge impact on a country like Sri Lanka where tourism is a key industry (i.e. it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 reached Sri Lanka), so it only made sense to plan, execute, and learn.

Give people all the tools they need to do their job

Remote work models (and even regular work models) will quickly fall apart if people are not given all the tools they need to get their work done. Consider how sometimes, companies don’t allow offsite access to internal systems for no valid reason. In a remote work model, this kind of roadblock quickly leads to frustration, which in turn leads to a complete breakdown.

All Calcey team members were given access to all systems and devices they need beforehand. There were also a few challenges, which we eventually managed to overcome. For instance, the QA team was faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to share devices used for testing purposes while working remotely. To solve this, we turned to BrowserStack, a device cloud application that allows our QA team to conduct testing on different devices through the cloud, very much similar to how they would carry out device testing if they were inside a physical office space.

Build remote-friendly team structures

At Calcey, we have built team structures so that they are remote-friendly anyway. Each development team has a team lead or architect who is in charge of technology architecture, but also assists the developers in thinking through their problems, identifying the right libraries and tools to use, etc. The leads and architects are our very own walking, talking internal knowledge bases and have insight into all our projects by virtue of their experience.

Every day, all team members check in with their respective leads or architects and discuss what needs to be done for the day or week. The goal of this practice is to anticipate any potential roadblocks and proactively figure out how each developer would overcome them. In our view, this is both a good coding practice, as well as a sensible course of action to follow, in general. We first solve the problem, before writing any code. 

The regular check-ins with the leads and architects then become a collective problem-solving session. Having an experienced hand in the fray means that we apply standardized solutions to commonly faced problems, allowing everyone to focus on the novel engineering challenges of the project and turn this into a hands-on mentoring process. 

As a result, our developers are not really working alone even when they are physically away from each other. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel at every turn while trying to figure things out on their own, and can still show up at the office with a full head of hair once the curfew is lifted for good. Less frustration equals better productivity, after all.

Put in processes and trust people to make it work

Given how we operate to tight deadlines to ship code, we have put processes in place for everyone to check in their code. Team leads are not looking over people’s shoulders and micro-managing them. Instead, we rely on a powerful tool— trust. We trust all team members of Calcey to check in regularly, provide updates and raise questions where necessary, and work together as a team.

In our experience, trust is what makes remote work (and a whole lot of other things) possible. Calcey team members know and understand that they have the freedom to manage their time so that they can both get their work done and also live a full life. We also have a results-based culture, which goes a long way toward helping make Calcey remote-friendly. 

Remember, employees are also human

Being forced by the government to remain indoors at all times and the limited human interaction that comes with it, can quickly take a toll on an individual’s mental health. People need breaks, and perhaps even an occasional distraction to calm their minds during trying times like this. It is with this in mind that we took the initiative to organise an e-sports tournament, in which the entire company can participate. Never one to rest on our laurels, we are looking at putting together a roster of a few such activities for everyone to participate in, from the safety and comfort of their own home.

What systems, tools, and processes have you employed in your company to make remote work possible? Let us know in the comments.

And finally, we would also like to salute and thank all first responders, medical professionals, and key workers who are tirelessly working day and night to ensure that we are protected from the threat that is COVID-19.

Stay safe!