Five tips from a lockdown CTO

Wes Nolte
Wes Nolte

July 6 ∙ 4 minutes read

Having an excellent engineering team has meant that our transition to a globally locked down workforce didn’t come with too many bumps along the way. Instead it’s meant that we needed to make a series of adjustments to our operating model to ensure that our people and our business remained healthy as well as efficient. As the world begins to slowly re-open I believe a lot of these lessons will continue to be an advantage, and so I wanted to share five that I feel are essential.

Cloud is key

This one may be obvious but if your business is run 100% in the cloud then your ability to be agile (in the old school sense) is significantly increased. I think that in our startup-world we often forget this, it’s just how we work but there’s a large portion of the engineering community that isn’t there yet and for them, the cost of moving hardware is enormous whereas ours is zero.

(For those interested here are the key elements of our technology operations and hosted stack: Salesforce, Google for Business, Jira, Trello, Digital Ocean, MongoDB Atlas, CircleCI, npm, Github, Sentry, Papertrail.)

Be flexible

After several months of lockdown, we’ve all had several stressful experiences because of the challenge of our entire families being at home all the time. Despite this, each of our experiences will have their nuances so the stresses have different causes and different schedules. It is incredibly important that we not only talk to each other but listen to what is really being said and treat each other with kindness. At SalesTrip this has translated into individuals working schedules that are sometimes different from the standard, but accommodate team collaboration and balance permanent working from home challenges.

Communicate clearly and often

I know I’m not alone in thinking this, but I believe that having a team working in an office setting as a group a few times a week is essential to information sharing, culture building, and relationships. So much serendipity has come from being in an office and someone in one team hearing people in another team talking about something – side conversations are rare when everyone is remote. In-person communication is the highest bandwidth because it’s not just your voice and face communicating but you’re entire body.

At SalesTrip we’ve managed this well, but it does mean plugging communication gaps when we find them. This means building a culture where individuals feel empowered to pull together a group of people when swarming around an issue is required. This does not mean creating swathes of meetings just for the sake of it but finding that delicate balance of regular and ad-hoc conversations.

Processes are important

In some ways this is a part of my point on communication – we’re a startup so we don’t want to be process heavy as this would diminish two of our most important strengths: agility and speed. However, with everyone 100% remote all the time but a part of the same team you do need your processes and guidelines to be well-defined, well understood, and adopted. One particular area is your development process – you don’t want any ambiguities here or the various team members will be pulling in different directions; and you also want a proper feedback mechanism to ensure that adjustments are being made as needed.

Mental health should be treated as other types of health

Even when the whole business is working like a well-oiled machine you have to accept that we’re operating in a global crisis, and as individuals, we’re under a lot of stress. The stigma around mental health has thankfully diminished in recent years, but still has some way to go. As a leader, it’s important to let your team know that understanding your personal limits is good and that recharging is encouraged whether it be in the form of annual leave, or taking a sick day when you feel your mental health buckling under the strain of a world in crisis-mode.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 22nd June 2020.

Wes Nolte

Wes Nolte