COVID19 - Our Retrospective
At the beginning of February, the signals for an upcoming pandemic got stronger. As a consequence, we started a few countermeasures and relied more on remote work than beforehand. In this post I want to reflect a bit what we did and how we came out - status end of May 2020.
For us, working remote is certainly not a new experience. Nevertheless, working exclusively from the home office is a completely different beast. While this kind of impact was not foreseeable in February, we already tried to mitigate some of the effects. At the beginning of March every employee was free to work from home exclusively. In mid of March, we extended this to a recommendation, and from April on we closed our offices.
There are two sides to working remotely. First, it is quite liberating. You can finally focus, don't have to commute anymore, and - at least - family dinner is possible. However, on the other side, we sometimes do not know what state-certain stories are and if somebody needs help.
For solving the latter we came up with all these communication tools, right? Unfortunately, while technically possible up to some degree it still feels different. Webcams and screen sharing sessions help, but not everyone has the best connection and the microphones out there could be better, too. And then the tools start to collapse under the load...
We are heavy users of Microsoft Teams, which has seen (like many other communication tools) a spike in demand. Generally, we still think its a great solution. The few downtimes at the end of March/beginning of April could be survived somehow and from there on a lot of useful features came in. The only thing still missing is better multi-tenant support. Having to login/logout is cumbersome. The workaround with a different browser (containers) is also not suitable due to call limitations.
Germany is one of the countries that established social distancing well. We did not go so far as to make it a requirement for the company. In our office we'll still act as normal. We've never been huggers. Changing from handshakes to waving hands is not a problem for us.
Our discussions have never been physical. A verbal discussion can still be conducted with a distance of half a meter to a meter. What is more problematic is the contact with our clients. Many have introduced even stricter rules than we have - mostly due to being way larger as a company than we are.
Travel plans had to be canceled. Meetings have been shifted to screen sharing sessions. Contracts have been suspended or took longer to be prolonged. All these things have been foreseeable at the beginning of March. Nevertheless, as smapiot we've been in a lucky position.
We are quite picky with our clients. They are among the most established and efficient companies. As such the impact of the economic downfall has not been as dramatic for them as for others. For us, this meant we could rely on their continued demand.
While they still had to reduce in various forms, our services have quite often been on the whitelist for guaranteed continuation. We feel that this confirms our belief in the quality of quantity. smapiot will always make long term investments. We don't hire 50 engineers at once. We hire one after another to ensure organic growth. This enables us to have one of the greatest architecture and engineering teams in Southern Germany.
Contributing to OpenMRS
We've wanted to expand our covered projects and we've been lucky to add one great organization as our clients: We now contribute to OpenMRS - an open-source EMR (electronic health record system).
OpenMRS has an interest microfrontend project ongoing, which is settled to be their standard going into the next major release. For us this embodies many of our strengths, ideas, and goals. We took the chance and are happy to collaborate with other great supporters such as PIH, Ampath, and Mekom.
It could also be one of the future directions for our microfrontend solution to be quite easy to use in medical scenarios. We see an increase in interest in Piral as a solution and a lot of great questions and contributions coming in lately. The demand for microfrontends is certainly just at the beginning.
Opening Up Again
Finally, at the beginning of May, we also started opening our offices again. Since last week even the food supply is almost back to normal again. Even though the consequences of COVID-19 will certainly follow us (and everyone else) for a longer period, we think that a pseudo normal state may be reachable in late June or July.
Some of the new rules at our locations involve face masks and an increased minimum distance between two chairs. While some of these rules may be just temporarily installed, others may be with us for a longer time. In any case, our desire to create great software and help our clients to be successful is at least as strong as before.
We think that the trend for digitalization has been boosted by the pandemic. After all, the available digital tools have helped us to get through this crisis quite a lot. With apps to see the current status. With e-commerce to get important goods and groceries. With communication tools to stay in touch and getting work done. We will continue to architecture and build the best digital service platforms to help our clients stay online when everyone else goes offline.
We are grateful that all our families and loved ones are fine and have not been impacted too much by this crisis. Our condolences are with everyone who has been impacted negatively here, especially those who lost loved ones.
Our biggest hope is that world-wide politicians and companies use this as a chance to improve - not only concerning similar events in the future but also regarding a more efficient treatment of resources.