Sarah Woods

Chief Operations Officer

Sarah Woods

As a 100% distributed company, I naively hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would not cause a significant impact in the lives of our employees. We were already set up to work from home, after all! Surely, we’d be “back to normal” in no time!

Was I wrong or what?

What I have learned is that there is no “back to normal,” only a new reality that we are all faced with. And I’ve received a bootcamp class in adjusting to this new normal. Here are some of the most important things I’ve learned over these last few months.

Be nimble (and get creative) with culture activities

We had to postpone our company retreat — an event widely anticipated by our employees where we meet in person and do fun things. While not an equivalent replacement, our managers have initiated some other fun activities for employees. One has done a “remote retreat” to discuss higher level departmental goals. My team also read an interesting book about Human Resources and has started a remote book club — an idea we borrowed from another team who has been doing this for months. Another group of employees launched a “Culture Buddies” program to pair individuals who do not normally work together for informal virtual meetups to learn more about each other.

Be empathetic and make space for unstructured conversations

Realizing our employees are facing greater strains on their time, their resources, and their patience — I’ve found myself holding less structured conversations with people. While we discuss work-related issues they’re facing, I also like to make sure we touch on anything that is impacting them whether that’s work or home. I like to find out if there’s something I can do from scheduling our meetings at different times or making them longer or shorter, to communicating more or less frequently through other venues. I also do periodic check-ins with employees, mainly through Slack, just to see how others are doing and if there’s anything I can do to help them.

Be aware of work habits and remember to “sign-off”

This is also the time to be cognizant of your own habits, especially when home and work are frequently now in the same location. Limit (or, better yet, eliminate) after hours emails/Slack messages. This not only benefits you in providing that needed down time, but it keeps your colleagues from feeling obligated to work non-stop. A recent survey found that people are working an average of 28 hours per month more during this pandemic. We should not hold ourselves to that expectation, and certainly should not hold our colleagues to that either. I’ve found that if I write out my “to-do” list at the end of the day, I’m better able to free my mind up from work that evening and I don’t email or Slack with issues that can easily wait.

Above all else, take care of yourself

Anxiety associated with this pandemic is creating other issues such as lack of sleep, brain fog, and an inability to concentrate. It’s important that, in addition to “shutting down” on nights and weekends, you make sure you are taking care of yourself with meditation, exercise, stretching, and proper ergonomics. I have a small sticky note on my desk that reminds me to sit up straight and lower my shoulders. I also regularly book 15-minute blocks of time in my day to take a quick walk with my dogs.

Yes, we have a business to run, but this is also an important time to show each other — and ourselves — some grace and kindness.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering custom software, mobile, and web application development consulting. We provide exceptional professional services in strategy, user experience, design, and full stack engineering using Ember.js, React.js, Ruby, and Elixir. With a nationwide staff, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the United States, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Austin, New York, and Boston.


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