The story of one family’s experience enduring professional and educational lockdown
by Erez Morabia
My name is Erez Morabia and I’m an engineering manager and internal agile coach at Avaya Israel. I live in the center of Israel and am married with three kids. The Corona virus has changed by home and work life, as I’m sure it has for many others in Israel and around the globe.
Starting last week, the government in Israel announced a lockdown on the education system as well as a strong recommendation for people to work from home if possible.
So I started to think:
- Working from home? This is something I can do as we are living in a technological world where remote communication is easy.
- Educational lockdown? A bit harder, but achievable.
- Doing them both at once? Now that’s a challenge.
In the post I will describe how me, my family and my teams have adjusted to this new reality and what challenges I see in it.
Work: Working with distributed teams
Avaya is a global company and we have teams located in more than ten locations around the globe. Most of our products contain teams across the globe. Working with remote teams is something we know how to do well. We have the technology, the processes, and the right mindset to work in such a distributed environment.
However, COVID-19 made it a bit more challenging.
Let’s go a couple of months back in time. COVID-19 was in the news, especially in China, but hadn’t reached Israel yet. There were very few cases of infections in Europe. At that time, I had a flight planned to Italy to deliver an on-site workshop about agile. I decided not to take my chances and do that workshop remotely. This was the first change in my life due to COVID-19.
How did we shift to an online workshop?
We arranged the workshop into four sessions, 1 session per week, 2 hours each. Most people connected together from the a meeting room with video conferencing and presentation sharing. That went well. Fast forward a few weeks, and Italy became the number one affected zone in Europe where people started working from home. At this point, all people started connecting from home and lucky for us! Our products are perfectly suitable for that.
Doing a remote workshop in a fully distributed mode, with each person connecting from home, was different. It became more one-directional communication. My mission was to trigger bi-directional communication – by asking more questions, pausing more, and using Kahoot for some interactive quiz which ramped up the energy during the workshop.
Work: Turning into a distributed team overnight
Fast forward one week and COVID-19 became a big issue in Israel. We found ourselves working from home with the kids at home. As a manager, I considered my first priority task to help our agile teams find the best way to communicate in order to continue to deliver value and be somewhat of a “sanity island” for them in these stressful days.
We Took Three Steps:
#1: We worked with the teams to move all their meetings into the virtual domain using video conferencing on top of the Avaya infrastructure (sprint, daily sprint review, sprint planning, spring retro, refinement).
#2: We moved all the physical boards in the virtual domain and we used Jamboard (by Google) for that mission.
#3: We scheduled a Virtual Coffee meeting every day at 10:00am for 15 minutes where people bring their coffee and connect to the video meeting with, no agenda and no work-related talking. We experienced full participation during those 15 minutes and it was engaging a good stress relief.
As a final note, I would like to encourage managers around the globe who are managing employees, not to fall into the micro-management trap. Don’t be so stressed that your team becomes distributed. Do your best to support teams so that they can deliver, don’t overload them with reporting and monitoring. COVID-19 will be over soon, but our teams are with us for the long run. Rest assured that the teams are looking carefully at how managers operate during this period.
At home, we’ve designed a daily routine. The kids started the morning with exercise, e-learning using the school flatform, meeting friends through video (using Zoom), and the family gathering around a board-game (choosing those long games such as Katan, Small World, The Clue, Talisman, Ghost Stories, etc…)
I found myself a spot at home where I can use my laptop to work and connected to video meetings. My wife is a kindergarten teacher, so she started working on some settings for doing remote gatherings for the kids using Zoom.
We also changed the way we interact with the larger family. My parents used to gather all of us (two brothers and one sister, with their families) into a Friday dinner. As my parents are at the age which has high death rate for COVID-19, we decided to do our dinner virtually as well. Each family at their own homes connected through a virtual meeting.
Community: Get Support
Using the wider community for support is something I would recommend. In my case, I used the Management 3.0 community and the Israeli agile forum (led by Ajimeh) for getting ideas on how to deal with this challenging period.
Another aspect that is very important is helping the community. We have an artist friend that was delivering painting workshops at her house. The COVID-19 blocked her business in its current iteration and no one wanted to come over. We helped her build a virtual setting for delivering her workshops remotely. We turned this challenging period into an opportunity. After all, there were thousands of parents and kids at home looking for some remote activity.
Bringing it all together
Challenging times, no doubt. Both at home and at work. Do your best to be calm and bring sanity to this insanity. Have a daily schedule at home with the family. Support your teams by providing them with the ability to communicate effectively and gather together for non-work discussions (e.g. virtual coffee). Use the community for help and contribute to the community in whatever way you can. This is how I found myself going through this period.
Photo Credit: Ezra Morabia