Covid-19, your company, and you

We are now in the third week of the crisis accelerating here in Ireland. How are you, an entrepreneur, managing your situation? Dermot Casey, Venture Investment Lead at NDRC, poses the question.

We are now in the third week of the crisis accelerating here in Ireland. The schools were shut on 19 March. The Government announced further restrictions essentially locking down the country on Friday 27 March. We’ve been having discussions with many of our companies about the acceleration of the crisis since February.

This crisis in unprecedented and is difficult to compare it to either 2009 ‘Financial Crash’ or the 2001 ‘Dot Com’ collapse.

Even before looking at the practical business difficulties, this will be a stressful time for all. The first weeks of this crisis have been about catching your breath and getting some basic structures in place. For example, if you’ve small children and two working parents at home in the house there are all sorts additional physical and practical difficulties in working from home.

One good thing might be that everyone is in a similar boat and everyone recognises that we are all the Robert E Kelly now (the Hong Kong professor whose children wandered into shot during a BBC skype interview).

At this stage we’re going to assume that, at a minimum, you have done the following:

  • Set yourself up to work from home
  • Figured out a pattern of work with all your staff, especially if you haven’t worked with them this way before
  • Tooled yourself up properly: There is no single right way of doing this. There is the pattern for your company and the culture of your organisation. In NDRC we’re using Zoom and Basecamp among many other tools. My wife, a teacher, is using Moodle and Microsoft Teams with all her classes. Slack may be a key tool for you. Or it may be Whatapp. The only error is refusing to learn.
  • Added as much security as possible to your systems (additional controls around banking, use of VPNs where appropriate).
  • Checked out the government supports – these are detailed elsewhere on our site. We tend to talk about startups moving rapidly, being agile. But the speed of response from the state to this crisis has been phenomenal. The levels of support for jobs has been unprecedented, and the rate at which civil servants have processed applications has been a wonder.

All of us are negotiating and learning new patterns of work and it is OK right now to experiment and to decide that one tool suits or works better for you and another tool doesn’t. The most important technology that we all need is trust. There are lots of guides on remote working out there (perhaps too many). After working with remote and distributed teams for more than 20 years, the key pieces of advice I’d give are: trust is paramount; frequent communication and regular structures are critical.

The overhead of regular communication is the new cost of doing business and will sometimes feel like it takes away from the actual doing of the business. As we get better at this, that cost will reduce a little. Humans, isolated as we might be, are social creatures. Think of this of this as the new time taken to commute to the office. Additional regular chats with colleagues are better for everyone, and more carbon neutral. There is an opportunity here to build and strengthen relationships with everyone across your team and with your customers if you take the time to do that. Remember, cognitively demanding tasks are not helped by high degrees of stress and this sort of working will not suit everyone.