#tamojunto (translation: #weareinthistogether) is a hashtag we have used very fondly within Premium Minds for a long time. It is common to see it in the expressions of praise and gratitude we send to each other. It is part of our history and guides us through the best and worst times. It is one of the uniting themes of our Principles.
#tamojunto translates what I felt when March 16, 2020, came to an end. It was the first day we had worked 100% remotely, and I was amazed at our proficiency in continuing to produce together, even though it was the first time we had done it separately.
The following weeks brought on moments of uncertainty and some panic in Portugal in the face of the crisis caused by COVID-19. As the waves of the pandemic hit, I could not be more grateful to work for this company. Instead of going on the path of tightening control and acting quickly to cut costs, we chose to follow the logic of creating the best possible conditions and then trusting that each person would do their best. All these years we had invested in a culture of autonomy and responsibility would bear fruit in a scenario that none of us had ever foreseen. In this article, I want to share some of the measures we have taken and reflect on their value.
Slow but attentive
Faced with the possibility of less business, the management team (of which I am a member) decided that, contrary to the advice of many gurus, we would be slow to make structural decisions. We had a financial resilience on our side that allowed us to stick it out for some time and a management team that had begun to meet daily in order to assess our pulse as the situation evolved. In these meetings, we evaluated the possibility of downsizing, reducing wages, and even layoffs. We did not choose any of these paths. It was clear to us that one of Premium’s most valuable features is the high level of psychological security that people feel. This security begets honesty, which in turn begets trust. There is nothing like trusting those who work with us. That is why we gave priority to efforts to maintain that security. We were transparent about the measures that we were taking. We tried to clarify questions and concerns and decided not to change our salary and earnings distribution policy, until we were obliged to do so. Now, after three months, it seems to me that this strategic decision has been essential to the success we have had in navigating these waters.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
During our management meetings, in the face of the pandemic, we started to follow the logic behind “hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
- We performed a 100% remote work simulation one week before the state of emergency was declared. This experience was essential so that we could make a very smooth transition.
- Right in the first week of the state of emergency, we assumed that our situation would remain like this for months and that we should follow a logic of abundance and invest in the best possible working conditions for each person in their home. We bought all the material that people requested, and we offered a delivery service for everything that was necessary. That's how many of our chairs were moved from the office to each person's home. Many of us had just realized just how comfortable our office chairs were.
Taking care of our emotional well-being
One of the most important measures we adopted was to gather a team dedicated to everyone’s emotional well-being. Under the surmise that isolation could create stressful situations for some of us, this team began lengthy, quality conversations with each person in the first week. We noticed very disparate isolation experiences – from people who were happy to have more time and quality of life to people who were desperate about their own difficult family situation. One thing became very clear: it had never been more important to exercise a tolerant, compassionate attitude.
This team was also concerned with creating moments of socialization. We continued to sing “Happy Birthday” together, organized remote lunches, and got together for board games, always through a virtual presence. One of the initiatives that garnered the most participation was people sharing their thoughts daily on the #relax channel of our internal chat:
- How is the view from your window at home?
- What skill have you been learning or improving during quarantine?
- What dish have you eaten most often since the beginning of the quarantine?
- What did you think you were going to do during the quarantine and haven't started yet?
- If today they said that everything was magically okay and we could go back to our normal lives, what would you do first?
Room for experimentation
We have always encouraged a space at Premium for anyone to suggest ideas and create initiatives. We talk about how this space is organic, because it does not arise from a plan, but from a desire to experiment and iterate. This was no different at this stage of the state of emergency.
On the day we performed our 100% remote work simulation, the company presented the 3CX system as an official communication solution, which was already used as a telephone exchange and supported video calls. As we do not have bureaucratic processes for acquiring licenses, many of us started to try out other solutions. At the end of the first week at home, I was having meetings via 3CX, Teams, Zoom, and Whereby. Then, someone (and I say someone because I do not know who it was) had the brilliant idea of replicating all the physical rooms in our office on a Discord server. Anyone who is a gamer knows the Discord application – it is special because it allows you to be on channels and chat only by voice. Some teams started experimenting with replicating their usual conversations with the people who share the space, and, little by little, the whole company migrated inside organically. Now, I am using Discord for all internal communications, except for our monthly meeting, because the application does not support 100 people on video.
One of the characteristics of our culture is that we like to play around. This is a naturally organic space wherein that playfulness emerges in many ways. One of the things I love most is the semi-professional films created entirely by people here inside. At our Christmas Party, we watched titles such as “The day when Soares didn't eat the first slice” or “The day Nelson was on vacation.” The only film we made public was our recruitment film – the playfulness is still there, but in a slightly more formal way. While we were shut in at home, we decided to make another film in the form of a music video. That was how the song “Vou sacudir, vou abalar” was born, whose chorus (often sung by the children at home) roughly translated sound something like this:
"I’m gonna rock, I’m gonna roll
When corona leaves
I won't stay at home, no
I'm gonna socialize again, oh oh!”
The song, which includes the participation of sixteen people, is about how we can’t wait to get together again.
Return to normal
We have always told our candidates that remote work was not encouraged at Premium Minds. One of our principles is: I contribute so that Premium is not just a workplace. We make an example of the fact that we all work in the same office and never do IT Staffing for other companies. This time, we had no alternative, and as I said in the beginning, I was amazed at our ability to reinvent ourselves. However, I already feel that this model is beginning to deteriorate our culture and that this is not yet visible as we have many credits to spend. I have noticed that:
- In a remote setting, people start to interact less and less with people who are not on their teams. And we've always encouraged everyone to get along with everyone.
- Communication problems are growing. It is more difficult and tiring to communicate without being physically present. Non-verbal communication is less present; therefore, there are more disagreements. There is also less communication. All the accidental conversations we would have when we crossed the corridor are gone.
- It is very difficult for people who are new or in the recruitment process to be included in all the dynamics that were developed within a culture that prioritized physical presence.
I don't know what the future will hold, but I look forward to getting together again. For me, the cold light of the screens will never replace the warmth of human presence. I am confident that we will know, once again, how to grow organically towards a model in which we feel that we are still Premium Minds.