How Distributed Operations and a Unified Culture Helped a Technology Company Overcome COVID-19 Challenges
Thus far, 2020 has been unlike anything else during the 40-year history of database solution provider FairCom Corporation. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis forced FairCom and its employees around the world to adapt quickly to the changes in their professional and personal lives. The relatively smooth transition to the new way of doing business has happened without any impact on the services and products for its global customer base.
To understand how that happened, this article could certainly discuss and credit the IT staff’s dedication to its job, the company’s forward-thinking disaster planning sessions, regular employee training, and prior “mini-disasters” (snow/ice events that kept employees working remotely for a day). But instead, the company’s culture and its distributed nature actually played significant roles in making the transition to working at home relatively smooth.
An Early Warning
According the Chief Officer of Operations Alysha Brown, the reason for the success during the pandemic’s adversity is due to the talented and dedicated employees and the proven technology the company produces. She also pointed out the setbacks experienced by FairCom’s European team early in the crisis enabled the company’s teams in other parts of the world to formulate and implement their contingency plans quickly and successfully.
“To say that COVID-19 has delivered unprecedented challenges would be an understatement, especially for our team in our European headquarters located in the hard-hit Milan metropolitan area,” Brown said. “On the business side, we saw some of our customers in northern Italy go through the earliest lockdowns before the restrictions hit us. And most tragically, all of our employees in Italy have family members or friends who were directly affected health-wise due to the virus.”
The company took what it learned from the experiences in Italy and quickly formulated and implemented a plan for its offices in the United States and Brazil, as well as for remote employees and those travelling. “We were ahead of the curve in regards to instituting work-from-home operations and suspending company travel. We even had one teammate in Madrid who got a 2 a.m. call to pack up and return to the United States,” Brown said. “Fortunately, the result is that all of our employees have remained safe—even members of their Utah office who were rocked by an earthquake just as COVID-19 was ramping up!”
Because of this global perspective, FairCom gained a greater advantage in taking quick actions to secure things internally with employees and to address the mix of professional and personal needs due to the virus. In turn, this also gave FairCom the power to be proactive in helping customers with a team that hasn’t missed a beat.
Solutions for COVID-19 Challenges
In spite of all the pandemic-induced changes, the company’s divisions – engineering/development, marketing, sales, IT and administration – have all continued operations with minimal impact and a full workforce.
“We have been able to successfully meet all of our customer needs. In fact, if it were not for the COVID-19 communications we sent out to our customers, it would be difficult for them to tell if we are all working from home or the office,” Brown said. “Of course, another reason for the smooth operations is the reliability of our data management solutions, which have also been making a mark in COVID-19 response efforts.”
FairCom instituted a program in April that offers free, one-year use of its COBOL modernization solution (c-treeRTG) to government agencies in the United States. This is in response to the numerous news reports that decades old COBOL platforms are struggling to keep up with the increased strain during mission-critical operations and the shortage of COBOL developers. Another example of the impact of FairCom technology is the use of the c-treeACE multimodel database, which has been instrumental in healthcare systems around the world, including integration with systems providing telemedicine care to patients. Brown did say, however, the pandemic led to the decision to delay the official launch of the much anticipated version 3 of c-treeEDGE IoT Database to the fall of this year.
The company has always emphasized a culture where employees worldwide work together as part of a single team. It is intentional in trying to bring employees from different offices together for company events, team meetings and informal gatherings. How does that sense of community manifest itself in the midst of a global pandemic? “We use Slack for most of our internal communications” Brown noted. “Suddenly we had messages regarding mask making and the challenges of 24/7 family togetherness.”
Demonstrating their communication and care.
Brown provided a team cohesiveness example of a Slack exchange in which the person who feels comfortable reaching out to the worldwide organization is not the head of HR, not the chief of operations, nor the global disaster response officer. It’s a member of the buildings and grounds staff in Missouri who knows and cares about the people in FairCom Brazil (FCBR), Utah, Italy and the other locations worldwide. The company is not unique in having people around the world. Rather, it is unique in that it has deep connections across the world.
“We already have had for many years a standard monthly team meeting, worldwide, where we all get together and check in. I think our culture of really being a team, knowing one another, and not just being coworkers or people who work for the same company did put us in a better position to be comfortable with remote work,” Brown said. “We’ve been proving for a long time now that there is a lot you can do to overcome distance and create proximity.
“No one knows the future and when things will return to normal. But what’s normal anyway? We at FairCom have never tried to be ’normal,’ we’ve always focused on setting ourselves apart by being real and true to ourselves, as a company and as a team. It’s that strong character and effort that our team members have, which our company is founded on, and it has really shined during this crisis and contributed a lot to our navigating these unknowns safely.”
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