The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how we socialize, travel, and work on a global scale. Here at Forerunner we regularly work as a small, remote team, often across time zones and while we travel. As a result, we have pretty strong workflows in place to accommodate flexible schedules and prolonged distant interaction. Even so, we've had to adapt pretty quickly to Coronavirus. Many of the events we were preparing for have been cancelled, as were trips to meet existing and potential partners. We were also accustomed to meeting in-person to catch up and socialize as a team – a lot of this interaction has been moved online.
These changes are relatively small in relation to the big shifts that many of our contacts and customers have had to enact. Individuals working for governments of all scales are especially impacted by workflow alterations, as they are often expected to provide continued service and have historically relied on in-person interactions. Many of the people working in emergency management and public health have also been tasked to handle the crisis full-time, leading to an overall drop in capacity for regular day-to-day function. Here are some of the things we've heard from our partners, colleagues, and friends working in local/state/federal government:
A surprising number of events can be virtual. Some of our friends and colleagues in local government are turning to video conferencing to host town halls, Q&As, and committee meetings. In many instances, public events held digitally can still satisfy legal requirements and engage a critical mass of residents. Conferences, too, are slowly shifting to online forums. If/when we return to normalcy, this digital flexibility could help to address access gaps for individuals who might not be able to attend physical meetings.
It's hard to control messaging. Even with local governments stepping up to the plate with increased digital outreach, it's difficult to limit misinformation and communicate effectively with residents. Building trust with residents is key to combatting confusion – governments that have worked hard to develop robust communication systems and protocols are seeing the benefits of this investment.
Digital documentation is pretty important. So is digital government. For some governments, the pandemic has surfaced the need for better document management. Many of the meeting minutes, permits, and plans produced by municipalities are still housed as hard copies in filing cabinets. In the context of a pandemic, where movement is limited, this can quickly become a barrier to service. While it might not have a great impact in the short term, many local governments are looking into ways to invest in better digital workflows that rely less on in-person interactions to function.
Regional governments can play an important role in coordinating resources. For small municipalities, the shift to working virtually can be a heavy lift. We've seen that regional governments can help ease this by providing ongoing resources, both technical and otherwise. Historically, regional governments have also acted as conduits for knowledge-sharing. This is especially true now, as cities are looking for best-practices and new workflows.
For those of you looking into tools to enable better remote work, we've listed the products we use below. None of them are particularly surprising, but we've also tried quite a few technologies in our quest for efficient tools. If you're considering options and want to reach out for a chat, chances are we have opinions!
Zoom: Like many of you, we use zoom to hold both internal and external meetings. We've experimented with a few video conferencing applications and have found that Zoom's audio and video quality best suits our needs. One downside is that it's not exceedingly user friendly. In instances where we need something that is easier to access, we've used Whereby. Whereby doesn't require logins or downloads, which means that users can just open a website and start chatting.
Slack: Using Slack allows us to have ongoing 1-1 communications, as well as group communications organized by topic. Like many collaboration and messaging platforms, it allows us to integrate other tools for seamless notifications. We also like it because some of our peers network in Slack workspaces – using it allows us to tap into community while also allowing us to communicate with one another.
Notion: At Forerunner, we do a lot of note-taking and a lot of roadmapping. We like Notion because it's collaborative and it allows us to create different types of ongoing documents all in one platform.
Google Drive: Google Drive houses all of our key forms and contracts. For organizations looking to minutely manage folder permissions, Google Drive is also a great option for curating access to documents.
We've learned a thing or two working remotely. While we're a small tech startup, a lot of these lessons can be applied across industries:
Meeting every day is important. Whether you meet in small teams or as part of a larger one, making sure to touch base regularly keeps everyone on the same page. It has been very useful to set (and hold fast to) regular meeting cadences.
We constantly tell each other about our progress. We asynchronously report our progress to the rest of the team in Slack. This is useful for tracking headway and for keeping one another accountable.
We make room for 1-1 discussions. Teams are great but developing individual relationships can be very useful for building trust. Much like in-person offices, we build in time to connect with one another individually in addition to doing so in groups. If you have a large office and use Slack, tools like Donut are great to enable spontaneous interaction.
Informal interaction is super important! We've heard from our customers and peers that, as they transition into remote work, they're missing the conversations that teams typically have informally in passing. We schedule time each week to chat and have started to host regular virtual happy hours so that we can also informally connect with the larger floodplain management community.
Trust is key. For supervisors, working remotely can be a bit unnerving. We've found that trusting each other to accomplish tasks is incredibly important for maintaining productivity & employee happiness. Working without your team nearby can also feel isolating. When you trust your coworkers to contribute to your team, this can make work less lonely.
Lastly, we've come across a few very comprehensive remote working guides that we've found particularly handy. We'll continue compiling them below for you to reference.
That's it for now. Our team at Forerunner hopes that your teams are safe and well. If we can help you troubleshoot workflows or you want to chat, we're always available for a conversation!