By Bela Sojina
About a year ago, our understanding on what it meant to ‘go to work’ was turned upside down. As my colleague Rose mentioned in an earlier blog, Symbiont was quite uniquely positioned for the transition, as the team was already working remotely: in some cases permanently like our European colleagues, or a few days a week for the New York staff. However, we did not have drills for the arrangement when all of our clients suddenly moved to an environment in which they had limited experience. Myself, with the team of the client-facing Solution managers and Engineers, had to both react internally, but more importantly, adapt to our external Client’s interactions.
Looking back and thinking ahead, we managed the change well. We embraced the existing client’s transition, guided them to the successful completion of the projects, and we learned how to manage new client engagements without in-person introductions. Below I outline some observations and lessons learned.
Challenges of working remotely are greatly amplified depending on the role you have in an organization. For our engineers it can be easier to work remotely, given we already worked with engineers across Europe and the US and were used to working remotely-remotely. In addition, our engineers are masters in mob engineering, where none of the distance seems to matter (mob engineering is an approach to minimize bugs whereby engineers screen share and work on the same code to have multiple eyes on the code).
Client-facing roles by definition involve facing a Client. In our case, it involves interactions with both Sales teams internally and Clients externally. Traditional face-to-face communication, although challenged in validity over and over, turned out to be needed more than ever in the past year. Assembly is an extremely complex platform. The challenge starts internally with the knowledge transfer to ensure that our sales team understands our technology thoroughly. They are the ones that will share the understanding with clients in the initial stages of a new client relationship.
When the pandemic started settling on all of us, Symbiont’s strategy prioritized transitioning from a product and engineering-focus to a customer-centric organization. It is usually a challenge to attract client attention to disruptive technologies, and the pandemic added the extra challenge of doing it remotely. In our case, the team’s experience and industry connections played an extremely important role. We continued developments of our current initiatives and we kept reaching out to more partners that were glad to hear from us during uncertain times.
Throughout the past year, we had plenty of war stories about Zoom crashes, restricted accesses and limited bandwidth; client infosec requirements sometimes prevent even just streaming video or sharing documents. We also had a fair share of funny stories about logistical difficulties and personal lives spillovers to complicate matters: some of us had to “create” a desk ourselves, squeezed a desk chair between the bed and the wall, had children demanding attention during important meetings, had pets barging in like they own the place, or had to deal with random background city noises.
In short, we had to re-learn how to manage client participation, sell a product, conduct the meetings, and communicate both internally and externally. As the vaccine and the laws of science are offering a glimpse of hope for the return to normalcy by mid-year, we are looking back with the proud feeling that we managed a challenge, which is bigger than all of us, well and Symbiont can keep moving forward and succeed in any difficult circumstances.