Monday’s from home


Quieter today with work, and hoping it will remain so. There appear no roadblocks or bugs to deal with today, and though there are updates pending, they’re under control. Within a week I expect we’ll have eased into the BAU management of the live chat client. There’s been a lot of dollars spent on this project in a short period of time, and there’s wariness about invest too much more at this point. There are other solutions pushing forward as well. For me, the most significant factor is project fatigue. The guys have been working day and night for weeks. Push too much more at this point, and you run the risk of mistakes creeping in. Everyone needs to rest and reset – we can get into it again in a few weeks.

Because I’ve been working almost exclusively on special projects, I feel a slight disconnect from the larger team. At the start of each day, I’m due to attend a couple of Teams meetings online. The first is with my immediate team, and I don’t mind it so much because I get to hear of all the things they’re working on. I’ll get asked what’s going on in my world and my answer is just about the same every time: still working hard on live chat. I’ll give them a little more than that because I’ve been full-on with it and are curious. I’ll tell them a little of the ins and outs, the challenges.

Some days I might give them a tip or two. They’re doing without me in my usual role. Typically I’d coordinate and map out much of the work they need to do. I hardly have time to glance at it these days, but if I find a spare 10-15 minutes,, I’ll quickly scan dev ops to see what’s going on. I might add a note or re-direct some of the user stories. In the meetings, I might make some suggestions or give some insight. I’m all about efficiency, s if we can kill multiple birds with the single stone, I’ll give them the word.

What’s interesting, and has implications as we go forward, is that the amount of work coming through is falling. It doesn’t surprise me. Much of the office is so busy adapting to new ways of doing things that they don’t have time for much else. As for our customers, they’re not doing enough to create work. Activity is down all round because activity is down.

The second meeting is almost straight after the first. This is a more disparate group, and I almost always listen silently while continuing to work. The sessions are a nuisance to me as they take me away from my work at the moment I want to set-up for the day ahead. So, I’ll listen, hardly interested as all they report seems so trivial after what I’ve been doing. I didn’t have a lot of time for these stand-ups when I was in the office because hardly any of it was relevant to me. Now, I feel further away from them, somewhere separate and different, and while part of that is due to the extraordinary work I’ve been doing, the rest is because the separation now is literal.

Then, on Mondays, we have a departmental meeting almost straight after. It kills me because it delays for another 40 minutes the stuff I have to catch up on.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the meetings were useful and informative. I’m happy to be updated on things – what’s happening with the business, how things are going, what decisions are pending, and so on. Except there’s none of that.

There seems a focus to maintain and foster team spirit. I understand why, but it’s difficult in virtual comms when only one person can speak at a time, and forty people are online. The result is an untidy session that vaguely equates to happy clapping. You should by know by now that I’m not a happy clapper. I’ve got nothing against it – whatever rocks your boat – but I’m not about to join because it just isn’t me. And I have things to do.

These sessions are really for the extroverts who need an outlet to express themselves. The rest of us don’t. Like the other introverts, I prefer more authentic communication – that is, one on one, or in a more modest setting. I don’t need more than that from work, though I’m sympathetic to the attempt. I have friends to share with and unwind – it’s not something I seek at work, even now.

I used to be more expansive when I was younger. At one stage, I was quite the entertainer. These days I’m pretty economical. I’m more forthcoming with my team because I know and like them and because they’re my responsibility. Outside of them, I’m not inclined to say anything much unless I have something to say. And if I can get away with a nod or a wink or a steely glare, then that’ll do.

That belies my working day because I’m on the phone much of the time, and though a lot of it is directive and task-focused, there’s also time for a laugh to break it up. The point is, I don’t want to pretend to something that should naturally flow.

I think there has to be a better way. I’ll have a think about it.

From home, now until when?


Yesterday afternoon we were given the option to work from home if it was feasible. I have laptop and VPN, and so I elected to take that up. This morning the message came through that alternative rostering options were now off the table, and if able to work from home you should do it. I’m home now, don’t know when I’ll get back to the office next – months, I suspect.

It was a strange feeling yesterday. Much of the business is trialling work from home. On my floor, which is on the corporate level, probably 60% of people were away. When the news came that we could work from home, there was a strange vibe. Like Christmas, someone said, though not like Christmas. You know, there’s a scheduled break coming up for everyone, and there’s a sense of farewell, see you next year. Except in this case, there’s nothing joyous or expectant about it, and no-one knows when we’ll see each other next.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible for everyone yet. This is the busiest time of year for the business, and for many, there aren’t the arrangements in place to work anywhere but in the office. That’s making a lot of people nervous, and some pissed off. I understand that. I also understand that if the business fails, then people lose their jobs. It sounds a bit callous, but it’s a balancing act.

That’s pretty much been full time on – enabling a way for the bulk of the sales and operational staff to continue in their jobs working from home.

We cutover on Monday night, as I described nervously that afternoon. I worked 15 hours that day, finishing a little after 11pm. Somewhat to my surprise, it was almost a complete success. Given the rush and the sheer scale of change, I fully expected for parts of it to go awry. I factored that in when planning the deployment, figuring it was better to have something in and working than to delay in these uncertain times. As it turns out, the bugs were minor. It was a mighty achievement.

We delivered about 80% of the solution on Monday night. The remaining 20% was implemented last night. Once more, almost perfect, and very well received.

I know a lot of people were heaving sighs of relief, but probably none more so than me.

In terms of the business, this isn’t the final call. I’ve facilitated the underlying technology, but there’s also VPN licensing and applications to be deployed and, in some instances, actual devices to be handed out. Thankfully that’s not in my purview, and I’ve done my bit.

In times like these, it doesn’t feel right to be too personal. It feels indulgent as if perspective is askew. I’m conscious of the troubling times, and the tremendous personal challenges many will face. Many people will fall ill. Many others will lose their job. Society itself is disrupted like never before.

All that is humbling, but I want to share for the record something is personal, and quite possibly self-indulgent. I feel some satisfaction at what we’ve achieved, and my part in, though perhaps not as much as what you might think. It’s my job, and I enjoyed it. It’s significant at a deeper level, however.

Coming out of my homeless phase, I wondered if I had lost anything in the process. Was I still the same man? Was I still as capable? Was all that a myth?

Within a few years, I realised that I was just as sharp and as capable as ever. The problem was that I was hardly allowed to show it. For various reasons, the opportunities were infrequent and limited in scope. It’s taken a while to find myself in a position of influence, and a crisis like this to show what I was capable of. It took a budding catastrophe for me to take the stage again.

I don’t know if I proved anything to myself through this. It’s probably proved something to others, but find I don’t care as much about that as I would have expected. It feels almost a mic drop moment for me. There, I’ve done it. I don’t have to do it again. I’ve proven a point. I wonder now if one of the motivating forces in me these last few years will now quieten?

Practically speaking, this is the start of it for me. I’m home, but I’ve identified other opportunities that have been green lit to do. I’ll do them from home, in conjunction with other people working from home. That’s the world today.

Being practical, I’ve probably assured my role for the immediate future. I expect a lot of others will lose theirs.

Pardon my self-indulgence. I know much greater things are afoot.

Lead the way


I watched Scott Morrison in his press conference announcing updates to COVID-19 restrictions. For the first time in my life, I almost felt sorry for him.

Customarily Morrison comes across as a smug prick, with an unwelcome smirk on his face. Most of what he says and does it couched in political terms. He’s always trying to gain an advantage, as if the prime purpose isn’t the national good, but political gain. For me – unlike many others, obviously – he’s never come across as a convincing national leader. First and foremost he’s a political operator.

That remained true until about a week ago. Then he woke up, I think. He realised he was in the middle of a catastrophe and it was his job to do something about it. He was very late to that understanding, which explains why the response to date has been slow and hesitant.

Last night there was no smirk and no sign of being smug. Instead, he appeared almost vulnerable – the most human I’ve ever seen him. He was caught up in the biggest challenge this country has faced since the wars, and he knew it. He was verbose, as he tends to be, but gone was the political cant. Still, the message was vague.

I think one of the issues we have is about the strategy we should have adopted. All the talk is about flattening the curve – a phrase that will live on in the language long after this. The right strategy to achieve this is hard to know because, essentially, there’s a conflict between economic and physical health. Right now they’re almost at odds. The best way to curtail infection and save lives is basically to shut the economy down – a lockdown. That’s a harsh cure, and one the government has been pussyfooting around. Throughout, they’ve sought to compromise between the two poles.

Personally, I think that’s misguided and probably pointless. My view again is that you have to take the firmest measures and try and stop this thing in its tracks. That’ll save lives and if it means going into lockdown then so be it. Better a sharp shock than prolonged agony, which is what we face without decisive action.

We’re now where we should have been at three weeks ago. That’s three weeks lost, as well as extra lives ultimately, and it means the pain will likely extend longer. I’m sure tougher restrictions will be required, why not jump to them now? It’s this creeping, indecisive process that dilutes the confidence of people.

One thing I know from leading projects that you must be decisive – or at least, appear to be so. I know there’s a lot of conflicting advice in this, the most extreme of pressure environments, but this is not the time to equivocate. You’re not going to get it 100% right in such extreme situations, so don’t even think that, but if you are to err, err on the side of caution. It’s only human to have doubts, but in times like this, you can’t show it. What people want are leadership and certainty. They want firm resolutions and a set strategy. They want to trust you have this is in hand, and that’s not going to happen unless you’re out in front leading the way.

I think people are ready to do the right thing. There are many crying out for it. There’s a lot at stake. Now’s the time to be strong.

Now I worry


There are certain things that make me nervous or anxious, and there are things that don’t. I’ve been working on a critical, high-profile, very complex project the last 8-10 days and it hadn’t occurred to me to worry. It’s high stakes but I guess I just assume that I’ll get it done – and in fact, I take great delight in the challenge. There’s pressure, but I’m just not wired to feel it in situations like this.

Until now. I sent an email over the weekend to the executive group sharing my opinion that we should work to deploy the solution today, given the rapidly deteriorating circumstances. After much to-ing and fro-ing, they agreed to that about forty minutes ago.

We’re good to go, I think. We’ve tested the best we can, we’ve jammed in the enhanced functionality to handle 300+ users, we’ve reviewed and cross-checked and updated. In the real world, I wouldn’t be doing it yet. There’s still functionality to be added, and fine-tuning to be done, but we don’t have the luxury of a real-world at the moment – the world has turned unreal.

I think I’ve made the right call, and I think we’re ready for it. But this is when I worry. I’m almost at the point I’ve done all I can do. I’m waiting, in limbo, the minutes going slowly by while I’m wondering if I’ve forgotten anything. It would be easier if it was happening in the next hour, and not in three.

If it works I’ll get a lot of kudos, and I’ll feel pretty chuffed myself. It feels like a mighty effort, but the effort isn’t all mine. I work with a vendor who has to do all the hard work turning requests into code. They’ve worked every night and through the weekend. I’m very grateful to them and almost proud of what they’ve achieved.

If this works this is something they can put on their CV and brag about to their friends. I joked the other day we’d have some t-shirts made up after this: I survived the COVID-19 live-chat crisis, 2020. Not the sort of joke you want to make right now for, no matter what happens tonight, it’s a lot bigger than this.

What next?


It’s probably a week since I last wrote and here as everywhere it’s been an eventful week.

I think it’s inevitable that we’ll be lockdown soon, but I think that was pretty clear a week ago, also. The difference is that the virus has spread so much more since then and finally our political leadership, and much of our community (not all), have woken up to it.

Unfortunately, the government here didn’t take the threat as seriously as it should, and so it didn’t prepare as good governance would suggest. As a result, we’re short on testing kits and protective wear. Doctors are screaming out for supplies that are very slow to arrive. It’s saying fuck all that we’re more progressed than the states (which fucked up big time), but we’re still far behind where we should be – in terms of testing, medical preparedness, isolation protocols, even common-sense practices such as screening at entry points. And well behind on policy.

I figure the government has been about 10 days behind the curve when it needed to be in front of it. We’ve been playing catch-up throughout, and it’ll cost lives. I’m almost certain they’ll declare a lockdown this week but had they done that even a week ago then much of the worst impacts might have been mitigated. The infection would have been much better contained, and the spread much less. Unfortunately, there’s an exponential factor in this which means the best we can hope for now is slowing it down – but we lost a significant advantage by not acting sooner.

To compound that has been the messaging, which has been pretty poor. Apparently, there’s now an information campaign going, but I’ve yet to see an add. There’s been little clear and definite advice, and the PM was still politicking about it last weekend. He’s one of the worst offenders. At a time when the critical nature of this virus had to be highlighted, he said he was off to the footy.

I used to think Australia did these things well, but not anymore. The combination of poor leadership/government and a public service decimated by political partisanship means there’s hardly anyone running the shop. The one exception is the premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews, who is firm and decisive and a very good communicator. Thankfully he’s my premier, so maybe we have a chance.

After working from home last Monday, I was back in the office for the rest of the week. The pattern is supposed to repeat this week, but I don’t expect to get back to the office again in the short term.

I’ve been crazy busy, almost to an unhealthy state. As of yesterday, I’d worked 13 days in a row, and many of those days for 10-12 hours. Typically I’d wake up at 7am and be on the phone, be on the go all day, and might have my final call at 11-12pm with India. I’ve almost given up on a decent sleep because my mind has been so busy with the challenges I had to overcome. I’m on the phone all day, or sending emails or messages, and racing up and down the stairs. I forget to eat and drink and have actually lost a few kilos in the last seven days. I’m thinking all the time, coming up with solutions, then workarounds when the technical gets in the way, coordinating people and seeking answers.

Realistically, I can’t go on much longer than this, but I don’t expect I have to. I hoped to be in a position to press the go button on Friday, but not quite there. I’m working this weekend, but not as much as last. We’re targeting a cutover tomorrow afternoon and should hit it.

In normal circumstances, we’d delay, but all this has been a rush, and I’d rather deploy in a managed scenario than be forced to do it in a hurry. Effectively, we’ll be making adjustments in the production version, but at least 350 people will have access to it, which means effectively that the business can continue in a work from home situation. I’m confident that 80% of what we plan will be in, and 100% of it by the time we need it. I can monitor and tweak before it hits the big time.

I’ll be relieved when it happens, but it has to work. I’ll be busy watching over and maintaining it for a while, but there’ll come a time when I can take a step back.

It’s a funny thing to say given the current situation, but I’ve earnt a fair bit of time off in lieu (ironic as I already have 7 weeks of accrued leave, will be working from home anyway, and can’t go anywhere). I need the time, though. As I mentioned, I’m starting to fray at the edges. Last night I felt like I hit the wall. I was in bed with the light-off by 9.30 and sleep until 7am – the best sleep I’ve had in months. I think once the job’s done there might be a bit of a collapse as I’ve been running on adrenalin. I’ll need to detox then because my head is full of this stuff and it needs to be cleaned out.

Apparently, I’m earning a lot of kudos with the bigwigs. They’re hanging on my progress, and I read echoes of my updates in their daily reports. This is ironic also. Not that I’d got around to documenting it here, but a couple of weeks ago we came to an agreement that I would get a promotion and pay rise by May. I’ve earned it even more now, but the reality is I might be lucky to keep my job if it all truly goes to shit.

For what it’s worth, I intend to self isolate when this job is done. I finally got some loo paper, and all I’m missing now is some tonic water to go with my gin. I ordered another monitor this morning so that I can work effectively with my work laptop at home. I’m just about ready to do it. For how long do you reckon? I think months, and what the world looks like after that I don’t know.

Full-on


I feel like I’m living in a bubble. I’m working from home today, upon instruction, and every chance will be tomorrow as well, and perhaps forever after that. I also worked all weekend – about 6 hours on Saturday and 9 hours yesterday (starting at 9am and clocking off from a call at 11pm). I’m wearied by work, but there’s also all this current hullabaloo to deal with.

The reason I’m so busy is that they twigged at work that maybe we should be doing something to prepare for working from home, about ten days after I said it’d be a good idea. Most of the work to enable that falls on my shoulders. It’s a funny thing, for the last few days it feels like all roads lead to H.

The reason for that is that the alternative to phone-based customer service in circumstances like this is live chat from home. I’m the man who implemented live chat and chatbot way back when and has more knowledge of it more than all the rest of them put together. Suddenly this is the solution the business is gunning for. Up till now, there might have been about fifteen live chat agents across the organisation – we’re now looking to increase that by over 2000%.

Adding complexity to that is that we’re two entities containing very distinct and separate business units, requiring different things. For point of comparison, we recently added a live chat segment to a pre-existing team. That project was over three weeks. We’re now attempting to re-architect the whole chatbot, add 350 users, add in another two live chat sites, add some routing complexity, and hopefully complete some testing, all in the space of about five days.

I love it. I’m in my element. I was struggling a little last week, and then this came along, and I’m off and racing. My brain is teeming with ideas, I’m figuring out what must be done on the fly, making calls, sending emails, building prototypes, dealing with problems and people, chivvying them along, guiding them, assisting them, and asking for assistance.

There’s no-one else who can do this. If I wasn’t there, they’d be fucked. They’d probably get something done eventually, but it’d take a lot longer because they’d need to figure it out first, and it wouldn’t be nearly so elegant. So okay, I’m blowing my own trumpet, fair call, but this is the essence of it. I love being the man. I always have. I don’t feel the pressure. It’s all a buzz for me. All opportunity. All excitement. This is mine, let me show you what I can do. It’s very alpha.

I missed this. I was flat, and even though I had to work all weekend, it turned me around. I’ve spent all this time designing solutions and mapping out requirements and jobs to be done. I’ve sent a million emails. On Saturday, we hit an unexpected hurdle, and that gave it another dimension again – both good and bad.

It happened, and once you know what’s not possible, then you’re left with what is, so pretty quickly I framed a workaround in my head. I couldn’t just do it though, I had to go through channels. So I escalate it to my manager. When he hasn’t responded hours later, my instinct is to be decisive, just do it. But then he says fine, and rather than making a decision then he organises a telecon yesterday morning with all the executive staff. I understand why, but the outcome was the same. I explained the situation, gave them my opinion, and ultimately that’s the solution we’re deploying.

It’s true, I’m a bit maverick. Times like these, I get reminded of it. I’ve always been a popular team member, but not always what they deem a great team player because my style is less consensus and more about pitching ahead and getting things happening before dragging everyone after me. I think some of that’s old school because I figure things out quickly, though not hastily, and conclude a plan of action. Once that’s done all that’s left is to do it. Except, in this day and age, you have to follow a process and that’s perfectly understandable – except it gets in the way of me doing things. And all that was in my leadership profile the other week.

So in this there’s the good, I’m challenged and my mind whirrs and I come up with a solution and how clever am I, I think. But then I’m reminded that while I have all the knowledge I’m still not the one who makes the decisions. And I’m reminded of the invisible constraints around me. And reminded, too, of a time when it was different.

All of this has to work, of course. I might bollocks it up altogether. We’ll know within a few days, and until then it’s frantic.

After that? Well, I think the world will be truly surreal after that, and it’ll be a good and necessary thing to be in a bubble.

By then the solution I’m putting together should be working. I’ll do some maintenance, but expect a letdown.

All of this is likely to be academic because with each passing day the situation gets direr. Today I was at the supermarket by 7.15 to pick up some loo paper, but the shelves were bare already. No surprise, and at least I’ve managed to get myself on a waiting list since (who’d a fuckin thought…?). It may be months until I get back in the office, or it may be tomorrow.

Thrusting


We had a department offsite yesterday. A lot of it was about team bonding and working better together, which was informed by some testing each of us was required to do leading into it.

I’ve done a million tests like this in the past. I must have done the Myers-Briggs half a dozen times alone, but there’s a wide variety of alternatives to it. This test was designed to figure out your team management profile – basically, what your work style and personality is, and how it interacts with other roles.

For the record, I was classified as a thruster, which I joked also happened to be my Tinder tag. You have secondary and related roles. Generally, all roles are related – represented on a wheel, the segments would be neighbours. That wasn’t the case for me, and I had a what they call a ‘split wheel’ profile.

My primary was Thruster-Organiser, which basically is analytical and driven and likes variety in their role. It’s probably the most upfront of all the roles. My secondary was on the opposite side of the wheel – Creator-Innovator. It is, as it suggests, a role that likes to find innovative solutions. My final related role was Assessor-Developer, which is a role that maps out and executes.

The test took me about ten minutes to complete, and I wondered how accurate it would be considering its comparative brevity. Reading the profile, however, I was surprised at how much I recognised in myself – and which others did, also. (For the record, I’m an INTJ for Myers-Briggs, though borderline I/E).

There were 39 people in attendance yesterday across the Digital Marketing team. We had to complete a variety of tests as teams to explore and understand the different working styles. It was interesting but surprisingly exhausting – though nice to out of the office for a change.

At the end of the day off we went to a nearby bar for drinks and casual discussion. I was finishing off my second beer when a woman approached me. She was one of the management team and experienced exactly the same thing late last year. Yesterday she was one of the observers, tasked to look in and watch the teams in operation.

I suspect she’d had a couple of chardy’s by the time she got to me. “You,” she said provocatively, “were my big surprise today.”

I possibly arched an eyebrow at that. I don’t really know the woman and our work doesn’t overlap. I knew as little about her as she did about me – except she’d had the opportunity to observe me in action earlier in the day.

She reminded me how she had been an observer for one of the team tasks I’d been involved with. “You were great,” she said, and while it was nice, I had an internal shrug of the shoulders. I recalled the activity she spoke of, which echoed most of the other activities I took part in. I was analytical and logical and, true to my proscribed role, tried to break the task down and organise it into rational parcels of work.

Because that’s how I see things, it means I’m often much more pro-active and decisive than many others, who have other attributes. My attributes are ideally suited to leading something like that, but others have attributes better suited to components of it. In the past, I’ve often found myself taking the lead to the point now that I restrain myself because I don’t think that’s the object of the exercise. I say my piece and try to guide and suggest, but I don’t take over – and every time think after how much more efficient it might have been had I done it all myself (another signpost in my profile – like to do things my way; I’ll figure things out alone and tell people after).

So she told me I was great as if it was news to her and I thought, great but, y’know, it’s not news to me – I’ve been great for twenty years.

I didn’t linger to carry on the conversation because I saw no point to it, but on the way home I thought about outside my boss no-one knows my background or what I’ve done in the past. Activities, like they set us today, were a piece of cake because they’re well within a set of capabilities that have been tested at the highest level over a long period of time. That’s who I really am, and if anyone knew then, no-one would be surprised.

There was a corollary to this. I was surprised to find in the course of the testing that I rated highest for creativity. I know I’m creative, but on the scale, it sits on I now I’m quite proficient on the other side of it (Practical).

But then I have all these ideas, and I want to make them happen. I used to be very democratic with my ideas because I had so many of them, and all I cared about was that they are given life. My perspective has changed in recent times because others have re-branded my ideas as their own. And because I don’t have the luxury anymore of being democratic with them. I need them to leverage other opportunities, and I don’t want to give them away.

My boss, I think, sees me and my ideas as a bit of a meal ticket. He’s great – a very decent human being and extremely efficient at his job. He just grinds through the work and we make a good team. He’s not creative like me, though. He’s looking for things to execute, and I have the ideas and the systematic thinking to back them. He tells me to parley my ideas, and I’ll be rewarded for them. I respond by telling I’ve had two years’ worth of ideas (and an operational chatbot to my design) and that I should be rewarded now so that I can deploy these ideas from a position of greater authority.

I think there’ll be opportunities. I think the people I work with recognise what I’m capable of (and much more too, fellas), but I have to be strategic with my ideas now. I need the recognition for my creativity, and that needs to be parleyed into dollars and position sooner rather than later.

I’m not giving things away anymore. Time to thrust.