blue texture background

Preparing for the Unexpected

As one of DRW’s core values, preparation is critical for teams to ensure they are ready for both expected and unexpected scenarios, in order to quickly adapt as markets evolve. Extensive research, collaboration, and ongoing learning help our teams to stay prepared, especially in unprecedented times much like the COVID-19 pandemic – a truly unexpected workplace circumstance. Learn how various teams at DRW were able to stay on top of high priority projects at work all while navigating the pandemic these past several months.

Caitlin Axland – Assistant Facilities Manager

Chris Walquist – Development Engineering Services Manager

What advice do you have on how to stay prepared during unexpected work scenarios?

CAITLIN: Adapt and be flexible. Situations like COVID-19 are unpredictable, but if you are flexible and quick to adjust, you will be able to find a creative solution to any problem that comes to light.

CHRIS: Pandemics have happened before, but the likelihood was so remote that it hadn't figured into my team's disaster preparedness planning. However, developing a habit of embracing change and thinking outside the box can pay off in unexpected ways.
I find it serendipitous that our technology managers were discussing and drafting remote work policies for several months prior to the work-from-home directives. The Research Infrastructure team for one was already doing remote-first. Also, efforts our team has undergone recently to embrace new management practices are now serving us well. For instance: quarterly review of performance and key results, daily team standup meetings, and regular 1:1's keep our team working smoothly, especially in the face of the unexpected.

What specific preparations helped your team face these current challenges our organization is seeing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

CAITLIN: As a member of the office services team, our job is in the office, but we take pride in our effective communication, which allows us to work together in challenging circumstances to get the best outcome. Additionally, having a trusting relationship with our vendors is crucial. They are willing to go above and beyond their normal duties to help us right now. We have gotten creative with our normal in office perks, benefits, and activities and continue some of those virtually. Our trivia nights have gone virtual, so employees can continue participating from home. It allows us to see our colleagues on a consistent and regular basis who we may haven’t seen since the beginning of March, unless you have regular calls or video chats with them.

CHRIS: As a shared-services team, we are always looking for ways to make our services as "self-service" as possible, to avoid being a bottleneck for business and engineering processes. We also aim for end-to-end ownership of issues, while at the same time seeking to make the necessary knowledge and learning as accessible as possible to the entire support team.
In terms of being prepared for remote-first work, we already had the necessary remote access and most of the hardware, so not much needed to be done logistically. However, perhaps the greatest challenge we faced up front, and are still figuring out, has to do with establishing "workspace" boundaries: Learning to separate professional and personal lives at home, and how to efficiently be offline from work to counteract the exhausting tendency to be "always on."

Can you tell us about a time you were not prepared and how you overcame any obstacles?

CAITLIN: Personally, I have very minimal computer equipment at home, so this was a challenge that I was not prepared for. Thankfully, we have outstanding desktop and purchasing teams that have helped me get adjusted and connected from home. I know I can rely on our desktop and IT teams to quickly come to my rescue whenever I have technical issues.

CHRIS: Although the scenario that comes to mind is not work-related, it does have useful takeaways. I was best man at a wedding of two close friends, and prepared remarks for the reception. Not being good at public speaking, I got flustered, abandoned my prepared notes, and completely flubbed the toast. They were very gracious, but I couldn't forget! Eight years later at my oldest daughter's wedding, I resolved not to repeat that scenario. I looked up best father-of-the-bride speeches, wrote mine down, practiced it and when the time came, I executed what I'd practiced. Later in the evening, an uncle I've always admired as a speaker came up to me and said, "I wish I could give a speech like that!" Sometimes performance is not about raw talent or ability, but about making specific changes and efforts that can turn weaknesses into strengths.

If you could go back to January 2020 what would you do differently?

CAITLIN: In January I was in Mexico for my bachelorette party, I would have definitely extended that trip knowing what I do now!

CHRIS: I would say to myself, "Self, if I were you, I would study up on how to build a healthy remote-first work culture!" Our team has recently digested a 40-page remote-first playbook recommended by Brawnski Armstrong, by a 100% remote-first tech company with 1,200 employees in 67 countries. We are experimenting with applying the practices that resonate with us. Effective asynchronous communication is a biggie!