This past year has been a challenge for most companies due to COVID-19, and Thinkspace is no exception. But we’ve learned some valuable lessons in the process, and are actually finding ways to thrive in this new normal.
Almost overnight, we were forced to transition from an office-based work environment, with 36 people in our Surrey office and nine in Kelowna, to a mandatory work-from-home situation. Most of our staff were working on desktop computers, not laptops, so we had to come up with a solution that allowed them to work from their living rooms, kitchens, and spare bedrooms without having to take their computers home.
That solution came in the form of a remote desktop protocol (RDP), which allowed people to sign into their office desktops from their home computers. The app mirrored their office computers and gave them access to their software, apps, and the Thinkspace network without having to address the security challenges that can accompany VPN connections.
Fortunately, the Thinkspace administration and IT teams were able to make that happen within a week. There were some growing pains at first, but the system is working smoothly now and employees are able to continue their project work regardless of where they’re located.
Workplace health and safety regulations have changed a number of times over the past year, and we’ve had to pivot along with them. At times, there has been a skeleton staff in our Surrey and Kelowna offices, and at other times we’ve had a nearly-full compliment.
Our latest strategy is a rotating schedule, which allows people to work at home two days a week and in the office two days a week, with alternating Wednesdays in the office. Many people are taking advantage of the added flexibility, with about half of staff in the office full time and the other half rotating between home and the office.
As you’d expect, we’ve taken other COVID precautions in the offices. Visitors aren’t allowed, so we’re conducting all of our consultant meetings online. We’ve set up plexiglass partitions all over both offices, have hand sanitizer stations everywhere, and have even created Thinkspace-branded non-medical masks for staff!
In addition to the RDP, we’ve started using a number of other online collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams for online meetings, chats, and file sharing, both internally and externally; Zoom for online meetings; Miro visual collaboration software to share ideas; and VPN-enabled laptops for selected staff. These have allowed business to carry on more or less as normal.
We’ve also tried to maintain our company culture where possible to keep people engaged and motivated. That’s included things like a virtual ugly sweater contest at Christmas, social events like Design Fridays to talk shop or a daily virtual coffee meet-up, and the virtual Sun Run 10k run / walk (complete with a socially distanced picnic lunch for the Kelowna crew). We’re doing regular wellness checks on our staff, and ensuring the entire team has easy access to employee assistance programs from our extended benefits provider in the event that they may need to talk to a mental health professional.
The best indication that we’re weathering the COVID storm is where we find ourselves today. We’re providing the same or better service to our clients as before the pandemic, thanks in large part to the new collaboration tools at our disposal. We’ve hired 14 new staff since March 2020, and we landed our largest contract to date, with a $200 million commercial project for a soon-to-be-named client.
We’re not out of the woods yet, but with the Province of BC’s new restart program, it looks like we’ll all be able to return to the office in September. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to design, plan, and deliver important and inspired projects for our clients – regardless of whether we’re in the office or sitting in the kitchen wearing pajamas.