How the Pandemic Shaped Our Work
What we’ve learned about taking care of our clients, our business, and each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still changing everything (no, it really is not over yet). For some of us, a sense of liminal normalcy is cautiously returning as we all tip-toe out of forced hibernation. The past 15 months have seen years worth of change accelerated, amplified, extruded, and compressed with such intensity that it will probably take at least another 15 months to really understand with any fidelity how the pandemic has changed Postlight, our industry, and, well, us.
But with vaccines in arms and subways a bit busier, the team here at Postlight thought it was time to take stock — not finally but incrementally — and start to reflect on what we’ve learned about taking care of our clients, our business, and one another.
Rehearse and be redundant
Over the past year-and-change, I’ve developed a sort of “pandemic grammar” for organizing my thoughts. It’s based on my own experiences as a leader, of course, but I’ve also spent time looking at how other companies present, watching demos and meetings and pitches that have found their way onto YouTube. And when I look back at what I’ve discussed on the Postlight Podcast, or what I’ve written on our Insights blog, it’s almost all about ways to simplify your message — how to say things calmly and with less complexity.
Remote work means you’re always presenting — as opposed to conversing. During the pandemic, we all learned the value of rehearsing. First, you rehearse the technology. Then you rehearse the structure of the meeting. We moved our all-hands meetings to weekly. Then we record them and put them into our video repository, where an automated transcript is made, and we put our notes and related links and data into Slack. (That’s the redundant part.)
—Paul Ford, Co-Founder
Lead with empathy
More than ever before, we realized during the pandemic that people needed support from the workplace as they dealt with their individual situations. Our People Operations team took the lead on establishing new policies around childcare and mental health breaks and producing goofy company-wide virtual activities. We communicated often, and we moved our all-hands meetings to weekly. We made sure that each person knew they had the backing of the organization as they worked through their own challenges at home.
That turned out to be of tremendous value to us and to our team. The more accommodating our policies, the more people were able to get their work done. We had a very successful year because our team rose to the challenges facing them. Leading with empathy was critical to the decisions we made and how we operated day to day, and it’s a posture that we’re going to double down on even as the world opens back up.
—Chris LoSacco, President
Lean into growth
It’s difficult not to think of a small business you help run as a delicate sprout that needs sunlight, water, constant tending, and complete protection from hard rain and wind to grow. But the pandemic flipped my view of what Postlight was and needed to become more of: resilient, adaptable, flexible, action-oriented, and leaned into growth, even (especially!) in the face of a global catastrophe.
As my colleagues and our clients turned into tiny video squares on my screen, and dealt with illness and loss, lockdown parenting, and isolation, we all still clung to the work — yes, as a way to stay connected to one another and the world — but also to go above and beyond to deliver on our commitments to our partners, our clients. When I look back on the pandemic, I will always see an awful time in the world, during which Postlight rebranded, hired, and shipped some of the best work of our life — as a business that’s not so small anymore.
—Gina Trapani, CEO
Support new power users
Postlight has always been a proponent of remote work. From the beginning, we’ve focused on finding the best engineering talent we can, and that meant opening the doors to folks who collaborate well asynchronously, and can build world-class software regardless of location. When the pandemic hit, our engineering organization was a huge asset. We helped bring everyone on board to remote work, and I’m very proud of how our company hit the ground running, fully distributed.
While we continued to ship software, the stress of the pandemic became part of our client relationships. We adapted in real-time, and our clients did too. We’re looking forward to seeing our clients and colleagues again soon, as we look toward the future, together.
—Aaron Ortbals, Managing Partner, Head of Engineering
Be flexible and adapt
While our design team has always had flexibility and experience working with our remote engineers — especially on our Lebanon-based team — we had been accustomed to our in-person collaboration at our headquarters or on-site with clients. The power of leaning over to ask for a quick critique, hopping into a room for a whiteboarding jam, or gauging a stakeholder’s body language when presenting designs were gone in an instant.
We quickly expanded our usage of real-time collaborative tools like Figma and Miro to close the gap and translated our design sprints to a more remote-friendly process. But the ability to draw in the same document in the cloud isn’t a silver bullet. Remote design tools are just that: instruments that need deft, guiding hands.
The skills that our designers deploy in an in-person setting went into overdrive over Zoom: building the shared context of what our mission is, teaching the tools and language of design thinking, and shaping the conversation through strategy-focused visuals — all done with empathy for everyone dealing with the weight of the pandemic (and working from a dining table).
—Matt Quintanilla, Partner, Head of Product Design
Let process be an anchor
We live in an increasingly digital world (he said, unironically). It’s been easy to see this change gain steam over the past two decades: analog media moving to digital, all that new data moving to the cloud, computers finding their way into everything, and more and more of our communication (business and personal) happening online. But in a pandemic, even the stragglers were forced into a more online world, more or less overnight.
Postlight was a digital-first, remote-friendly organization before the pandemic. As we slowly transition back to our hybrid-work future, the pandemic made crystal clear that the value we bring to our partners isn’t just about what we design, build, and deliver (although that’s still crucial); it’s about finding the right strategy for solving their problems in the first place. Yes, that includes the right software; but it’s also about the right process, the right methods of communication, and the right perspective on how good work gets done in a modern workplace — and that’s where we excel, remote or not.
—Adam Pash, Partner, Engineering
Casual conversation is powerful
When the pandemic hit, calendars and Zoom didn’t just become a convenient way to meet — they became all communication. The impact for me has been subtle but profound.
As a part of Postlight’s leadership, meetings changed for me. By boxing in when we meet with one another into 30- and 60-minute chunks, everything took on a bit of a “Present to the Customer” dynamic. It’s understandable. What’s missing in this new dynamic is the opportunity to connect outside that meeting. Nobody wants a meeting invite titled “Have an idea…” The conversations in the gaps are casual, less boxed in — just two or three people talking without the tick of the timer or the bullets of an agenda. I’m looking forward to the conversations outside those boxes.
—Rich Ziade, Co-Founder
Starting this week, some Postlight employees are voluntarily returning to our office in the Flatiron District. We’ve been hiring almost continuously, and some of us are meeting in person for the first time. Together with our colleagues around the world, we are entering an undeniably new normal punctuated by vaguely familiar rituals like handshakes, lunches with other humans, and even the occasional hug.
The past 15 months showed us that we’re on to something. That the fundamental bits of doing good work as an agency can hold fast under truly unprecedented circumstances. The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to everything we’ve learned together since it began, we are more confident than ever in our ability to collaborate, to serve our clients, and to support each other.
Michael Shane (@michaelbshane) is Head of Digital Strategy at Postlight. Looking to bring your digital product to life? Get in touch.
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Story published on Jun 30, 2021.