Alexandre Gerlic
Alexandre Gerlic
11 juinBien-être au travail

Running engineering during COVID-19

Eng during Covid-19 - 1 Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s life and, like many companies, we’ve had to transition Alan to fully remote work in a few days.

Thanks to the wonderful work done by our People community, the transition went smoothly, and in a couple of days, we were operating in a fully remote environment.

This transition has been also facilitated by our existing written communication culture. Since the beginning, the Alan decision-making process has been tightly coupled with two of our company values: radical transparency and distributed ownership. For example, anyone can open a Github issue to make a proposal and drive a change in an asynchronous and transparent way.

The COVID-19 period didn’t bring only an organizational change for us.

As a health-care startup, we felt a special responsibility toward our members. We support them daily, but we needed to go further due to the exceptional circumstances. We could play a crucial role in guiding them through the pandemic, providing the right information at the right moment, and let them feel listened to by their health partner. We realized that each of our actions could produce a big impact on our members’ life.

Eng during covid-19: 2

Fostering innovation under uncertain times

Novel circumstances meant we needed to be creative. To make an impact, we needed to foster innovation.

Fostering innovation during uncertain times lays on safe foundations: high confidence and a stable environment for our product teams. We decided to review any possible friction points, in order to anticipate and mitigate anything that could have prevented us from maintaining and improving our engineering environment.

We asked ourselves: “How can Alan help its members during the Covid-19 period?”. The responses were amazing. We got a crazy number of interesting ideas, and we decided to explore several of them in parallel.

With a tight schedule and a will to have an important positive impact on people, we made clear that failure was part of the game. We won’t have it right at the first try, and to illustrate it Charles Gorintin, our CTO and co-founder, sent this message to the team: “Overnight success takes years, we need to show resilience and iterate. Try, fail, and try harder.”

We clarified expectations for the lockdown period and aligned everyone around our main objectives. We ran a remote engineering all-hands to celebrate our achievements, share the vision for the next months, and emphasize our will to build a long term remote culture.

We took care of any kind of constraints (family and personal) and we encouraged people to define and share with the community their own work schedule.

With no coffee machine and no community events, we were lacking opportunities to bond together. We revamped our bi-weekly engineering retrospective meeting, moving it from a whiteboard with stickies to a Trello board. We traded our tech-lunches for tech-talks where engineers could present any technical topics they are interested in. And in addition to that, most of our teams decided to replace async stand-ups with live stand-ups.

The engineering environment was progressing well, but we could not afford a long break in recruitment. However, our hiring process includes an on-site session lasting an entire day. We made it remote-friendly by replacing:

  • the laptop we provide for coding by a remote desktop on AWS
  • the whiteboards with Excalidraw
  • the meeting rooms with a common Google Meet session for all interviews

Takeaways

Three months after, that is the right moment to assess our strategy. Looking back, we didn’t do any revolution and we applied only small changes in our organization.

The impact of our decisions has still been huge on our engineering community:

  • Our officevibe eNPS survey, reflecting how likely engineers recognize the community as a good place to work, trended up thanks to a 15% increase of our promoters.
  • With all physical barriers removed, around 50% more people joined our community events
  • Hiring activities have never stopped during the COVID-19 period, we onboarded and hired great engineers and we got positive feedback on the process

Above all, this challenge has been a terrific occasion to focus more on our customers’ needs and deliver impactful projects. In a few weeks, we disrupted our roadmap, we created new teams and we delivered:

  • A content platform to help members understand the pandemic,
  • A COVID questionnaire to receive medical advice,
  • A way for companies to prepare their return to work by ordering free face masks for their employees.
Eng during Covid 19: 3

What’s next

At Alan, we have always truly believed in our mission. The pandemic clearly shows us how impactful our work could be and how crucial it is to build frictionless, fair, and friendly healthcare for everyone.

Even though the lockdown in France is now over, we have decided to keep some of the practices in place. For example, remote work will stay at the heart of our culture. We believe that by giving more flexibility, we will be able to react better to the upcoming challenges.

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