As a lot of you might know, life at a start-up is very different. Each day begins and ends with a new challenge and a new learning. Speaking particularly of the past six months, my experience as an engineer @cure.fit has been a roller coaster ride. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown disrupted life across the entire globe, I saw first-hand how the tech industry is not immune to its effects either.
This is a story of how the CF live’s engineering team rose to meet the challenges of the lockdown and how this helped us stretch the limits of what we believed we could accomplish!
Our team started working on cure.fit live around October 2019 and by January this year, launched a beta version. And when the lockdown hit in March, we were initially busy polishing the product & adding more and more features.
However, as millions around the country started staying home, the demand for the CF live online fitness classes increased over 100 times in the course of a month!
The scale of this increase in demand caught us all by surprise. Suddenly, the challenge shifted from adding features to scaling up systems to keep up with the demand. Due to this, we quickly had to implement a better solution, which could handle the load.
Overnight, from a beta product under development, CF live became an important offering!
At this stage, we had to put in the extra effort to make sure that we look at each and every small detail, server alerts, potential red-flags to make sure that we give our users the best experience. This was the time when I found myself hooked to my emails and messages. I was hypnotised by the sound of mobile notifications. I even dreamt about pending email threads a couple of times. :-)
However, staying true to cure.fit’s start-up ethos, when crunch time came, people from the rest of the company pitched in to help us make this transition smooth.
Eventually, we redesigned and re-architected our services to scale better.
From the Office to the Remote Transition!
In 2019, the CF live team was brand new. We were used to a lot of brainstorming, whiteboard sessions, and bouncing-off ideas that kept our creative juices flowing. This is extremely crucial as we engineers are also part of the product definition and scoping exercise. When the lockdown happened, we were unsure how to maintain productivity, innovation, and communication over a fully-remote environment.
We naturally had teething troubles. Two days before the country shut down, we tried partial work-from-home using video calling. We simply were not used to home meetings and had troubles focusing. But, when it started becoming apparent that the lockdown was going to stay, each member of the team accepted it and tried their best to maintain the same levels of productivity, innovation and communication over calls.
As the boundary between work and personal life disappeared virtually overnight with the lockdown, I admit it was pretty tough adjusting as we all effectively turned into remote workers.
Without the physical separation of space, it was difficult to make a separation in my mental space for work and home.
With all personal services canned, both my wife and I had to start sharing the workload of the housework, in addition to managing our original work schedules. We eventually hit our stride, but the rapid transitions in both work, life and on the personal front left us scrambling to keep up. In addition, I also wanted to spend quality time with my kid. He was used to seeing me going to the office, and when I got home, I was there for him. Now, he started seeing me at home throughout the day, but couldn't access me during working hours.
Initially, he used to wonder if I simply wasn't interested in playing with him.
I started feeling that stress has set off to affect me. One day, when I caught myself being irritable towards my son’s request for attention, I knew something had to change.
This is when I realised that self-care, today, is non-negotiable. It seems easy to think that we will have more time in this situation, but we end up managing everything around the house and taking up even more challenging goals than earlier at work. I quietly added a daily yoga and meditation practise to my routine. I also started attending the morning CF live dance fitness class regularly.
In addition, a small walk in the evening after work hours proved to be helpful in recollecting my thoughts and to look beyond what’s happening during office meetings.
One other significant step for me was to make sure that I am not sitting for long.
I immediately get up from the desk as soon as I get a sense of lethargy. A random walk around the house, checking in on others, some decluttering, or cooking is enough to clear the cobwebs from a long work session.
Over time I realized what was working and what wasn't for me. The challenge was to find time for work, family and self- I slowly balanced it out and I believe there were two very important factors that played a role here:
2. Working for a greater goal
As an organization, we have a strong culture of independence and initiative. Team members are not micromanaged and this helped us cope with the situation greatly. Moreover, each person on the team was mindful that our fitness classes were providing a means for thousands of users to stay fit in this time of pandemic. This goal went way beyond any individual, which gave us the necessary focus and purpose to do our best.
Hard-earned hacks to Enhance Productivity at Work!
Here are the things that worked for me to maintain high levels of productivity in a remote environment:
- Be vocal (communicate) as much as possible. You can never over-communicate when you’re working remotely.
- Always try to keep your workstation similar to the office and avoid working from your bed
- Try not to replicate the ad-hoc collaboration techniques of the office environment but instead respect the opportunity of deep-work and mindful work
- Write more, chat less. Writing helps you think deeper, allows others to understand the full picture, and also serves as a historic record. This is an opportunity to make collaboration more efficient and robust.
Life Lessons Taught by the Pandemic
- You work best when you're motivated by goals. Your goals serve as a beacon to ride out daily disruptions and to filter out the noise. This allows you to not get distracted by the uncertainties and anxieties about the future.
- Be grateful for the people you have and for the things you own. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to make people appreciate each other more and bring out the best of the human spirit
- The only way we can ride out the challenges is by focusing on things that have a larger impact
- These last six months instilled more empathy in me. Today, I have better coping skills and ability to tune out distractions
So What's Next?
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Humans have an uncanny ability to be resilient in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and we have been through much worse and thrived. While the year so far has been challenging, I have much more confidence in my own ability to meet uncertainty head-on and not be controlled by fear.