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Stories

A Day Back in the "Factory"

April 28, 2020

Last Friday I returned to work at Menlo. In the wake of Covid-19 I was one of several Menlonians placed on furlough and thanks in large part to the Payroll Protection Program, this last week it was all hands back on deck, myself included. It was great to be back. Afterwards, as I recounted my day to a friend, he surprised me by saying “it sounds like you were all in the office.” 

And then I realized, he was right. Being remote did add hurdles, plenty of them, but the core of what I did and who I talked to could just as easily have been a pre-pandemic description of my workday.

 

I decided to write down that story, hiding the technical hurdles, so you can see just how close to business-as-usual things could get.

 

Select the text or scroll down to the end of the post to see what was redacted:

* * *

Thursday I checked in with my pair partner, Ian, by email to confirm what time he wanted to start our workday Friday.

 

Ian greeted me in the morning via Google Chat to confirm how we wanted to pair and I sent him a Zoom meeting link and we started off by checking what work was available on our internal resources Trello work authorization board. There was a new task we wanted to do that wasn’t there so we went to talk with some project managers, Michelle and Matt, by logging on to an All Hands Google Meet. Only Matt and Dan were on the call; it was early and not everyone was using the All Hands call much anymore, but Matt messaged Michelle to join. They confirmed we were good to go and that we should write up the new task and add it to the Trello board with our initials. Erika would probably move it to a different lane later in the day, but we could put it in the new card lane for now. 

 

While checking with our project managers, we were overheard by another team member, Dan, who asked if it would make sense for him to triple in with us on the task. It sounded like a good idea--we were going to be brainstorming a new internal project and while tripling can be less than ideal when coding, it was perfect for this kind of work.

 

We started brainstorming our ideas in a Google Slide shared out across our accounts, outlining a problem statement and goals, and taking turns typing from our respective keyboards, though we did occasionally type over one another by mistake.

 

We were so engrossed, we were surprised to find it was already time for Stand Up.

 

Without the sound of the Menlo dart board that announces Stand Up and the great migration of nearby coworkers, it was easy to forget and we did run a few minutes late. 

 

Everyone took turns by declaring “next” in the chat of the company-wide Zoom call so we knew what order to go in and by calling on the next person to go so we knew when the “helmet” had been passed off. Pairs introduced themselves separately and then one member explained what they were working on together. We said hello to a few guests touring Menlo that day who had joined the call and they introduced themselves. After Stand Up we all took a quick break to get tea or coffee from our respective kitchens before diving back into work. 

 

Not long after though, Erika, let us know through a comment on our Trello card that all three of us would likely be scheduled on different projects next week. This was not ideal--as we did not expect to finish everything by the end of day Friday. So we asked Erika in a reply to her comment what team members would likely be on internal tasks next week--with the hope being that we could pair them in with us. She let us know she’d update us once the schedule was finalized in the afternoon.

 

Later Ian had to leave after getting an email request to work on a more urgent task and Dan and I carried on alone. When we felt we had gotten to a good stopping point, we checked back in with Michelle and Matt by emailing them to request they join our call to show them what we had done. Ian stopped in by rejoining the call to let us know he would be free to triple with us again when we were done and he wanted us to come over and help him on the other task he had been pulled away for.

 

While tripling with Ian, we started researching a technology we had not used much before. Another developer, Rob, recognized what we were working on when we shared out the Google Doc for our brainstorming and pointed out to us in an email a few resources of interest and shared his own previous experience with the technology. When we had finished up that task, we returned to brainstorming our internal project.

 

We soon hit a roadblock trying to remember what project had utilized a particular framework and how difficult it had been to test. We knew two developers who had used the framework on a past project and after emailing them both, we were only able to get a response from one and ended up pulling in Michael to help answer our questions. He continued to pair in with us as we moved forward estimating the new project. 

 

At one point I accidentally kicked the power strip under my desk and turned off my computer. I sent a quick message through my phone to let the others know what had happened while I got everything booted back up and signed in. Another team member, Josh, tried to jump on our call, but we didn’t notice the request to join alert right away and he ended up just messaging us in Google Chat to  let us know he was excited to hear more about the new project we were proposing.

 

The new schedule was finalized and emailed out and Erika let us know via another reply on Trello. Unfortunately no resources were available to carry our work forward, so at the end of the day we shared out with the team where the artifacts of our planning were by adding links to our Trello card and updated our card status by checking off to-do items completed and those still outstanding and providing a summary in the comments.. We said goodbye and wished one another a good commute and laughed a bit at the lame joke as we logged off.

 

* * *

Now I do not want this story to come off as a rosey “everything is fine” example. There were still problems in the day that made it into my story to my friend. 

 

Video calls glitched. Those fancy Zoom backgrounds don’t work for my computer. There are team members who insist on emailing out Excel and Word docs as attachments while I would much prefer everything migrate to Google Sheets and Google Docs. There were times I really wished I could have glanced around the factory to find a team member to pull into a discussion rather than email and wait, fingers crossed, that they would see the message soon.

 

The physical and technical limitations of working remotely were very real speed bumps. And I know that even other team members at Menlo did not have as collaborative of days, depending on the tasks they were working on. But my first day back gave me so much hope. 

 

Hope that Menlo’s culture can persist, even remotely. Hope that we can adapt and continue to improve. And hope that I can still have that day-at-the-factory feel, even while I shelter in place.

--------------------------------------------------

Redactions lightened:

Thursday I checked in with my pair partner, Ian, by email to confirm when he wanted to start our workday Friday.

 

Ian greeted me in the morning via Google Chat to confirm how we wanted to pair and I sent him a Zoom meeting link and we started off by checking what work was available on our internal resources Trello work authorization board. There was a new task we wanted to do that wasn’t there so we went to talk with some project managers, Michelle and Matt, by logging on to an All Hands Google Meet. Only Matt and Dan were on the call; it was early and not everyone was using the All Hands call much anymore, but Matt messaged Michelle to join. They confirmed we were good to go and that we should write up the new task and add it to the Trello board with our initials. Erika would probably move it to a different lane later in the day, but we could put it in the new card lane for now. 

 

While checking with our project managers, we were overheard by another team member, Dan, who asked if it would make sense for him to triple in with us on the task. It sounded like a good idea--we were going to be brainstorming a new internal project and while tripling can be less than ideal when coding, it was perfect for this kind of work.

 

We started brainstorming our ideas in a Google Slide shared out across our accounts, outlining a problem statement and goals, and taking turns typing from our respective keyboards, though we did occasionally type over one another by mistake. We were so engrossed, we were surprised to find it was already time for Stand Up. Without the sound of the Menlo dart board that announces Stand Up and the great migration of nearby coworkers, it was easy to forget and we did run a few minutes late. 

 

Everyone took turns by declaring “next” in the chat of the company-wide Zoom call so we knew what order to go in and by calling on the next person to go so we knew when the “helmet” had been passed off. Pairs introduced themselves separately and then one member explained what they were working on together. We said hello to a few guests touring Menlo that day who had joined the call and they introduced themselves. After Stand Up we all took a quick break to get tea or coffee from our respective kitchens before diving back into work. 

 

Not long after though, Erika, let us know through a comment on our Trello card that all three of us would likely be scheduled on different projects next week. This was not ideal--as we did not expect to finish everything by the end of day Friday. So we asked Erika in a reply to her comment what team members would likely be on internal tasks next week--with the hope being that we could pair them in with us. She let us know she’d update us once the schedule was finalized in the afternoon.

 

Later Ian had to leave after getting an email request to work on a more urgent task and Dan and I carried on alone. When we felt we had gotten to a good stopping point, we checked back in with Michelle and Matt by emailing them to request they join our call to show them what we had done. Ian stopped in by rejoining the call to let us know he would be free to triple with us again when we were done and he wanted us to come over and help him on the other task he had been pulled away for.

 

While tripling with Ian, we started researching a technology we had not used much before. Another developer, Rob, recognized what we were working on when we shared out the Google Doc for our brainstorming and pointed out to us in an email a few resources of interest and shared his own previous experience with the technology. When we had finished up that task, we returned to brainstorming our internal project.

 

We soon hit a roadblock trying to remember what project had utilized a particular framework and how difficult it had been to test. We knew two developers who had used the framework on a past project and after emailing them both, we were only able to get a response from one and ended up pulling in Michael to help answer our questions. He continued to pair in with us as we moved forward estimating the new project. 

 

At one point I accidentally kicked the power strip under my desk and turned off my computer. I sent a quick message through my phone to let the others know what had happened while I got everything booted back up and signed in. Another team member, Josh, tried to jump on our call, but we didn’t notice the request to join alert right away and he ended up just messaging us in Google Chat to  let us know he was excited to hear more about the new project we were proposing.

 

The new schedule was finalized and emailed out and Erika let us know via another reply on Trello. Unfortunately no resources were available to carry our work forward, so at the end of the day we shared out with the team where the artifacts of our planning were by adding links to our Trello card and updated our card status by checking off to-do items completed and those still outstanding and providing a summary in the comments.. We said goodbye and wished one another a good commute and laughed a bit at the lame joke as we logged off.