25. November 2020
by Felix Kampfer | 784 words | ~4 min read
“I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news. Nothing lasts forever.” - Kate McGahan
I started working at QAware one week after a total statewide lockdown was declared for Bavaria. As a result, for the first three months of my employment, I didn’t know what my daily commute would be like, where my office was located, or how to even use the coffee machine.
Instead, I spent my first days being welcomed to the company (remotely), getting help from our IT department (remotely), eating lunch together with some of my new co-workers (remotely), and being introduced to my new teammates (remotely). The latter was slightly problematic due to the way that my specific team works with our customer: We work together closely with their engineers and have all of our dailies together. And because every meeting was remote-only, it took me a while to figure out which meeting participants were from my own company and which represented the client.
My new employer surprised me with the variety of equipment available, and especially with its logistics support. After signing my contract, I was asked about my preferences regarding my laptop, my phone, and various accessories. Several days later, Christmas came early:
Santa Clause delivery person showed up with presents: A shiny pre-configured Macbook Pro, a Pixel 3, a Thunderbolt dock, all the cables and adapters I could ever need, a new backpack, a Cherry MX keyboard, a wireless mouse, a pair of wireless Jabra headphones for teleconferencing, a pair of wireless Bose headphones for listening to music (as a gift for new employees), and a state-of-the-art ultra-ergonomic office chair, already assembled (Try ordering that from Amazon!).
The philosophy of QAware’s technical infrastructure / IT department probably deserves its own blog post, but I did want to give my impression: QAware’s IT department serves YOU, and will get you nearly any equipment (ultrawide monitor anybody?) you might want or need for your office, usually with zero paperwork involved. Non-corporate life is swell!
While QAware goes to considerable lengths to support the mental wellbeing of its employees (company-wide briefings for topics such as stress management and meditation, resiliency training seminars, regular mindfulness advice), it is unavoidably draining to work in a remote-only format, especially when some meetings last for hours and require you to have your webcam on. Having lunch together with coworkers (remotely) was enjoyable and gave me a much-needed non-business-related human connection, but unavoidably felt like just another meeting after the first several times. When soldiers fight together, they fight alongside each other. But when software engineers work together remotely, they each do so alone in front of their computer. I’m not a social butterfly, but I did feel rather alone in the initial “home office required” phase of our company’s Covid-19 strategy.
When working remotely, every snippet of conversation requires either a meeting or a Slack notification popup on somebody’s screen - there is no such thing as a casual hallway question anymore. To remedy this, our company set up an always-open Zoom meeting room to act as a virtual water cooler (Kaffeeküche). However, even with 160 employees, the virtual room is almost always empty (unless somebody explicitly announces to the world that they desire to “casually” drink some coffee together). To avoid this announcement shyness, we use the “donut” Slack app to organize weekly coffee sessions for random sets of three coworkers. Given the necessary calendar permissions, the app automatically finds a 30-minute time slot for the meeting and allows sending a coffee invite with a single click. This voluntary-but-scheduled coffee meeting helps connect employees all over the company, even in the current “home office optional” phase.
Another way to connect with my coworkers for me is our department’s relaxed bi-weekly meetings, which have a rather informal meeting agenda and are almost always full of tragicomic anecdotes of real-life software blunders in past and present projects.
Arranged coffee breaks and department meetings aren’t the only way to get to know coworkers, of course. Our company’s QAgaming group arranges several cross-genre gaming sessions each month, having gathered to play Terraria, Diabotical and Among Us in the last two months.
There are also officially unofficial events in the form of biannual teambuilding events.
Our department’s last event took place in the form of a remote cocktail mixing night, whereby a large group of us learned how to use a shaker, strainer, measuring cup, ice, herbs, sugar syrup, juice, fresh fruit, chocolate, and two kinds of rum to prepare some rather delicious cocktails.
In short, QAware makes remote work life bearable.