There is no handbook for dealing with a pandemic and at VueReal we are learning and modifying our plan as we learn more. I am extremely proud of my team and their support and am very confident that we are coming out of this even more united.
We owe it to our teams to keep them safe and healthy and we truly care about theirs and their families’ well-being.
In early February, as the global news around COVID-19 continued to develop, VueReal decided to postpone all travel until we got a better understanding of the developing situation and we asked the team to work from home if they showed any signs of sickness, had recently travelled, or had been in contact with someone that has travelled. “Showing signs of sickness” was a tricky one to assess as it was the time of seasonal colds. I had questions like, “I have a mild cough, do I need to stay home” and the answer was “yes”. It was difficult to tell a hardworking and dedicated team that if you have a cough or have been having a runny nose to stay home but these were some of the measures we had to take to keep the team and their families safe. At this time, we also put a protocol in place that required the team to get approval from myself or our CFO for any on-site meetings. We wanted to challenge the team to ensure only essential meetings were held in person. I had to also make some difficult decisions that required having to move investor meetings. Anyone having managed a start-up before would understand the criticality of these meetings but again, we wanted to make sure that the team and those who we would engage with were safe and healthy.
During the first week of March, we created a COVID-19 policy for our team. We introduced even more extreme measures and a thorough vetting process of our team members to understand their social movements and who they had exposure to. Team members with family members or roommates working essential jobs were asked to work remotely and those who were travelling to see their families over the weekend understood the importance of social distancing and the impact it would have on those around them. We asked for transparency from team members to ensure the health and well-being of the VueReal team. We decided to reduce the cleanroom operation time and asked the team that does not work in the cleanroom to work from home. To accommodate social distancing for those in the office, we rearranged our office set up and asked everyone entering the building to wear masks and use hand sanitizer. For those team members working remotely and with children at home, we reminded them to embrace this opportunity. After all, there is a silver lining in everything and it was important for me to highlight to our teams that their families and small children would be part of this new normal. Meetings may get interrupted by a cry in the background or a head popping into the meeting screen but this is what remote work was all about and work-life balance gained an entirely new meaning.
News reports were surfacing about personal protective equipment supplies being scarce so we decided to support our larger community by donating our cleanroom mask supply to local healthcare organizations. We also created an internal support group for those team members who had to self-isolate to have someone from the team assist with their grocery pick-up and drop-offs. This was a humbling and proud moment for me - seeing our VueReal team support our community and one another.
Keeping the team engaged at a time like this is a challenge in itself. People are faced with unique challenges and stressors - all so different from one person to the next. We started to put more focus on social engagement programs such as a Social Distancing Challenge that focused around fitness, mental health, and virtual interactions with team members and family members. This was a six-week challenge with weekly winners. It was easy to earn and track points - a virtual coffee chat with a family member earned you a point. We also continued our five-minute daily meditation sessions that were now being done remotely. We’ve had family trivia nights that engaged the entire family, including the little ones who were able to enjoy and help answer questions from the Disney category. And then we’ve done activities and challenges for the littlest VueMasters such as scavenger hunts and an easter colouring contest.
To keep a team engaged, you have to do more than fun challenges and so I’ve challenged each of my team leads to increase their interaction with their teams, to better understand what the team needs and just to check in on how they are doing mentally and physically. A time like this requires an even more humanistic approach which sometimes means to talk less about work and do more listening on how the team member is feeling.
While all this is going on and after making sure the team was set, we had to revisit our plan for 2020 and focus on the essentials for the next few months. We adjusted our budget to extend our runway to ensure the health of the company in case the financial situation worsened in the next year or so. We had kicked off our series B funding round in February. As mentioned earlier, we decided to continue the process through virtual meetings, discussions and technology tours. The interest has been very high and we have engaged a few key players in our discussions. This has resulted in project engagement with a couple of partners in addition to continuing financial discussions.
Here we are, nine weeks in! One thing I’d like to highlight during this time is how the team stayed engaged and managed to keep the development moving forward. Considering the stress and challenges at home, this has been unbelievable. The team has been incredibly creative with new circumstances and was able to improve the fabrication facility efficiency significantly by a new scheduling and project kick-off process. We may recover from this slow down faster than we thought based on the new improvements and be able to meet most of our targets for this year.
So what’s next for us? We don’t know how this pandemic and economic situation is going to evolve but we are confident in our ability to adjust fast and also take advantage of any opportunity. As a wise person said once, any challenge is an opportunity. You will hear more from us on how we are adapting our technology to help to alleviate the current situation and create business opportunities for VueReal. As part of this adjustment, we have revisited our hiring plan and prioritized open positions for this year (e.g. positions we need no matter what, positions that are crucial but can wait, and so on..). At this point, we are hiring for a few of those essential positions that we must have no matter what. We also have some exciting virtual events that we are planning, including a tour of our facility, our technology, and nanotechnology in general.
We are continuing to closely monitor the developments of the pandemic, watching the impact it has on the market, and how VueReal can better adjust to the current situations.
For now, as restrictions are slowly being lifted, we have developed a new seating plan to accommodate social distancing for a larger team and for a longer period of time, we have increased the frequency of disinfecting public spaces, we have revisited our onboarding process to ensure team members are safely and effectively integrated and we have revisited our interview process to accommodate for remote interaction and cultural fit assessments.
Stay safe and healthy!
Reza Chaji, CEO