Reflecting on one month of our COVID-19 response: putting people first
Like many companies, the past few weeks have been a journey for us. We’re mission critical for thousands of websites that deliver news, entertainment, connection, and commerce for millions around the world. We knew it was important to move quickly in response to the unfolding situation with COVID-19. While moving quickly has merit, it only works if you constantly audit your missteps and rapidly adjust your actions.
With just over a month of experience working as a fully remote team, I want to share some of our early wins, and perhaps more importantly, the lessons we’ve learned and adjustments we’ve made. It’s in the way that we’ve applied our learnings that I’m particularly proud of our people and community as a whole. I hope this gives you insight into our culture, highlights the strength of our global community, and perhaps even provides some ideas you can apply to your team and workflows.
We now have the benefit of hindsight, but even a month ago, the shape of the outbreak, public sentiment, and governmental response was in a very different place. While we had taken some early actions — like adapting our Super Bowl taskforce to work remotely and canceling in-person summits in February — we made things official on March 1. We released a blog post letting our community know that out of an abundance of caution, we were suspending non-essential travel for employees, closing offices, and postponing or canceling our events. This was over two weeks before stay-at-home orders were issued in California, where Fastly’s HQ is located.
To be frank, some people had reservations about the decision. On top of that, it was my first major decision as the new CEO, so I felt an added pressure. But we feared the situation could grow worse, and we didn’t want people to get sick. I wanted us to maintain a healthy community and grow our resiliency. But there was another important reason to act: we knew the internet would be busy and that people were relying on digital experiences; and we knew our customers would expect us to be prepared, keep our network healthy, and continue expanding our capacity.
Even if I would be viewed as overly cautious for the decision, I knew we could use the time to figure out what systems and processes needed more resiliency, regardless of how the situation unfolded. Of course, none of us expected what came afterward.
I was blown away by how quickly teams sprang into action to make this nearly overnight office closing possible, from HR and Workplaces, to our IT and infrastructure teams. While I expected some questions after the announcement, our team members uncovered many other logistics, challenges, and subsequent impacts. That’s when I sent my first company-wide email dedicated to COVID-19, and committed to email weekly updates to keep our community on the same page. It’s also where I started to see where we were communicating well, and where we weren’t doing enough.
Learnings and commitments
It was remarkable what we learned in just the first five days as a fully distributed team. Here are some of our earliest findings:
There were dozens of questions we didn’t predict. We launched an internal Wiki with common FAQs and launched an internal blog series with advice on working from home, authored by people who’d been doing it for years.
Fastly remains a family-friendly place and our team needed to know that it was OK to work at hours that suited their individual situations — with interruptions as an acceptable (and often cute) distraction. We also needed people to know that they would not be expected to be at full productivity, and that we would support caregivers at suboptimal productivity.
The situation was continuing to evolve and people needed regular, unfiltered communication. We launched a CEO fireside chat for the following week to give people more opportunities to connect and share concerns.
Our hourly and janitorial staff are part of our team. We’re committed to caring for them during this time and we needed to tell the company that and commit to supporting them.
Each day as the news changed, so too did the anxiety and uncertainty. This gave way to new and important questions, like: What are we doing to help as a company? How will our business be impacted? How much longer will offices be closed? Is there more explicit information to help and support caregivers?
Learnings and commitments
Week two was the pinnacle of agility and rapid learning, where we sent out three company-wide emails as we got feedback in real time. It became abundantly clear that the more clarity we can offer in uncertain times, the better. Leaning into our value of transparency, we realized and communicated the following:
The sheer amount of information we needed to get out was growing substantially. We added a tl;dr at the top of the email for those who wanted the quick takeaways.
We announced that we are donating to five nonprofits addressing the COVID-19 outbreak and to help prevent future outbreaks. I want to note that I have been asked more questions about us giving back than any other request, and that’s given me great admiration for the strength of our company culture and people.
What might have seemed like a tolerable work-from-home situation in week one didn’t always work well several weeks in a row. We put together a plan to help all employees to get the equipment they need to do their jobs comfortably.
While we’d indicated that people could take off time, we needed to do more than pay lip service. People were tired from adjusting to remote life, extra Zooms and more Slack communication, boundaries blurring, and the crisis going on around us. We explicitly requested that everyone take a day off to get groceries, take care of their families, prep their children for e-learning, or carve out space for mental health.
We knew that people might not have the funds to stock up for 14 days — so we opened up a discreet, confidential channel where people could reach out for monetary support.
In this unprecedented time, our people need and deserve even more reassurance than usual. We reiterated that we’re in a fortunate position and that we will weather this storm, and continue to over communicate this point. As we have seen in the past month, the consumption of online content continues to expand as people socially distance themselves. I remain confident in our underlying business — and I feel very blessed to be in this position, as we acknowledge that many other businesses are not.
By simply saying, “This situation is going to get worse before it gets better” and extending our office closures to May 4, we brought comfort to people by being realistic and transparent.
While emails were good for one-way updates, I started holding office hours three times per week, spread across different time zones, to help me get more connected to the issues. Our department leaders began doing the same and allotted dedicated time for availability. Together, we started to notice patterns in people’s questions. There was a continued desire for giving back, business insights and perspectives, and details on the logistics regarding office closures and status that impact people’s long-term planning and expectations.
Learnings and commitments
By combining our weekly emails, in-person office hours, and the ability to anonymously post questions, we were able to get more robust feedback, in the way people feel most comfortable giving it.
To help people stay close to the impact of their work, we shared the most recent data on the continued growth of our network, announced new customers joining Fastly, and highlighted some customers doing incredible work on our platform to help others.
We announced that our compensation cycle would continue just as planned, with raises and promotions still going into effect.
We asked people to take one more paid day off the following week, so all caretakers and team members continued to feel supported.
People were coming to me asking about my state of mind, and how I, just as a person, was thinking and feeling about everything. We’d been so focused on getting people urgent updates, that I hadn’t put the focus on my own personal experience of what was happening. That connection is something we’re all seeking right now, and we wanted to bring that to the forefront.
Learnings and commitments
Sharing something one time doesn’t mean that the story is done. We continued to share more data-driven stories about our business, customer stories, and updates on giving back. It was this week that I was able to really reflect on how our company’s values really came through to the forefront.
We continued our focus on the customer — showcasing how they’re providing some of the most important resources and tools the world relies upon right now.
Our team continues to step up and act with integrity. We began to put more of a human face on this, calling out individuals for their generosity: from people volunteering their time to pressing causes, offering to buy groceries for vulnerable people in their communities, to setting up things like yoga and happy hours to connect with our teams internally. And to keep supporting our families, I began a weekly storytime for Fastlyans with children. So far we've read Amos & Boris, The Book with No Pictures, If I Built a Car, Toot & Puddle: You Are My Sunshine, and Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian — with more to come.
To further embrace transparency, we announced AMAs with our CFO and other orgs to continue giving business updates from a variety of perspectives.
To give people as much of a game plan as possible, we announced office closures extending until June.
As we strive toward our value of being good people, we acknowledged that we’re all, in fact, just people. We have real fears and anxiety, and we know we’re approaching a difficult stage of this pandemic. We will continue to stand together as a company and with our communities, and continue to support each other. Our world needs grace and compassion.
As we move into the future
How the global situation develops is uncertain, but I am certain about Fastly’s strength, the team we’ve built, and a laser-sharp focus on our customers. We have the capacity and availability from our network to continue expanding. And I am constantly reminded of the incredible humans who work at Fastly: from the questions they’ve raised that have challenged my thinking, to the overwhelming concern for each other and our community, to all the positive action that has come from it.
Time and again, we’ve learned that customer stories internally are both powerful and motivating. We’ll continue to share those stories. We’ll continue supporting our community through donations and our $50M commitment to our Open Source and Nonprofit Program. We’ll continue highlighting the wonderful work individual Fastlyans are doing. And I am certain we’ll continue to have even more learnings ahead in the weeks to come.
Being a dealer in hope is a critical part of this, but it is also earnest. We stand behind the best of the web, and we’ll continue to support the incredible work they’re doing with the fantastic team we have in place.