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Keeping the engine running in uncertain times

by Owen Lansbury /

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Like many companies, PreviousNext didn't expect the Coronavirus crisis to hit so hard or quick, nor did we anticipate the rapid effects on the global economy. However, we have always run our company based on sustainable principles, so feel well prepared to deal with what's coming over the next few months. We hope sharing our approach might help others weather the coming storm too!

First and foremost, the wellbeing of our team is our number one priority and our immediate steps were to ensure everyone is as safe as possible from contracting or spreading COVID-19, including:

  • While our team is already highly distributed with most working from home offices, we were quick to enforce a full work from home policy, including no in-person client meetings or unnecessary travel. This was communicated to clients, with video conferencing and chat tools becoming the standard form of interaction.
  • Making sure our team knew we were taking things seriously and reiterating official guidelines on personal hygiene and social distancing.
  • Noting that attending conferences and personal travel were likely to be affected well before official lockdowns started coming into force, and to plan ahead accordingly.
  • Understanding that many staff will have reduced availability due to school closures and having children at home.
  • Outlining clear provisions for staff to use personal and annual leave in the event they became ill themselves or needed to care for family members. We also made it clear that if leave allowances were exhausted due to COVID-19, leave credits would be extended until individual team members were able to return to work. The last thing we want is our team worrying that their personal finances or long term roles might be in jeopardy due to something completely outside their control.
  • Asking team members to privately notify us if anyone close to them becomes ill which may indicate their own health could be at risk in coming weeks if they've had exposure. This then allows us to forward plan potential contingencies for reduced team availability.

We also took a close look at the likely impact of an economic slowdown on the overall business, such as:

  • Identifying which clients may reduce budgets and starting conversations early with these clients around the likely impact to projects we're working on. This demonstrates that we understand things are likely to change and are willing to work with clients so that neither party is left in the lurch.
  • Working with clients to build larger backlogs of project work so that we can continue working if key people on the client side become unavailable to move a project forward.
  • Assessing what operational expenses can be reigned in the short and medium term to ensure our cash flow stays healthy. This includes evaluating current rental arrangements, subscription based services that may not be critical to operations and other non essential expenses.
  • Establishing a clear overview of our current project pipeline, what our break-even costs would be if projects are scaled back and how long we could maintain that state.
  • Understanding what trigger points we'd have to start drawing on our cash reserves to ride out a few slower months.

Another key consideration is our commitment to the Drupal open source project while the world moves into crisis mode. As we saw in the years following 2007's Global Financial Crisis, Drupal is well placed to thrive as a cost effective alternative to proprietary Content Management Systems and we expect similar things will occur this time around. Obviously, without a strong Drupal we don't have a strong business, so initiatives in this regard are:

  • Maintaining our open source contribution policy so that our team is consistently pushing code into the Drupal ecosystem. This is particularly important with the imminent release of Drupal 9. We would encourage other Drupal services companies to adopt similar contribution policies, especially if their teams are suddenly finding they have extra time on their hands due to the economic downturn.
  • Ensuring that the Drupal community remains strong and unified. There'll obviously be many cancellations or postponements of key conferences in coming months, but we can still collaborate closely through Drupal's issue queues and remote events, like live-streamed meetups.
  • While some initiatives are likely to be delayed, maintaining the continuity of operations for our local DrupalSouth committee and the global Drupal Association is of paramount importance. We can achieve this through donating both our time and funding as specific needs arise. Again, we'd urge other Drupal services companies to share this commitment.

This is the third major economic crisis I've lived through in my professional life, and while things will definitely get tough, they will definitely get better again in the long run. By taking pre-emptive steps now, maintaining the confidence of your team and clients and staying committed to Drupal's long term success, there will be light at the end of the tunnel!