How ArcTouch Brasil has been resilient during COVID-19

by: | Oct 22, 2020

This year has been unlike any other. COVID-19 has had a profound impact on ArcTouch, just as it has all around the world.

In many ways, we’ve been fortunate. Our team members are healthy. We’ve weathered a difficult business environment — and while we’re not unscathed, we’re coming out the other side feeling strong and energized.

One person in our organization that’s had a challenging job is our Brazil COO Cristiano Souza. Cris has spent the past decade helping to build our ArcTouch Brasil team to more than 200 developers and designers.

Cris has strived to create a culture that is, undeniably, the soul of our company. And with help from his team, he orchestrated the design of a state-of-the-art, 17,000-square-foot office space in Florianópolis, the unofficial tech center of Brazil. Opened in 2017, every inch of the office was designed with tremendous care to inspire great work and promote collaboration — along with a heavy dose of fun.

Of course, an amazing office space is useless when a pandemic hits and everyone is required to go home. So, how has ArcTouch Brasil responded to COVID-19? With perseverance and resilience. And I couldn’t be prouder.

Recently, I asked Cris to share his perspective on the past few months.

What was it like when COVID-19 started to spread in Brazil?

Right away we shut down our office and asked our staff to work from home — even before it was mandated by local authorities. Even though we’ve always had work at home Fridays as part of our benefits at ArcTouch, it’s different when this becomes work at home every day. Not everyone has an ideal work setup at home. So, we encouraged employees to take home their office monitors and chairs. We also offered a one-time allowance for people to buy things like tables or other necessary equipment. We tried to help everyone create a good full-time remote work environment.

Then, before we taking any further action, we surveyed the whole team to understand what we could do to support our team at home, and make them safer when we do return to the office.

What were some of the things you learned in the surveys?

People were concerned about losing their connections with their team members. They weren’t sure how they would stay in touch with cross-functional team members and hear from peers working on different projects. To address this we established twice-a-week leadership meetings during those first few weeks to ensure the team was cared for. We added a regular all-company “town hall” for management to answer questions and provide more transparency to company operations. And we took our weekly Thirsty Thursday tradition and moved it online. During these, we welcome new hires, give demos of recent projects, and sometimes play a group game — while enjoying a drink to celebrate our successes.

People also expressed concern about sharing the devices in our test library. As an app development company, we maintain a test library of hundreds of phones, tablets, and other smart devices for our whole team to use. Normally, devices are checked in and out throughout the day and shared by multiple people. Employees were worried about the safety of sharing these devices and going to the office to get them. So we created a device delivery service to pick up, sanitize, and deliver devices to staff. It’s not perfect, but we have been able to bring devices to people in a way that’s easier and safer than them coming to the office to pick them up.

On top of the health implications of COVID-19, our business was affected. How did you address that?

That’s been incredibly difficult. We had some clients pause or cancel projects, instantly reducing our work and revenue. That forced us to make some tough choices, and part ways with some truly great people. This was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my 10 years here — saying goodbye to people you really admire and love working with.

We did take a few extra steps to help, above and beyond our normal severance policies. We provided extended health insurance for those affected and their families. We helped with relocation expenses for employees that originally moved from other parts of Brazil to work here, and wanted to return home. We reached out to the HR departments of other companies in the area to try and help place team members. We also helped people with their LinkedIn profiles and provided references and recommendations.

And for those whose jobs weren’t affected, we tried to be as transparent and open as possible about why we had to let some of their colleagues go. We held all company meetings before and after, and we provided a forum for anyone to ask questions, either in the open or anonymously.

With all of those challenges, how do you help people stay upbeat about their work and life in the pandemic?

I’m a big believer in celebrating achievements — both individually and as teams. And that’s been especially important in recent months. We all need to understand why our work matters — and see how it makes a difference every day. And above and beyond work, we continue to do things to celebrate one another and the diversity of our team. After all, we’re people first, and workers second. So we wanted to provide opportunities to celebrate, and the support systems to help people when we can’t.

ArcTouch Brasil kitchen recycled shipping container

ArcTouch Brasil’s kitchen was created from a recycled shipping container.

If you visit our office, you can’t miss the “Container” (shown above) right beyond the lobby. It’s a real shipping container that we recycled into a kitchen. Since it’s where the snacks and drinks are, it’s also the area where people like to linger and chat. To recreate that experience, we created a Container Zoom room that’s up and running 24 hours a day. It’s a place where people can go anytime to hang out and catch up.

We started a regular “Have you met?” video series in which an individual team member takes a few minutes to describe what they do and some of their interests outside of work. It’s a great way to meet the “newbies” to ArcTouch who we’ve hired in the past few months, and learn some great things about people we’ve known for years.

We’ve set up a series of video discussions with experts on topics like mental health and personal finance. And we continue to encourage individuals to use our anonymous Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for legal, financial, and psychological assistance.

I need to thank our chapter leaders. Their main role is to be a mentor and guide to help our team be experts at their craft. They never could have imagined they’d also have to help their chapters get through a pandemic. But we’ve really leaned on them to listen to their teams, to provide support, and to offer advice during this difficult time. And they have been amazing! So, thank you.

How has everyone transitioned from working in an office to being at home?

The type of work we do is very collaborative. We work on teams, and across teams, with many people involved in a given project. So, maintaining that level of collaboration — and enabling problem-solving across a team while 100% remote — has been a big transition. Fortunately, from the very beginning of ArcTouch we’ve been a company with teams across multiple global offices — so remote collaboration is in our DNA. Even before COVID we used tools like Slack and Zoom every single day across all projects. The main difference is that now our customers are all using these tools too, and are more comfortable having product planning workshops and other meetings through them.

We use an agile development process and are very much an agile culture. We expect change and respond to it appropriately. Of course, being agile doesn’t necessarily prepare you for a pandemic. But we understand that changes and transitions are a part of life.

I think we adjusted as well as you can expect. And now we’re preparing for more transitions. We’re planning for some team members to return to the office this month. It’s completely voluntary for those who want to, and we’ll be following all the safe distancing and recommended health protocols. And hopefully, we’ll all be working back in the office in early 2021. But that’s all subject to change depending on when we can safely gather in small and later bigger numbers. We’ll be agile and ready for new transitions, whatever and whenever they may be.

When people ask you when things will be back to normal, what do you say?

The most important message is that there will be a new and better “normal.” We don’t know when. But I really do believe we’ve gotten through the hardest times, and ArcTouch Brasil is moving toward a bright future.

I am so proud to work for a great company and with such talented people. COVID-19 has tested us, and we’ve responded. I think it’s made us stronger. I hope to never go through anything like this pandemic again, but we’ll be better prepared for any challenges we see in the future. Our culture of transparency and honesty has thrived. And we’ve continued to innovate and take complete ownership of our work — even at a distance.

Want to join our ArcTouch Brasil team?

Learn more about our work and life at ArcTouch by visiting our Brazil careers page.