March 11th was the day everything went to hell.
We had a plan. It might have even been a good plan. The ‘Rona was making its way through the country. We had an inkling things might be getting worse. But a week or 10 days before, my corporation’s COO said we wouldn’t be cowed by it, that we would travel.
The management conversations started about March 2nd or 3rd. What would we need — theoretically — to work remote. We should test it. My team was going to go entirely remote March 9 as a test. We decided this on March 5. It would be a full-on test. I’d be the only in the office, everyone else would work from home. I’d handle my normal duties and some of the technical duties. We’d see how the VPN would work, how workflow might happen.
March 9 was a Monday and it was a Dumpster fire in a train wreck. It was meeting after meeting and not being able to get operational stuff done, because the palace was in flames. The next day, we brought one team member in per shift. Because the message from corporate on March 9 was basically “reduce head count down to a minimum.” We were already working mostly remote, so mostly we did.
We discovered problems — computers weren’t fast enough to edit on, Internet connections weren’t fast enough to transfer files back and forth. Our dependency on Slack slowed us down sometimes. We troubleshot. We built a schedule: Who would come in and who wouldn’t. We adjusted the schedule after people said “I’m not comfortable coming in.” We had a solid few days.
And then came the decree: When we said minimum head count, we meant minimum headcount. Literally, what is the fewest number of people who can put out a daily newscast. Senior managers couldn’t come in. We took producers down to two a day for the evening and late news. The morning show team contracted. The assignment desk went remote and we spent four days fighting with a phone contractor about how to forward. We scheduled employees to come in and get their workstations, there was a pile of monitors in the front of the newsroom for anyone to grab and take home.
We transitioned from “team test” to “gone” in less than five days. It was scary, but it was an adventure.
But it really, it was the beginning of the Dumpster fire. It was the entrance to the tunnel we’re still in. To hard work under odd conditions. And to the biggest challenge most of us had ever faced.