Sam Mountford is VP Engineering at SPOKE, a menswear brand that offers flawlessly-fitting chinos. SPOKE cuts their trousers in more sizes than found on the high street with a custom finish and a fit finder tool to find your perfect fit in 60 seconds.

Having worked in software engineering for a decade, Sam has been with SPOKE just over 2 years and participated in multiple rounds of funding in her current role and previous role as CTO at Cornerstone. She is a start-up enthusiast and thrives on building agile, value-driven engineering and data teams and advocates for lean practises across the business.

Sam spoke to Futureheads as part of our FFS series, a regular interview series where business and industry leaders share their insights and personal experience. Other articles in the series can be found here.

1. Tell us about the impact that Covid-19 and the lockdown measures have had on your business?

It has been imperative for us to gain an understanding of exactly what our customers need from us at this time and deliver our proposition and content with the correct tone. We are lucky that we have only traded online so no commitments to brick and mortar (apart from our office!). Our supply chain and fulfilment provider has remained largely unaffected both of which could have been devastating.

Our existing customer base has been incredibly supportive and has helped us continue trading through the early stages of lockdown when it felt a little bit like a lot of daily life was on pause. To pursue growth during and beyond this time, we’ve had to transform ourselves into a super lean collective – understanding what is the most valuable thing to pursue and making bold decisions but reviewing these decisions regularly –  hopefully practises that we will continue over the coming months and well out of the lockdown period.

2. How have you adapted your operational and hiring practices?

We were able to move to working from home full time quickly ensuring everyone had the necessary equipment and secure access to work resources and secure communication

channels. We also kept engaged with the team regarding the office, soliciting their feedback on how and when they want to return to the office and also how they want to manage working from home in the future.

We use a variety of methods to keep in contact, Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Whatsapp and also just jumping on the phone from time to time. As a development team we have been able to peer program as often as and as successfully we would have in the office, using screen sharing. We have continued to trial suitable tools for Sprint Retros and whiteboard/post-it sessions. Our most effective communication strategy has been “little and often”.

Larger meetings can feel inefficient when everyone is sat on a Zoom call so we always try to make sure agendas are crystal clear and we keep to a set time limit. Our interview process is now fully remote as is our onboarding process.

3. What are your top tips for successfully managing a remote recruitment process?

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4. Has this crisis made you look at your business differently or consider changes moving forwards?

I think we have realised that we can do more with less when needed. I can certainly see us embracing working from home more in the future as long as the leadership team can foster a culture that allows people to maintain a work-life balance.

When your workplace is also where you relax and live your private life then one part can easily bleed into the other. I also think we will appreciate our time working together in the office more, and that business leaders, in general, will start to see working from home as an option that can really increase productivity rather than a “benefit” they are expected to allow.

5. What advice would you give to anyone in a similar position to you at the moment?

Be open to being a lot more reactive for the foreseeable future. Continue to plan as normal but focus on the short term and be willing to review those plans regularly. Our roadmap covers the next two quarters and will change often.

Not only do you need to focus on what projects / features are going to be important to implement soon, but also how it is likely to change – especially if your team has changed as a result of COVID. Re-asses whether there might be a third-party service to cover your needs rather than the custom build you had planned, and consider carefully how much tech debt you are comfortable building now, considering you might have fewer people to help reduce it later on.

Don’t assume that your team is adjusting to working from home full-time even if they have worked from home routinely in the past. Make some time to check in regularly. Only doing the most valuable things is going to be key in getting a lot of smaller companies through this time but the silver lining might be that we all hone this skill and continue it on into future years and come out the other side leaner and more agile.

Be Kaler Pilgrim

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