When your best laid plans go awry

In Asterix’s village, the Gauls fear nothing, except that the sky might fall on their heads. This is the closest analogy to what I feel is happening around the world right now.

Several interesting initiatives that we had decided to work on in our firm coincided with sudden and urgent changes required by the Covid-19 crisis, confronting us with the risk of barely manageable chaos.

Chapter I – Planning the future

In 2018 our partners approved a bold plan to accelerate the improvements that we felt that our 120-year old firm should go through. This was far-reaching  in terms of partnership reorganisation, creation of a shared services centre to take care of all “transactional” operations (paying fees, submission of standardised petitions, issuing invoices etc.), outsourcing of most of our IT, maintaining only our core of IT architects, better organising all our accounting systems, and promoting automation where possible by the use of workflows, robots, AI, and data lakes.

The icing on the cake was the decision to move from our current 32-year old headquarters in Botafogo, a traditional district of Rio, to a new site in the modern district of Barra da Tijuca.

The clock was ticking down to a 7-month deadline for planning the moving and for renovating the new building, which then resembled a giant empty box. This was all advancing nicely, with expected delays here and there, when…

Chapter II – “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, comes onto the scene. First in a distant city in China, Wuhan, and then rapidly and consistently spreading throughout the world.

The initial reaction in some places was to downplay the impact of the virus, as only a type of flu with low lethality, which only allowed the virus to spread freely until containment initiatives started to be adopted.

So, there we were, busy as ever, engaged in all our interesting projects for the future, when everything had to be put on hold.

Concerns started rising, and we started planning a phased transition of our office staff to home office work.

On a sunny Monday morning we immediately made plans to send home the at-risk group: people above a certain age, people with some sort of health issue, and also parents of children who were sent home when the schools in Rio shut down.

While arrangements were being made for phase 1, our council had a get together with our company doctor, who painted the darkest possible scenario. He had one firm piece of advice: send everyone home! Now!!

(I can’t help but be reminded of a joke I heard, that the Germans are stocking sausages and cheese at home to prepare for the Wurst-Käse-scenario…)

Although we already had extensive and successful experience with occasional remote working of small groups of staff, sending 800+ people home in just 4 days proved not to be a trivial task.

We stuck to the first phase of the plan and sent home the at-risk group, plus parents.

Both within the first group and the remaining group, we had to deal with all sorts of situations: some people did not have experience of remote work, some did not have a usable computer at home, some did not even have an internet connection!

As our stock of laptops was not big enough to provide for everyone, and we did not have the time to buy or rent all the units we would need, we authorised our staff to take home their desktop computers from the office.

A special security app and a quick configuration was necessary (VPN), we increased our internet bandwidth to ensure reliable external access by increased numbers of people, extra security measures in general were adopted, and, voilá, Dannemann Siemsen@home was ready to go. Or to stay … whatever.

A “crisis cabinet” was assembled with directors and the IT team to monitor the first few days of the new working environment.

As I write this, for the time being, things are running smoothly, and our team is satisfied that they are as valued and protected as they can be in the circumstances. Maybe this experience will forever change the way we work.

We all hope that colleagues from around the world are finding their solutions for this crisis, caring for their collaborators and families, and that the Covid-19 pandemic will rapidly recede, leaving all of us with as few damages as possible, and with simply a huge lesson as to our ability to adapt to even historical and far-reaching changes like the ones we are experiencing now.

Next steps

Visit the FICPI coronavirus resources page on the website for helpful information, tips and further reading.

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How FICPI makes IP attorneys more effective

As part of FICPI’s coronavirus task force, we are sharing stories and tips from IP attorney members around the world who are dealing with the new ways of working and living necessary whilst the international efforts to combat coronavirus are in place.