Engineering Startups vs Covid-19: how our Hub Members have adapted to changing circumstances - Part 2

05 May 2020

The Covid-19 outbreak has forced some businesses to quickly change their day to day working practices. Others have created new products, and some have even changed their business models completely. In this blog, we speak to two hub members about how they’re continuing to work through the pandemic. Patrick Dodds is CEO of chemical manufacturing startup Hexigone Inhibitors, and Dmitro Khroma is the Founder and CTO of e-bike startup Swytch Technology.

Patrick Dodds

How have you found the transition to remote working?

Patrick: The team are brilliant, and I have full faith that we can still get our jobs done.  We’ve made sure we can utilise the online meeting platforms available and all our documents are cloud based. We are utilising emails, zoom and teams to stay in contact – it’s been a digital meeting learning curve for all! The members of the team who cannot work from home have unfortunately been furloughed.

Dmitro KhromaDmitro: Most of our business processes are already based online, so the transition to working from home has been fairly straightforward. However, we're still running into new challenges every day and our communication skills are being put to the test. Being forced to work remotely has meant we have focused much more on putting robust, sustainable processes in place to help us with this new way of working. We’ve also been able to avoid the usual problems we have when working in China, such as blocked internet, travel disruptions, and jet lag. The result has meant we've been working far more effectively than we were before, which came as a big surprise to us!

What steps you have taken to keep the business going?

Patrick: Hexigone started a collaboration with Swansea University to make hand sanitiser for free. After setting up the process and method and donating some equipment we realised we could add to the effort, by facilitating the requests from local authorities wanting to purchase hand sanitiser. We’re supporting councils by selling at just above cost price with a donation to the NHS from the batches we make. This means we can continue to give free hand sanitiser to frontline staff, at a good and fair price to local authorities. It’s not about profit, it’s about maintaining the company and donating to the frontline workers for free.

Dmitro: Fortunately for us, the appetite for eBikes has remained strong since it’s a good mode of transport and means for safe exercise. We've just had to make sure to be extra communicative with our customers who are waiting to receive kits, as one of our biggest disruptions has been our manufacturing in China. The usual plan is for me and my colleague is to visit our suppliers for 1-2 months until the 3000 eBike kits are fully assembled, tested and packed in a container. All this work now has to be managed remotely, which is a huge challenge! We now have daily 8am video calls with all key suppliers, live video feed to our factory floor so we can directly check in on progress and have enforced other quality control measures to ensure the manufacturing process is still of the highest quality.

How are you balancing working and family life?

Patrick: The balance is difficult. It feels like we are working more from home whilst trying to home school our children.  We have made school fun and are now utilising fun ways to do science and engineering without them knowing! We have planted several different seeds and they are inputting the measurements into Excel with a graph at the end - hopefully giving them some life skills at the same time!

What do you do to keep team morale up?

Patrick: We have weekly social catchups to keep up team spirit and ensure the people on furlough are still connected with us. Our weekly check-in is about fun and not work and we are in constant contact to make sure that we are all OK and coping.  With the increase in workload during the week and less social time because of working from home, we are limiting work on the weekends. The video calling software means that we still get to see the whole team together and that helps provide an extra support network.

Dmitro: We always do a daily video stand up via Zoom with the whole team. Everyone gets the chance to briefly talk about how yesterday went, what their plan is for today, and what challenges they are experiencing. Every Wednesday evening, we have an online work social where we play Avalon/Quiplash together!

And finally, have you learnt any important lessons and are there any changes to your workday that you will keep after lockdown?

Dmitro: We’ve learnt that flexible working schedules and remote working is possible for engineering and manufacturing teams! Even during a crisis there are opportunities to improve and even thrive.

One change that we will keep after lockdown is keeping some teams physically separate. Before we would all be in the same open office - now we schedule short catchups and get on with important work without distractions, leading to much higher productivity for everyone.

 

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