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Lockdown diary: Lynette Hundermark, Useful & Beautiful

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 09 Apr 2020

Award-winning entrepreneur Lynette Hundermark is co-founder and chief product officer at Useful & Beautiful (U&B), which helps clients with mobile product strategy, design and development for apps and mobile sites. She is also a part-time lecturer at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

ITWeb asked Hundermark, via e-mail, to share how her business is prevailing during the COVID-19 lockdown.

ITWeb: How have you organised your operations during the 21-day national lockdown?

Hundermark: Everything has moved online. I used to have weekly client face-to-face meetings which have now moved to MS Teams. My daily stand-up with my internal teams continues as normal, but the times have had to be adjusted to suited client times.

I am fortunate to work with people who are quite accountable for their own time management, so there is no need for me to micromanage any of my internal team and I've always welcomed flexi-time provided deliverables get met. I have had to accommodate far more flexi-time now to allow for personal time for shopping, seeing to parents, managing families, etc, due to strict lockdown rules but as everyone is responsible, it’s not an issue.

I have always been the key contact for my customers and have made myself available to them as and when needed, especially those in essential services as they still have to keep the wheels turning. Both we and our clients have been accommodating with each other’s businesses.

This is new territory for most South African corporates and universities (I am also a part-time lecturer at UWC), so I’m helping guide the teams I work with in this new remote working world that everyone has to adapt to.

ITWeb: What technical considerations did you have to get right? Laptops and connectivity for staff, improving your VPN, beefing up security?

Hundermark: VPN has not been an issue for me as I don't need access to any of my clients’ internal systems. Where files have to be shared, we do rely on cloud services and it depends on the client. Internally, we use Google but my corporate clients tend to use Microsoft products, so one drive is used for file-sharing. UX and design collaboration have always been on cloud applications, such as Invision.

We did have to make sure we have access to all video-conferencing tools, like MS Teams, Zoom and Hangouts, because if one tool does not work, we quickly switch to another. With corporate clients, I am forced to use whatever they use because of their IT policies and ports that are allowed.

For my students, it has been more challenging as access to data has been an issue for them, so we use zero-rated platforms like Facebook Lite. WhatsApp seems to be the preferred instant messaging platform.

ITWeb: What HR issues did you have to consider? How many of your staff are now working from home and have any staff been put on leave?

Hundermark: It’s business as usual for us due to the fact that our clients provide essential services. The only thing I had to consider was being more flexible with my staff’s working hours.

ITWeb: Which platform are you using for virtual meetings?

Hundermark: Corporate clients: MS Teams. U&B small business clients: Zoom. University: Facebook Messenger or Facebook Live (and have interactive team forums/discussions where I ask questions and students reply via text).

ITWeb: What other tools are you using to keep track of projects and monitor employees’ work?

Hundermark: Google Applications, we use Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Sheets for collaboration; Invision − design collaboration tool; Slack; instant messaging; and calls via WhatsApp.

ITWeb: Have your clients adapted to the new normal?

Hundermark: Almost! We are adapting as we go along and I'm assisting as best I can to help them. I'm used to remote working. One of my biggest clients when I started U&B was from Nigeria and the entire two years was run remotely. However, we all do like a bit of a combo − some remote and some physical face-to-face time − so it’s been an adjustment.

ITWeb: What have you learned since the lockdown began? What has been a pleasant surprise, and what has been the biggest challenge to overcome?

Hundermark: The biggest challenge is tone. Communication is happening much more via instant messaging or VC. Because of the data quality, video has to be switched off, so clarity in what you are speaking about/getting your point across is important; you have to articulate yourself well. Not everyone in a meeting is on fibre so it’s best to switch off video after we say hi, apart from whoever is sharing a presentation. Also, we had to set some housekeeping rules, such as mute when you are not speaking, and comment on text if you want to ask a question. VC tools really need to have a ‘raise your hand to ask a question’ feature!

My biggest surprise from clients’ side is that it hasn't affected deadlines and I am actually seeing more people show up to meetings − I guess it’s because they are not pulled into other things (which can easily happen), so I speak much more to them on VC calls than I did in person, which is lovely.

Uni has been a challenge because while it’s easy to say, let’s move everything online, it’s difficult in reality due to data constraints. While, yes, some platforms can be zero-rated, access to devices and information is a bit limited for the students, especially if the course was never intended to be an online course in the first place.

Also online/remote working works for well-established teams who have learned the fundamentals of team dynamics. It doesn't work for newly formed teams who haven't had much time to work together and if they are not used to the online/remote working environment.