On Monday, March 15, 2020 at 4 pm, I packed a carry-on bag and grabbed an Uber to take a 7 pm flight down to Los Angeles, to join my partner, Robert. It was likely the 10th flight from San Jose to Los Angeles that day … and only 17 people waiting to board. A shelter in place order was going into effect in the San Francisco Bay Area – a jarring and uncertain experience for all of us. However, for me, it triggered memories of my childhood and living through a revolution. It was reminiscent of December 1978 when my family fled Tehran, Iran.
My mother and I sat at Mehrabad airport for 16 hours with two pieces of luggage, abandoning the place we knew as home, unclear what the future would bring. We took the very delayed flight to Zurich and then finally landed in Munich.
Forty-two years later, I was boarding a plane as an executive of a $1B+ company, leaving my Bay Area employees, most of whom worked out of our South San Jose office. We shut down the San Jose office the Friday before when we learned citizen number 11, or some early number like that, in the Bay Area, had tested positive for Covid-19.
That evening after arriving in Los Angeles, we only contemplated the next few days: a Costco run, getting me set up in the home office, the lighting in the office for video calls and the Steve Young jersey on the wall which would be in the background of my zoom video calls. By the end of the week, I became a dog mom to Molly, when Camp Run-a-Mutt doggie day care shut down, and shelter in place also hit Los Angeles. Extreme’s Coronavirus Response Team, which I had launched just a few weeks before, met and after conferring with our CEO, we announced the shut-down of our global offices over the course of the next week or so, first the ones on the East Coast of the United States, then ones in Europe and Asia and finally the four in India.
The transition from working collaboratively in office spaces to working at home was fairly seamless, as Extreme had already invested in both Zoom and Microsoft Teams collaboration tools several months prior. This investment allowed us to work from home quite effectively and productively, without any significant overhaul to our business. For many of us, those first few weeks were a relief from business travel and daily commutes. I personally had a 45-minute commute from Menlo Park to our South San Jose office. Now, I rolled out of bed and in less than 30 minutes I was showered, dressed, had run the dog out and, coffee in hand, I was engaged on work calls.
Some of the first things that happened is we set up an email distribution list for the Coronavirus Response Team, a scheduled recurring call twice a week to address employee issues and to set work from home policies. Our Coronavirus Response Team regularly analyzed the Johns Hopkins global virus data and engaged in constant email dialogue on topics ranging from our employees and their family members who had tested positive, protocols for deep cleaning the offices, office shutdowns, mask policies, the ability to get laptops to our employees worldwide, the heroic efforts of our facilities team members who were going into the office every day, and our outsourced cleaning crew in India who were sleeping in the office due to restrictions for being on the streets–to name a few. We engaged closely with our corporate communications team to apprise team members with necessary updates on our intranet “The Source” page.
Today, we are 18 months into this global pandemic and we and many corporate leaders are still dealing with some of the same issues that arose in March of 2020. In my role as Chief Administrative and Sustainability Officer, I’ve been tasked with figuring out plans on how we move forward as a company during a time of uncertainty and how to safely and effectively run our business. For instance, I – like many leaders around the globe – am faced with questions such as:
On the personal front, I got used to working from Robert’s place for about 6 weeks until I had a family emergency in San Diego. So, in early May, I called my boss Ed Meyercord, our CEO, and told him about my situation. He said, “Work from wherever you want, it’s all getting done.”
So again, I packed my carry-on luggage, and this time I headed down to San Diego. From May to November of 2020, I traveled between San Diego and Los Angeles. In between Zoom calls, 1:1s with my staff, E-team meetings, Katy’s Korner interviews with our leaders, weekly calls with the Coronavirus Response Team and Corporate Social Responsibility Teams, QBRs and Board meetings, I sold my place in Menlo Park, bought a place in Encinitas, CA, managed and grieved the passing away of my stepfather. Flexibility was key. Being able to care for my mother and my family, while handling work affairs gave me the balance I needed to try and do it all, successfully.
I am just one of millions who spent time juggling serious family matters, while trying to carry forward business as usual – while ensuring our employee base was cared for and supported during such uncertain and challenging times.
As we, corporate leaders, embark on this journey we continue to work through all of the human capital, financial, legal and real estate issues related to the pandemic.
In coming weeks, I will share my experiences in this blog and talk through how we are approaching some of the questions and challenges presented by the pandemic. I’ll discuss how we approach a flexible workplace, how we are thinking about commercial real estate investments, how we are working to engage employees across the world and how we’re shaping the next-generation workplace … one day at a time.
Want to see more from Katy’s Korner? Visit our YouTube channel and check out the many employee spotlight interviews we’ve highlighted so far.