Merkle quarantine diary - week 1

We have been working fully remotely for a week now, what happened? A small recap of highlights and lessons learned

Merkle@Home: Thomas reports how he experienced the first week at home

Day 0 - Friday, 13.03.2020

  • Friday March 13th, ... yes, "the irony of it all..." Merkle has of course been watching the situation with concern for some time now and has taken some precautions. But on the 13th of March we decided on the only logical measure: we’ll send all 550 employees into the home office. #flattenthecurve #staythefuckhome
  • And now, what has to be done immediately in a full-service agency? Exactly, first of all, all customers were informed and the on-site appointments for week 12 and all following weeks cancelled and changed into remote appointments, trips and hotel rooms were cancelled and then thinking about what is needed for a good home office. The customers react differently: few are surprised by the strict measures, but most of them do it similar as we do.
  • Home office is nothing new or special for us. In our business, you can remain almost 100% efficient and productive. Almost everyone at Merkle does it and can do it. Some colleagues ironically experience the news about the Home Office regulation in the home office itself. We run on a Google infrastructure, we also have all Google Enterprise solutions in use from Meet, Hangout, Drive, to Data Studios or the Google HR solution Hire. In addition, we have our Atlassian tools for collaboration and optionally Microsoft's teams from Merkle or individual tools like Skype, Miro and Co. The general mood on Friday is quite relaxed. What must be, must be.
  • There are still many questions: How long will it take? Can I take my large monitor home with me? Who takes care of our plants? We remain pragmatic and quickly make a list on the intranet in which everyone enters what they take home with them from Merkle. We put the plants together, switch off the heating, and make the usual jokes with our colleagues.
  • But some thoughts remain: Is this really necessary? How hard will this hit us economically? What else can I do? In the end, we are no exception. We are a bunch of a few people who "have not (yet) recognized the danger" consisting of a few pessimists and many optimists. Nevertheless, we go into the weekend with mixed feelings.

Day 1 - Monday, 16.03.2020

  • Once a month the together@Merkle takes place, our Townhall Meeting so to speak. Normally, everyone comes together at their locations and has breakfast together. Our CEO Bernd then gives an update on the economic success and insights into some current highlight projects via video call. But this together@ today is different. There is only one topic, everyone has breakfast at home - alone, with their partner or family.
  • The first telephone conferences and group appointments start. The mood is optimistic. The first tips and tricks for an even better home office are sent around via chat.

Ausschnitt aus Chat-Unterhaltung zu Home Office Challenge
Colleagues in Frankfurt evaluate a home office setup
  • Okay, I admit it, it's a little escalating. The first #homeoffice challenges have broken out in the Frankfurt and Munich location chats. We select "the best balcony office", "the best office with cats" and "the best home office IT setup". 
  • We continue to work on the emergency plan. Who has to go to the office to pay our bills, what do we do in recruiting, where does our VPN go?
  • At 5 pm I close my computer. And at 5:01, I play Lego with my son. Normally I have an hour train ride to prepare and look forward to it. One-nil to home office.

Day 2 - Tuesday, 17.03.2020


  • We're approaching day two. We've set a short daily at 8:30 a.m. in the Platform Leads Team - better to coordinate shorter and more often than to wait a week. 
  • I understand: For some colleagues it is still funny, but it won't be easy in the long run. In a two-room apartment in Zurich or Hamburg with IT setup at the dining table, the partner possibly in the same situation, the real stress test for companies in the home office will not be hangouts or Skype.
  • We drink the first "Virtual Coffee". Well, in St. Gallen from the portafilter machine on the roof terrace it would be a different league in this weather - but hey! when can you look into everybody's living room and get furnishing tips. 
  • We work. For example, I still have a product demo from software partner Salesforce and a planning appointment, then I check hourly bookings, it all works well remotely, actually it doesn't matter where I do it from.
  • At 5:30, we'll have a virtual after-work beer. So the beer is real and liquid but the company unfortunately virtual. One colleague is walking with his son in the forest, the other colleague is hanging on the couch. We have a funny half hour with a lot of gallows humor.
Wir haben Spass im “Virtual Coffee break”.
Having fun at the "Virtual Coffee break"

Day 3 - Wednesday, 18.03.2020


  • It is now clear to me that the necessary rolling planning still is a major challenge. Which of our customers are stopping projects? Which of them will probably have to do so in the medium or long term, and in what form? We currently have around 120 customers, from banks and food retailers to B2B industrial companies and tourism groups. Normally we make an annual plan and then adapt it quarterly. Who said controlling was a boring accessory?
  • Daily. Five men. We notice that nobody's shaved this week. One colleague says, "Maybe we should all do it tomorrow and put ties on too, so it feels more like work?" Answer: "You haven't worn a tie in 10 years." We'll stick with the T-shirts.
  • There are rumors in the chats that the Munich colleagues have held a virtual yoga session. I wonder why no spectators were invited?
  • A colleague writes to me that he has now been called up for civil defence. I must confess, I had not thought of that at all. But of course, this is the case and will be even more frequent - our average age is just under mid-30's. Dig in Poldi and #staysafe.
  • 5:30 pm I go into the garden with my daughter to swing. I usually can't do that at that time of day. Plus March and almost 20 degrees Celsius. My wife is inside and still answering e-mails. With the neighbours we have a social distancing - "only look - do not touch" - agreement. Dude, this is all so surreal right now.
Screenshot von Thomas im Auto während Hangout-Call
Daily meeting in the car, with Google Meet over 4G, mobile phone with holder on windshield.

Day 4 - Thursday, 19.03.2020

  • Today we pitched. For the first time in 25 years of company history "fully remote". Four colleagues from Merkle and the Dentsu network were spread across 2 meeting rooms in the Merkle office in Zurich. The potential customer was even spread over 22 locations. We first wanted to use MS Teams, but then switched to our Google Meet. The game lasts 90 minutes. The colleagues said afterwards: "It was strange. There was no audience response, the critical questions seemed uncritical without facial expressions, the enthusiasm for good pitch design and proposal was harder to perceive". But the team delivered clean. We get great feedback and keep our fingers crossed. I think they call that a milestone in the company's history. 
  • A page with "Best Practices for Remote Pitches" is now available on the intranet.
  • Time for the "Monthly Leadership Call" with Merkle colleagues in the UK. The IT manager from UK shows the peaks of access to the company network. The VPN can provide 500 colleagues in parallel, after that one would buy more. Michael, the Merkle EMEA CEO says that home office with two impatient kids doesn't feel like a holiday to him. Somehow it's good to know that everybody feels that way.
Markus präsentiert remote die Pitch Folien alleine in einem Besprechungsraum.
Colleague Markus pitching remotely in Zurich.

Ausschnitt aus einem Chat-Gespräch über die gespülten WCs im Office.
Even an empty office needs maintenance.
  • I'm taking the car to the office for two signatures. A colleague prepared the files and put them down yesterday. Alone in the office - immediately feels like The Walking Dead. I think about plundering the snack machine for a moment, but then decide to water the plants instead and press the flush button just in case. I get applause for that in the chat.
  • After an appointment at off-peak times it gets a little later today. Since one should take his vacation anyway, I spontaneously submit 1 day of rest from the home office for next Tuesday.

Day 5 - Friday 20.03.2020

  • #TGIF, friends of the sun! This week (almost) only in the home office. That was much more intense than I thought. Also today there are 8 more appointments in the calendar. Partly because of the job, but partly because of the situation. I scroll back in the calendar and look at other Fridays and feel confirmed. But it's also logical: For every short "Have you got a minute?" that you usually call across the table, you now set up an appointment.
  • Remote Work has worked great for us so far, as expected. With some customers unfortunately still somewhat suboptimal.
  • We are planning a webinar on the topic "Remote Work/ Remote Teams". We offer this free of charge to all customers and interested parties. It can only be in everyone's interest to understand the topic even better now.
  • The rationally pessimistic engineer in me says it will be worse next week - for everyone and everything. A colleague tells me about a conversation with a friend who lives in Lombardy. It's a downer, but it also opens your eyes to why we all do it here and makes you aware of the fact that VPN connections or video call marathons don't matter. 
  • #heureka. Spent over 40h in my 12 sqm. I think next week another colleague has to take over, otherwise I'll drag you down too much. And besides that I am off on Tuesday and stay at home for a day :-)