The Effect of The Coronavirus Outbreak From The Point of View of A Small Irish Office
My name is Stephen Kilcommins. I’m a third year Computer Science student in UCD, currently working for GECKO Governance. You may remember my previous blog on ‘Working in an emerging tech company’. Well, I’m back to work in GECKO again for my UCD internship placement. The placement was set to start halfway through the second college term, in early March, and extends through to the end of August. In lieu of staying up in Dublin, where the rent prices are astronomical, and working for one of Dublin’s many ‘Tech Giants’, I’ve decided to come back to ole’ Dundalk to continue my work for GECKO.
I’ve now been working in the company for almost 2 years, having spent my last 2 summers working under the GECKO banner. Throughout the college terms I also continued my work with GECKO, albeit in a greatly diminished fashion, fitting it in alongside my college work.
My placement began on the 9th of March and started as it had done in any of the previous summers. The most notable difference since summer gone being that we are now firmly rooted in our new office space, which I have only visited since summer but had not yet had the pleasure to choose a table and get to work in. It was great being able to catch up properly with the whole team again, having been drowning – for lack of a better word – in college work over the last few months. My work at GECKO resumed quickly once I was back, hopping straight back into the deep end. I spent the majority of that first week testing our current software alongside the rest of the tech team. This involved testing every aspect of functionality of the software and noting any bugs that would arise, and/or any slight changes we wished to make stylistically or grammatically. We looked through previous bug reports which we had completed over the course of the last year and made sure that all of the items therein were now fixed and stable within the current system. I also had a look at our website — geckogovernance.io — which I had worked extensively on during my last stint in the office, improving pages and enhancing the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of the website, to see if there were any changes to be made. I stumbled upon a bug which had made the ‘blog’ page of the website difficult to read and got to work right away to fix it. Unfortunately, this was no straightforward task as the blog page is kept up to date using the common CMS (Content Management System) WordPress, and so it wasn’t a matter of just changing some HTML and CSS, but rather figuring out what was wrong with the way the blog plugin generated and displayed its HTML and CSS. After a few hours of examining the code I was gladly able to fix the bug.
Work that first week had been going well, with the usual comradery in the office, however, you could almost feel the growing concern over the ongoing outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, commonly referred to as COVID-19. When I began work on the morning of the 9th there were only 21 confirmed cases of the virus in the country — “This isn’t going to get out of hand, right? Right?”. I don’t want to say it was ever taken lightly within the office, but the week began with the usual memes being sent around in the team group chat, a lot of which were focused on the virus. We were aware that it would eventually reach a stage at which we’d have to work from home, and this was openly discussed from day 1 in the office, but we had envisioned this being much further down the line — not during the first week of placement. As the week went on and national cases of the virus grew and grew, you could feel the changing atmosphere in the office. You could also see this altering atmosphere throughout the whole of Dundalk. Our office has a great view overlooking the main square in Dundalk and each day the square became increasingly desolate. We talked about how you could almost feel the anxiety in the air as the week went on. The angst was not helped by the positioning of our office, which is situated 2 floors above a new large GP practice comprising 4 GP’s, with which we share the only lift up to our office. As the week progressed the jokes about the virus dwindled, and the supply of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes grew evermore. Almost overnight hand sanitizer demand had increased to ridiculous levels. We had 2 members of the team who were on waiting lists to be called once the local pharmacy had hand sanitizer back in stock. One day a man was even selling hand sanitizer out of the back of his van in the square. The unease of an office place and of a nation was coming to a peak. The group chat which was usually a place of work talk, interesting articles, and its fair share of memes, had essentially become a coronavirus news hub.
Work began as normal on Thursday the 12th of March, the team now using the back stairs up to the office so as to avoid the potentially infectious lift. At 11 a.m. a leaked letter from The Department of Education and Skills was sent into the group chat stating that there would be a ‘full scale closure of all Third Level and Secondary Level education institutes and colleges’. Within the hour, Leo Varadkar had made his announcement outside the White House in Washington D.C., confirming just that. It’s difficult to describe the feeling in the office after the broadcast. The reality and seriousness of the situation that was about to unfold became very palpable. It almost felt as if someone had died. CEO Michelle McGuire held a meeting immediately after the announcement, allowing us to choose if we wanted to come into the office or work from home. The situation from within the office was handled directly and considerately, in a way that prioritized the health and well-being of the team. It was made clear that work was not a reason to be potentially putting our lives or the lives of our family members at risk. We were lucky enough to have worked in a company in which the work we do could easily be done from home. We decided together that everyone was going to work from home after lunch, and that if there were any essentials that we needed to get, now would be a good time to get them.
Within literal minutes of the Taoiseach’s announcement we were receiving pictures from friends and family showing all the local supermarkets almost full to capacity, with trolleys stacked higher than they would be at Christmas. Images of empty shelves where pasta, bread, tinned foods, and toilet roll had previously been were being shared around social media in the masses. I still don’t quite understand the whole toilet roll buzz. For a while, it looked as if the value of toilet roll was going to soar past that of Bitcoin. There was undoubtedly an apocalypse-type vibe.
When we left the office that day, we had no idea, and still have no idea, when we would be back to work together again. Luckily though, the people at the helm of GECKO had the foresight to have created a plan for just this event in the days previous to Varadkar’s announcement. This plan aimed to prioritise the employees’ health, but to continue working in a way that would be efficient and effective, despite having to work from home. There were still only 43 confirmed cases in Ireland at this time.
A lot has changed since the 12th of March. St. Patrick’s Day was cancelled for the first time since the spread of the Foot and Mouth disease in 2001. It was cancelled more-or-less across the globe, and for the first time in New York’s history their Paddy’s Day parade was called to a halt. There were a cohort of people at the time in Ireland who thought that the decision from the Irish Government had been rash, however, in retrospect, I doubt they will have any such thoughts. As of writing, there are now 2910 confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland alone, with 54 deaths — not just a statistic, but 54 Irish families that have lost a loved one, and will be in mourning for quite some time to come. The country has since went into lockdown, with only essential jobs being allowed to continue working, and only essential trips allowed to be made.
The GECKO team have now been working from home for over 2 weeks. Working from home has had its positives and its drawbacks, alike. I can stay in bed longer in the morning, which, as a student, is worth its weight in gold. I can move through tasks at my own pace, enabling a deeper understanding of the content I’m working on. I can stand up, move around, and stretch more often without being ‘that guy’ in the office. But undoubtedly the main negative is not having the sociability and banter that is so commonplace in the office. Sometimes the same banter in text format just doesn’t cut the bill.
The efficiency of work has not dropped at all when compared to working in the office. Personally, I feel like I’m getting more work done at home than I would do being in the office. Fortunately, I am a self-motivated person and, as such, I don’t get easily distracted. I wake up at the same time every morning, to keep a good routine in place during these strange times, and have my workplace set up in a way so that I do not have to be concerned with distractions. The actual work itself that I’ve been doing has not changed since leaving the physical presence of the office. Every morning we have a team call with all team members and set the tasks to be done for the day ahead in order of importance. Often there will be a second call later on in the day with just the tech team, so that we can synchronize what is being done. The communication has been very good from the offset, and you can still feel the comradery through the group calls.
Since working from home I’ve worked alongside the tech team in writing up and publishing the documentation for our current software version. I’ve continued testing the software and making bug reports alongside the team, and have been working on setting up virtual environments to enable further exploration of the code comprising the current software. Alongside these jobs, I’ve began increasing my skill set, taking online courses to learn the Laravel PHP framework, to get to the desired level to be able to create and maintain features of the system.
All in all, this internship has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, both for me and for the rest of the team. We’re blessed that we live in an age that so much work can be done from home, without too many negative consequences. Some friends of mine have ended up having their internships cancelled due to the whole situation. I’m very appreciative and grateful that this is something I haven’t had to endure. For now though, the work keeps coming, and not much has changed in terms of workload for the company. The Government has acted swiftly and appropriately in its handling of the virus so far, and I hope we as a nation can limit the damage that the virus will undeniably have on our people. I, for one, can not wait to get back to work.
About GECKO Governance
GECKO Governance provides a suite of Advisory, Consulting and Technology services to the crypto and asset management industries.
The company was founded in 2014 and built the first RegTech solution globally to integrate with Blockchain.
The team have over 120+ years combined financial & crypto compliance experience and are based at 3 global offices — New York, Ireland (HQ) and Sydney, Australia.
Our Advisory and Consulting business provides clients with definitive compliance solutions for their crypto and fund projects on a global basis.