Lessons learned in 2020

Why lessons learned in 2020 mean a stronger Goodlord engineering team in 2021

Goodlord's engineering team learned a lot in 2020 through its reaction to the pandemic - both what the team got right, and what it could have done differently. Donovan Frew, CTO at Goodlord, believes that all of these lessons will stand the team in good stead in 2021.

Donovan Frew

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2020 was a year of ups and downs for everyone. For the Goodlord tech team, things were no different. We got a few things wrong along the way - but we got a lot more right. Here are some of the challenges we faced, the achievements we made, the lessons we learned and why I believe 2020 was a success for us in the end .

Redefining priorities

Delivery and agility are two things that we pride ourselves on and they turned out to be our biggest asset at the start of the pandemic. With the government issuing a stay at home order, it was obvious that more tenancies would be renewing as current tenants chose to stay put rather than looking for somewhere new to live. Our platform already supported renewals - but only if the tenancy had initially been created on our platform.

We quickly built the capability to renew any tenancy through our platform, regardless of how it was created - and we saw the number of renewals passing through our platform nearly triple at the height of lockdown. This new functionality made sure that our customers had the right tool to ensure business continuity under lockdown conditions, allowing them to process renewals more efficiently.

Throughout the pandemic there would be multiple further occasions of the team rallying together to deliver timely solutions in what felt like record time.

Investing in the engineering team

We closed a funding round at the start of the year, to expand the scope of our offering and our reach within the lettings industry by strengthening our product and engineering team. Recruitment started strong, with candidates attracted to the things that set our tech team apart:

  • Our culture - a strong focus on delivery, a commitment to professional growth and uncompromising inclusivity.
  • Our infrastructure - aws, docker, kubernetes, circleci, automated tests throughout with phpunit, behat and nightwatch.
  • Our use of up to date technology - PHP (7.4) and Symfony (5.2) on the backend, and React (16.13) and Typescript (3.8) on the front end.

When COVID-19 struck, we made our first mistake. To manage our cash flows while there was so much uncertainty in the air, we chose to furlough one of our four squads and halt recruitment.

We quickly learned that the Goodlord platform was in fact exactly what agents and tenants needed in a socially distanced world. With our technology, the entire rental transaction could be done digitally in a safe, secure and compliant manner. Where we needed to double down on our technology we hesitated and the result was that our recruitment was set back for the rest of the year.

Our team works well together and we achieved our objectives despite the shortfall in manpower - but we still plan to continue expanding our team into 2021 to make best use of our capabilities.

Remote working

We also learned a lot from our initial response to working from home. When I joined Goodlord, I transformed our team into a remote-friendly one to provide flexibility and attract diverse, geographically dispersed talent.

Meeting rooms had high quality A/V equipment, meetings were planned with timezones in mind and important decisions were always recorded. We had developers that were permanently remote or working two or three days a week from home. Transitioning to a fully remote environment therefore seemed like just more of the same - so we didn’t immediately implement any specific measures.

We quickly realised that a lot of our communication and team bonding came from unplanned, micro-interactions which were lost when we switched to working from home. Miscommunication increased, some people started feeling isolated and there was a general feeling of things not being right.

Our fantastic People team introduced initiatives to combat the struggles of working from home, including virtual coffee breaks, socials, karaoke, exercise classes, daily challenges, etc. Lockdown was still difficult but we got better at supporting each other and making it work for us.

These are just a few of our highs and lows from 2020. It was a huge challenge for all of us but in the end we emerged with a stronger team, better technology and happier users - and some key takeaways:

  • Never ease up on recruitment.
  • Working from home can be difficult but the technology is there to make it effective.
  • You really learn about your team and culture in a crisis.
  • Even a pandemic won’t slow us down.

Want to join Goodlord's engineering team? Check out the jobs we have available.

About the author

Donovan Frew
Chief Technology Officer
Donavan brings to Goodlord over 20 years' experience of building software and technology teams and has most recently occupied a similar role for six successful years at Secret Escapes.
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