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Supervising The Field from The Couch: Lessons from Leading a Tech Team During COVID 19

COVID-19 has been devastating. It has brutally affected the day-to-day habits across the world. In the beginning when I first heard of this virus, it was only in China. At the time, I couldn’t even imagine that the pandemic could spread this fast and across the planet in March 2020, while we had been seeing thousands infected in other countries thousands, the pandemic reached our country, Rwanda. It was a scary situation, after seeing what the virus had done in much more developed countries, I was quite worried on our government being ready to appropriately respond.

Thanks to God, my fears were soon put to rest. Our government was well prepared to the eventuality! From then on, measures to curb the spread of COVID19 in Rwanda started, and those measures started affecting our work. They have been the new normal until now and we have had to adapt our way of working.

Before the pandemic, as the lead of the technical department, I frequently visited ongoing production sites for supervision and quality assurance. It was easy to move across the country, cross from one district to the next without giving it much thought., I could depart from home early in the morning at5am and return later in the evenings toward 11pm after site visits. It used to not matter how far from Kigali sites happened to be.

It used to be easy to call face to face meetings, to gather my technicians for critical design and progress meetings. I still believe, these face-to-face meetings are the best way to make sure that the transmitted message was well received. With connection issues, and the fact that communication is reduced to a voice, I have found that messages don’t quite go across as well as in a face-to-face meeting.

In April 2020 the whole country was put in total lockdown. For the first time of our existence as a company, we had to work and collaborate on different projects that were going on but do it 100% remotely. We have always been online with our different company software and communication tools, but for the first time, these tools were used for everything. As a company that provides essential service, we were allowed to continue some of the field work while our office remained closed.

This was very challenging since as a team, we had always collaborated in physical meetings. I had to adapt. All reporting process had to be reviewed to ensure that the quality of the work be maintained though field supervision was reduced. We moved from me going to field to evaluate what is happening, to only receiving videos and pictures of what is happening on field.

Supervising my team from home was a very challenging task. In the first place some of my team members were not keen to technology and reporting was becoming an issue for them. I have then to spend hours per day training and re-training my team member on the ways of reporting and emphasized the quality of the report that I needed.

For instance, we had to adapt all the reporting that were physically brought to the office into online reporting. mWater, a tool we use for our data collection helped us in achieving this. Even our checklists, which have always been physical documents, were moved into a digital format.

From design parameter to production checklist, materials request forms and then to handover/completion reports, all documents were converted to online form that technicians could fill as they go.

Of course, challenges are still arising, and we are working harder to overcome them. We are still learning. COVID-19 has been a brutal but good teacher.

As it’s said, one must learn by experience, and this pandemic helped me know the art of distance supervision and improved our reporting processes massively.

Hirwa Christian

Why is this important?

“As a youth-led company, we have always had and enjoyed our digital tools. However, these were always complimented and supplemented by our ability to connect in the physical world. COVID19 challenged us to try to be only digital. Our reporting has improved for sure, and we have gotten better at supervising through pictures, videos and chat messages. I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t wait to be back to our old normal, to connect in person once more. I also know as a leader; we are taking quite a bit of lessons from COVID19 that make us a better

company” – Christelle Kwizera


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