The quarantine, that forced the work to stop or fundamentally changed its conditions, was a surprise for almost everyone. Someone faced big losses and stopped working, someone has been fighting for survival, while someone was able to surpass quarantine in a controlled manner and is now getting ready to get out of it.
As it turned out, quarantining is not an easy task. It is not enough to get back to the office, to the factory or restaurant, switch electricity, and resume work. Delo.ua and the TECHIIA group of companies are launching a special project to cover the most important aspects of post-quarantine work. In the first article, we describe how and due to what resources companies resume work after restrictions, and which of the experience of "quarantining" they decided to implement in their main business practices.
We Were Ready For Quarantine
No matter how strange it may seem, but not for everyone the new conditions were a complete surprise. Of course, no one knew exactly how things would change, but the most insightful heard the first bells ahead of time.
“We saw the first signs of an impending economic crisis back in November 2019. It was clear that the situation would worsen,” says Miroslava Trandash, the Managing Partner at MIRA ‒ top recruiting. “Yes, the coronavirus aggravated and accelerated everything. But the economic crisis was expected.”
And quarantine itself was also predicted. Someone predicted it earlier, someone ‒ later. Still, we do not live in an airless space.
“Somewhat around a week before quarantine, I saw it coming, observing colleagues from abroad. We switched to contactless payment, removed cash, switched to disposable tableware,” said Vadim Granovsky, owner of Coffee in Action.
Some were lucky to train to work in a regime close to quarantine, due to other circumstances. Alena Obukhovskaya from Arricano Group, that manages a large network of shopping centers, said that in 2019 the company’s central office was undergoing renovation, and employees had to work from home or other places, but not in the office. And the skills of distributed work had to be developed even then. That really helped out when quarantine restrictions began.
The founders of the international technology holding TECHIIA Oleg Krot and Yuriy Lazebnikov see the situation differently. Most of the holding's businesses are concentrated in IT, that is, remote work is not a problem for them. But the pandemic found partners during a working trip to the United States and they were stuck on another continent.
“The virus spread speed and the abolition of major events in Europe and the United States made a global crisis inevitable. But there was no lockdown yet, and Oleg and I needed to hold a series of meetings in Los Angeles, where we are building an esports arena. After yet another meeting, we learned that the US authorities were stopping flights to Europe and realized that we would stay here for a long time,” says TECHIIA’s Yuriy Lazebnikov. “But our powerful institution of regional directors helped keep everything under control.” We have offices in Ukraine, Cyprus, Los Angeles, and Beijing. Neither during nor after the epidemic will we be able to be in each of these regions in person or permanently. Therefore, we have built a strong regional government, which came in very handy during the quarantine.”
However, the keen mind of management and lucky coincidences did not become a lifeline. But it allowed softening the fall.
In general, despite the large losses and the uncertainty of the situation in the future, entrepreneurs acknowledge that the resumption of work from a management point of view was not a problem for them.
“Getting out of quarantine turned out to be much easier than getting into it,” says Mikhail Vasilenko from the Kovalska industrial and construction group. Although the company reduced production and adjusted the office remotely, it didn’t stop production and did not require to carry out revival procedures.
Gas stations, in its turn, did not stop selling fuel during quarantine restrictions, but still recorded a drop in sales. According to the Galnaftogaz concern, which develops a network of gas stations under the OKKO brand, in a number of regions, sales fell to 80%.
Thus, the main problem of the resumption of work was the widespread decline in markets. People and corporations are buying less. Yes, in some cases, the business relies on deferred demand, but it will be satisfied quickly, and the money will return much later.
The second problem is changing behavioral patterns. “We can divide our customers into two broad categories. The first ones do not wait for the resumption of the work of shopping centers, and flood us through social networks with the questions “Well, when?” The second ones have become afraid of large social spaces,” says Alena Obukhovskaya from Arricano.
This threatens some sectors of the economy. “For several years, we deliberately relied on the development of coffee catering. We served such large events as Leopolis Jazz Fest, iForum, and others. But if there is a second wave of a pandemic, the entire event industry will either transform or die,” believes Vadim Granovsky. People from this industry will fight for sure. But people will be afraid to find themselves in places where there are many other people. We sent all our service equipment to the warehouse. And I don’t hope to pick it up from there in the near future."
The third problem is uncertainty. First, quarantine was introduced for two weeks, and then it has been extended several times. In mid-May, many expected that on May 22 they would finally work, but representatives of private schools and some restaurateurs were sure that the ban would be extended until Summer. When the cancellation of the big part of restrictions was announced on May 22, it turned out that not all regions have complied with epidemiological standards. Serious intrigue unfolded in Kyiv, where, early in the morning on Saturday, May 23, the city did not meet the standards for launching the subway, and closer to noon, it suddenly began to comply. In such a situation, it is quite difficult for businesses to make any plans, but it is necessary to react situationally.
The majority of businessmen and top managers surveyed by Delo.ua admitted that it was impossible to develop a multi-stage complex strategy. And the point is not only that the authorities change their decisions on the go and do not give any clear criteria. Events around the world are developing unpredictably. Most decisions have to be made on the go, analyzing the risks afterward.
The most radical way out of this situation was a complete restart of the business.
“From the beginning of quarantine, we started to build our company again,” says Maria Banko from the Dima Borisov Restaurant Family. “The values, systematic approach, and intellectual capital have remained unchanged. We work out the details in the process: evaluate external changes, put out hypotheses, immediately test, make conclusions, and use what has worked out for us and scale it."
Everyone who works with people has to deal with fighting fears. Everybody is doing the same as the rest. New sanitary standards have become an integral feature both in the service sector and in industry. After all, not only customers but also employees are afraid to get infected.
Let me get this straight, the issue of human resources is extremely interesting and a separate material will be devoted to it; now we note that we just had to make a lot of efforts to save working teams. Some even used quarantine to headhunt employees by offering better conditions from those who could not keep them.
As for security, it’s not enough to provide a sense of safety; you need to ensure security itself.
“After 9/11 2001, the security requirements at airports increased a lot,” said Sergei Nikiforov, owner of Challenge Aero. “Now I expect something like this to happen with medical supervision. Everyone on the plane breathes the same air. How it will be organized and how much it will cost ‒ we don’t know yet. In the meantime, the way control is being currently performed is just fiction.
But no one intends to wait. Everyone who is ready to continue the business is looking for situational ways to solve current problems. They seek funds and resources for this.
“If we see that there is something to fight for, we carry on,” says Miroslava Trandash. “If there is a prospect, if we see it, then we can take the most difficult steps to save the cause. We can lose a lot but save the business. And then when the situation improves ‒ to get it back on track. But to play socialism is irresponsible."
Almost all interlocutors of Delo.ua agree with her. Businesses that can see the light at the end of the tunnel are ready to break off the tail. Borisov's family exempted its franchisees from royalties, the owners of Dream Town, a large Kyiv mall voluntarily refused the rent payments for the period of quarantine (except for maintenance payments). Those, who preserved profitable areas began to subsidize unprofitable businesses in which they continue to believe.
But the flip side of this strategy was giving up the secondary areas. Vadim Granovsky gave the best description of it: "We have left what we are best at."
This strategy has to have a separate chapter, because, as it turned out, it was not the obvious thing for many, even despite it is 2020. Even when the large and small companies, before the coronavirus outbreak, introduced cloud-based systems for internal document management and business process management, they put off the online communication with customers “for later”.
Even those who considered it necessary to conduct diligent marketing activities on social media, it was during quarantine that they began thinking of the well-adjusted organization of online sales.
Vadim Granovsky said that before quarantine they were willingly selling their goods via social networks, but it was more like blogging. Now they have come to the conclusion that this requires automation, formalization of processes, and well-developed logistics. On putting digitalization in communication with customers also says the Borysov's Family: “In the United States, even before quarantine, there were about 70% of such activities (booking, pre-order, delivery order, take away). Perhaps not on such a scale, but all this comes to us already."
Digitalization is becoming a lifesaver for both traditional and highly regulated industries. “Aviation officials do not welcome all kinds of undertakings. But when they were in quarantine themselves, they became more supportive,” notes Sergey Nikiforov. “Besides other activities, I have a flying school. Three classes a week. Previously, the theory was only in class in Kyiv. But during quarantine, I started to conduct groups online. And I even managed to significantly expand the geography of students. Of course, they will have to take practical classes at the airport. I also count on that."
Which industry was benefited from quarantine is a gaming and esports industry. For example, the Steam gaming platform broke popularity records and gathered more than 20 million players from around the world in one day. And esports has actually become the only legal sport in the world at that time.
“WePlay! Esports business card in the world of esports is a spectacular and vibrant esports offline show,” says Oleg Krot, Managing Partner at TECHIIA holding, which WePlay! is a part of. “This year we managed to hold two major tournaments, in Bukovel and Kyiv. So far, I had to abandon the remaining offline plans, and we switched our offices in Ukraine to remote work before the official quarantine began.”
The company decided to use the situation to the maximum benefit ‒ in just a week after the first day of the quarantine, we organized the world WeSave! Charity Play esports marathon. It was possible to collect more than $188,000, which were transferred to WHO partner funds for the creation of a vaccine against coronavirus. As a result, the company totally switched to online tournaments and held another one ‒ the international league in Dota 2, the ”WePlay! Pushka League”.
“Esports is being technological, dynamic, flexible, and has no boundaries. Similar values and approaches have the whole TECHIIA holding. And these approaches helped us confidently pass quarantine, save jobs, and even hire new employees. Now we are ready to return to offices in compliance with all sanitary standards. During quarantine, we became stronger and expanded our abilities. And some remote teams have become even more effective. The only thing that worries us right now is what purchasing power will be in the world,” adds Oleg Krot.
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