Dmytro Shymkiv, Chairman of «Darnitsa Group» Board of Directors
How much are companies and employees ready to return to work as normal after the pandemic?
I believe that some part of companies and businesses are ready. Many people will run to the offices because it is quite difficult to work at home with children and household chores combining all that with work. For many people it has become a great challenge to work in such conditions. The latest study “Work performance” from Microsoft shows that during the pandemic the load on people increased, because they communicate more, have online meetings, work 24/7, as a result during the day they try to solve household problems and in the evenings start to read letters and deal with various work requests which massed up during the day. Here the employer faces the question of the working efficiency.
As for people, they are divided into those who are “for” and “against” working at home. Some people feel uncomfortable working at home, and for the others it is comfortable, because they can stay in their favorite pajamas all day long. But all the same it encouraged digitalization of the society, which is gradually becoming natural for us. People are no longer afraid to use new applications, programs and even don’t feel barriers while communicating online. As a result, companies have started to use technology more in their work. Also, in the post-Covid period, we will face large amounts of data on electronic devices, which can cause certain challenges for cybersecurity.
If we talk about culture, it will change fundamentally. Although, some still want to return to the way things were before, it won’t happen. The working process will be blended. Companies will reconsider the need in office space, as well as the employees’ houses will change, because people will start to design them taking into account the places or areas for work.
As far as communication is concerned, I believe we can’t replace real-life communication, as only one-to-one conversation sets the dynamic to all processes, so it must be. I don’t believe in a complete transition to digitalization, because sometimes a person needs to see colleagues, spend time in the office. Therefore, socialization will gain in popularity. It will be slightly different in the developed countries, because their attitude to their own safety and the others ‘safety is radically different. State guardianship of the citizens will also differ. All this directly shows social relations. If we have a look on Germany and the USA, we will see people wearing masks, because they think not only about themselves, but for the others. Unfortunately, in our country not all understand this because we are still in the process of forming a social agreement and responsibility in society.
What personal habits, acquired during the pandemic, would you like to keep?
During the pandemic I started to spend more time with my family and children. These new conditions allowed us to communicate more. If to speak about work, I am more immersed into the studying, in particular into medicine, new trends, issues of immunology and genetics.
Thanks to such self-improvement you can see new horizons on how the society and business can develop. Instead, new skills in the company are system opportunities, which we began to actively apply. New opportunities are constantly opening up, however, there were some moments when we were wrong, but this is also an experience.
Besides, the pandemic period taught us to make decisions quickly and act. Even though, we were digitalized company and before, it seemed to me it was not enough, our rate of progress was still slow. I fired the IT director, replaced many people, and reformatted the team. It is very important to not only wait until the pandemic is over, but to change something and not to be afraid of changes. Also, one should not wait for the moment when everything returns to what it was before, because this will not happen, because everyone has taken a step forward. Many companies nowadays have got stuck on this and while waiting they lose the dynamics, motivation and employees.
Don’t you think that some companies should have closed at that time?
One example of such a company which did not play the game “we are half open” was the famous chain of restaurants, which belongs to one of my friends…. The owner estimated that it was better to close everything for the period of quarantine and fire some part of staff than invest money in reorganization of his business according to modern challenges. Here I agree that for some companies such a step was the best option.
Looking back on the past year, what would you have done differently?
We were quite demanding of our management, but we should have been even more demanding. When our company mobilized, everyone caught euphoria because we had notably pulled away in comparison with our business rivals. Here is the danger, as when the team can see the achievements, it relaxes. That is why the competitions to stay ahead of the curve should be constant.
Many of our competitors used the time of the pandemic to change tactics. Yes, they have lost some part of the market, but they managed to come up. Now I believe that we should have made a decision about changing the team members earlier. I value human relations and my team, but in crisis situations there is no room for chance, you just need to act.
During the crisis, I would have also increased investment in new areas and products. So many things could have been done faster. Why am I talking about speed? Because at that moment many companies stopped working and opportunities cannot be lost, especially new opportunities. Uncertainty kept me from investing, but now I am convinced that I should not have been afraid.
Workers often feel tired and irritated due to constant stress. How do you think a leader should act in such a situation and manage people effectively?
You need to talk to people and it is better to do it face-to-face. When we discuss a problem through the screen, everyone will try to seem better, like in the mirror, but in offline meetings they share the real thing. During the meetings you also need to explain your steps, your decisions and what worries you at the moment. At this point, there is understanding and connection, so it is better to find moments which motivate your employees.
Sometimes there are cases when the company is close to be shutdown. It is better to tell the truth at once because the agony of uncertainty strains relations: people are stressed; they don’t know if they have to work more or look for something else, this can demotivate the most. Therefore, under any circumstances, the team needs regular communication.
Denmark and Scandinavia have a tradition of Friday breakfast. I really liked it, so I brought it to Ukraine and introduced it to my companies. So while enjoying coffee with croissants, employees of a certain sector, management, share with other team members all the events that happened during the week. It should be not a report but just a story. In this way, people have a wider horizon than their work. Some of them make conclusions: “I thought I have big problems, but others have even bigger”. It is important for people to be aware of the work in general, because that is how they define themselves against others ‘successes or failures.
When people are not motivated, it is necessary to look for something that motivates them. Everybody has a purpose when he/she starts working for a company. So it is important to find out what the purpose is and help to achieve it. It is difficult. During the joint meetings I always think about what I should tell my employees. I try to speak about something that makes them smile, makes them think what is important to them. So they become more open and you hear what really worries them, what they want to improve or what they lack. These requests need to be responded to.
Does a leader feel annoyed and unmotivated in such circumstances?
I don’t know anyone in Ukrainian or foreign companies who felt good in such circumstances. Everyone has his/her own worries, because we all are human beings and we all have our own problems. During the pandemics and back to work, I shared all my mistakes, if any, with the team. Joint discussions helped to understand each other and alleviated the problems that loomed over me.
How will the “company-employee” relationship change in post-pandemic times?
Employee digital skills will become common sight in the company. I remember when earlier I asked my employees if they know English and if they can work with equipment. Now these things are not in question for me anymore-they should be as standard. I believe that digital skills will also be “by default”, because this way companies will not spend time and money on employee training. The second issue will be the flexibility of the work schedule and work from the office or home. I am convinced that we will leave the office format only partially.
What new values, traditions of corporate culture and work with people will we see in the world that defeated COVID-19?
Vaccination, safety and health monitoring will be the norm. All companies follow this practice. Therefore, the issue of employee insurance in companies that have not done that before will be a decisive choice. In response, employees will also demand a flexible schedule and suggest their view on the implementation of this plan.
Interestingly, the work environment for women and men during this period is very different. Women need feelings, conversations, hugs and communication. Instead, it is not an urgent need for men, so it is easier for them to perceive remote working. And this should be taken into account, because women will faster be ready to return to offices. In general, I believe that a pandemic is adaptability to evolution. Companies, and certainly people need to develop. You don’t have to be a dinosaur waiting for the ice age to end – record that thought in your memoirs.
The speaker was Sofia Opatska