Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: Lessons Learned in 2020

Broadly speaking, 2020 has shown us that DataArt, as a company, is fundamentally secure and well-prepared for crises, and can weather stormy seas with confidence. It has also shown us that a crisis can highlight what needs to be changed – be it rethinking the future of office spaces, going remote only, or standardizing a process that until recently was only an experiment. Below we outline some of the most important takeaways from this year in greater detail.
6 min read
16/12/20
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By Alexei Miller
Managing Director at DataArt
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By Eugene Goland
President and CEO
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Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: Lessons Learned in 2020

Flexibility

Once again, we see how important it is to be flexible — with clients, with your own employees, and with internal processes. The past year has been chaotic. Some of our clients have faced more challenges than others; some companies/industries have experienced significant distress, while others have attempted to leverage the environment to their benefit.

Our response to the pandemic was to begin negotiating with clients right away to establish conditions that would work for everyone. Looking back now, it is clear that we succeeded, and the deals we made were to the benefit of all involved. We were able to offer discounts to clients facing challenges, while maintaining our own bottom line results. Our key takeaway is that it is critical to be able to negotiate with clients and employees in a flexible way, and be bold enough to take a unique approach when it is called for.

Fast vs Right

Another big takeaway: it is more important to be fast than to be right. Circumstances change so quickly that no one can know for sure what is right, and the ‘wait & see’ approach no longer works. Accept that there is no shame in being wrong and be ready to admit mistakes and change course.

An organization must truly be ‘alive and breathing’ in order to turn adversity to its advantage.

Panic-Free

We learned that even during periods of great uncertainty we do not give in to panic. We made the decision to retain our entire workforce. We consider it our greatest achievement that, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have kept our entire workforce, more than 3500 employees, working full-time. This approach to work has provided security to all of our employees and their families when they needed it most, even as other companies furloughed or laid off employees. In retrospect, we see that this was the right decision not only in terms of humanity but strategy as well. The IT industry has bounced back quickly, and the demand for IT skills has never been higher. Our ability to meet our clients’ needs is as strong as ever.

Don’t Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

A crisis can be a good opportunity to take a step back, look at your own company and ask questions about what works, what does not, and what needs to be changed. Re-building is a key element for any growing company. Our last crisis was ten years ago, meaning that there were plenty of issues that might need re-thinking. This is precisely what we have done over the course of 2020. The COVID-19 crisis gave us a chance to make necessary changes. For example, we restructured our marketing-sales teams, as well as account management, and we have put forward a new initiative called ‘Better.’ The name is perhaps self-explanatory but the key idea is to focus on continuous improvement and strengthen our processes and communications around the word to be ‘better’ in terms of both operations and communications. Better accounts, better corporate services, better professionalism, better sales projects, better marketing communications, and better support.

Remote and Virtual-First

Remote work has proved to be a massive experiment in behavioral change and has brought about a revolution in the way we work. As Warren Buffett said, “only when the tide goes out do you see who was swimming naked.”

In a world where remote work became the norm overnight, our way of working – hyper-distributed, based on human relationships rather than rigid structures – suddenly became the only way to work effectively.

It turned out that we were well-equipped for the change. DataArt is one of a very few companies which had its first engineer in Russia and its first client – in the United States. DataArt was remote from day one – this year we just needed to scale up. The companies that clung to the ‘old way of working’ turned out to be swimming naked. We saw that it is not only possible to survive the pandemic, but to create impressive new technology and provide great customer service in a flat, distributed, remote world. That said, we will be implementing a 100% remote policy going forward. Employees will not be attached to any specific office and will work entirely remotely. What was once the exception has now become the rule, and this will create positive changes in our employee value proposition.

Virtual-Ready

Transitioning to a ‘remote/virtual-first’ model can be smooth if a company has certain processes in place. The transition has been smooth for us because:

  • We have always had a culture that puts people and trust first. At DataArt, trust is prioritized. The crisis has shed light on how vital trust is.
  • Our technology and business-model has always allowed multiple modes of working with a strong emphasis on virtual collaboration.
  • Our InfoSec & Compliance has been well-equipped and ready for remote work. During the crisis, we saw a huge surge in hacking and phishing attacks – but we were prepared. The key lesson: never forget the basics, security processes have to be strong.
  • As opposed to our competition, DataArt’s managers and team-leads have always known how to manage, evaluate performance, and motivate their teams remotely.

Office Spaces

We now see that the role of office spaces has to change. Big open spaces might become history, and we are now working with architects who will help us transform our offices globally. Smaller and cozier offices might be the way to go.

People-First. Virtual-Second

For us, regardless of the crisis, our core People-First principle remains intact.

Throughout 2020, our highest priority was to take care of our employees by offering security (our value proposition), reliability (conducting surveys and asking what they need), and space (access to communities and/or offline group events).

The access to communities and group events, as well as to the DataArt helpline available for any mental health concerns, has proven to be pivotal in helping employees remain at the top of their game. The 2020 pandemic has shown us that it is all about humans and human relationships. Human relations are complex, and a company’s role is to be a mediator. The pandemic has clearly highlighted the inequalities not only in business and industries but in society in general. For those who are able, remote work has allowed people to keep their jobs and even work outside cities in secluded areas. It is important to remember that not everyone has this opportunity. Going forward, it is critical that we bear this mind and look for new ways to ensure a more just and equitable working environment for all employees.

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