Quarantine lessons: how to do more with less


It is said that if an organization has the right setup, location doesn’t matter. The last two months seem to have made it possible to verify this statement quite literally and to make sure it is correct. According to Paulius Samoška, the Country Manager of Centric IT Solutions Lithuania, the quarantine very quickly shifted priorities and allowed to clearly experience the importance of the organization's culture and the quality of internal communication.

In fact, the upcoming transformation in March was not entirely unexpected. A few weeks before the start of the official quarantine, the Kaunas branch administration and internal IT teams had their own ideas and scenarios - what will happen if it will be imposed; they discussed and prepared.

"One thing, though, is to talk about the possibility, and quite another to hear the news before the weekend that we won't be back in the offices from Monday. So, there was, of course, some of that inner commotion and mild stress typical of reorientation. I think we have been quite successful in adapting to change because we are a growing but, to date, quite an optimal-sized organization. Most of our team leaders have been working in the company since day one, so they have strong relationships with colleagues, and this has helped them communicate with each other very quickly and efficiently. Therefore, from the perspective of the organization, the transition to remote work here, in Kaunas, went very smoothly," P. Samoška, the Country Manager, says.

The fact that internal communication has become the cornerstone of situation management is confirmed by Julija Stanaitytė, Personnel Coordinator at Centric IT Solutions Lithuania. She emphasizes that it is very important to follow the golden mean principle when choosing a communication strategy. Not enough communication frightens and creates the bogeymen of uncertainty but too much of it overwhelms with the flow of information, when it becomes difficult to pick out what really matters.

The Crisis Management Team has been formed

As part of a global company, Kaunas Centric was able to use the experience of colleagues from other countries and share its own. Since Lithuania was one of the first to introduce quarantine in Europe, Lithuanians had to adapt to it faster than branches of other countries.

"Our headquarters in the Netherlands promptly initiated a team called the Crisis Management Team, made up of heads of all the countries' branches. Initially, there were as many as three meetings a week, which later became rarer and shrunk to one meeting per two weeks. We also inform each other about the situation in a standardized manner once a week, but we think that in the near future this frequency will no longer be needed. During these meetings, we not only hear recommendations and instructions but also provide the latest information about the work of our units and the situation in our countries - what are the restrictions, how the businesses are changing due to the virus and what are the general market trends," Paulius says.

One of the most striking changes that has taken place during quarantine and continues to this day is the change in communication between employees themselves. They communicate using more varied means and mixed communication channels.

"I think that every employee tried to create as much communication and socialization as possible. That is why we have this result that while being further apart from each other, we started looking for - and discovered - different communication channels and the need for communication did not diminish but noticeably increased," Julija shares her impressions.

According to Paulius, this change was dictated by the size and internal culture of the organization, "I saw that some companies sent rather pessimistic letters - capable of causing unfounded fear or panic - to their employees during the first weeks of quarantine. I really wanted to avoid that, so, I would even say that during the first weeks the communication was moderate. And middle managers, very accurately and directly, pointed out the necessary highlights for their teams, so that people could clearly see the image and feel a constant pulse and most importantly - feel as a part of the company. Knowing what's going on gives you a psychological sense of security."

Did the quarantine period allow some respite from the work? Paulius shakes his head smiling - definitely not. Not only the projects didn't stop, but they also became more intense than before.

Julija agrees with him. According to an internal employee survey, most people consider this period to be extremely productive; they managed to do much more during the same period than before quarantine.

Undoubtedly, quarantine has forced to review processes, optimize, and change them. According to Paulius, it should not be forgotten that psychology and relationships make up a large part of the business.

"I think quarantine has thrown people into a situation which has forced them to shift priorities and learn to do things differently. It turned out that some things that seemed important and consumed a lot of time before, weren't really that important at all and not worth all that time. In addition, quarantine allowed us to simplify many things. Basically, we did not have the luxury to do things in a complicated way and we had to learn how to do more with less."

The Country Manager of Kaunas-based Centric also notices that working from home has shown a real level of trust in each other within the organization, “I am really proud of my team, which showed maturity and proactivity during this period."

We will learn to work both ways

If quarantine has taught us to work from home, then the post-quarantine world will require us to learn how to work both ways. It is already clear that a significant number of people will choose to spend significantly more time working remotely rather than in the office. This means we will have to learn to work with those who sit in the office and those who work from home or other places.

"We asked our employees if they would like to work more from home after the quarantine. About 80 percent replied that they would like to work remotely at least 1-2 days a week. I think that my colleagues soon realized that the processes of work organization do not suffer when working from home and there are many advantages - the time you save traveling to and from the office and can dedicate to your family, relaxation, and leisure," Julija notes.

Meanwhile, Paulius thinks that these tendencies, which are common not only to Centric but to many companies in various industries, could change the underlying approach to corporate offices.

"We can rightly raise a discussion: what will the offices look like in the future? Do we really need such a layout of work areas and zones? Maybe it's worth thinking about shifting workspaces, which would not be assigned to a specific employee, but, by rotation, the one who is working in the office that day would take up the place. Maybe organizations don't need that much space and empty chairs anymore?" the Country Manager asks while acknowledging that, nevertheless, no one will deny the need for an office. According to Paulius' firm belief, the company's culture is born in the office, which isn't and cannot be created only remotely. Interpersonal relationships in offices remain important, so a new balance will have to be found in the office's life.