Over the last five years, remote work has been associated primarily with freelancing. Today, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies from a wide variety of industries are switching to this format of work globally. Employees of companies that have not embraced home offices before have to adapt to this new approach to achieving business goals. Team members must take greater responsibility for managing their time and complying with cybersecurity policies.
The AsstrA international corporate group had been taking advantage of remote work opportunities long before the current health crisis emerged. Therefore, transitioning to entirely home-based work was smooth and painless with no interrupted business processes.
Dmitry Lagun, AsstrA CEO, discusses the international logistics group’s approach to remote work as a way to safely and productively wait for the spead of the virus to slow down.
AsstrA first instituted remote work in 2008. Since then, thanks to IT technologies, employees can serve customers, interact with suppliers, and conduct video conferences from home. So now, when some AsstrA teams have switched entirely to remote work mode, there have been no last-minute surprises for team members. Their workflows continue unchanged and, as a big benefit, there is no extra stress. Predictability and familiarity are big pluses, especially when many countries are on the edge of national panic.
The AsstrA team in Shanghai was the first to begin working from home starting in January 2020. Since mid-February, AsstrA team members in Bergamo have all been working remotely. Recently, AsstrA’s offices in Warsaw, Vilnius, and Prague have been operating entirely in home office mode. Branch managers are closely monitoring their local situations and strictly and promptly adhering to official recommendations. At the moment, AsstrA’s representative offices in Kiev and Almaty have been the latest to begin working from home.
What difficulties did you face when switching to home office mode, and how did you overcome them?
It helps that we had already started thinking about the future of technology and taking advantage of new opportunities 12 years ago. Some objective difficulties include the bandwidth offered by Internet providers, data center capacity, fail-safing communication channels, and stabilizing systems and response times.
These are tasks to be solved via centralized IT infrastructure. And of course security is a key issue. We particularly appreciate the efforts of our IT service team, who have kept us up with the times – and sometimes even ahead of them. This kind of infrastructure cannot be built in a hurry. We have taken a steady, balanced approach to making big investments in it over time.
What tools have helped your team “disappear” from the office?
We took a major step forward by transitioning from in-house developed solutions to a comprehensive ERP system from a leading vendor. It gives our IT architecture an entirely new look. This was a deliberate move to make sure our company can meet modern challenges.
What is the best way to organize remote work from the employer's point of view?
It is important to build a motivation system that puts results first. That will keep employees involved in achieving the company’s success. This is extremely important when working remotely. You need to implement time-tracking processes that display things like who is working, who is on vacation, who is sick, and who is on a business trip. This is useful to build a mechanism for evaluating the performance of both departments and individuals, if your business model requires it.
Agile methodology – i.e. ways to work iteratively with a project-based approach – also helps you switch to remote work with minimal complications. Employees and managers must be able to work as a team even when they are not in close proximity. Departments and working groups should be ready for "virtual" meetings and planning sessions.
Today, remaining calm is a top priority. Crises pass, and this one will not be an exception. In China, it took about 2.5 months to bring the pandemic under control, after which time tensions have largely subsided. The AsstrA team in Shanghai has returned to work in the office after the local quarantine ended, as did most Chinese companies. The situation in China is gradually normalizing. We expect a similar pattern in Europe. The AsstrA team won’t stop working. Today, logistics is more important than ever. Someone has to deliver the essential goods that consumers look for on store shelves!