There is an old saying “When the going gets tough the tough get going” which can, in short, describe how I mostly felt during this year. It was a difficult year for nearly everyone on the planet. But even with all the problems the pandemic caused, it revealed some good things as well.
Rethinking how to work
The year 2020 exposed our core values, what we are made of as human beings, consequently as companies too. In a time of trouble, you step back and think less on what you are doing but more on why and especially how you are doing it. Simon Sinek is probably thinking “I told you so” :).
Due to the pandemic, a lot of changes happened suddenly in the business world that forced companies to rethink how they are doing their work. In some sectors (like tourism, travel and hospitality) companies are in deep trouble, unable to even deliver their services, in other sectors (like e-commerce or online communication) companies have scaling challenges due to high demand. But all of those companies needed to focus on the “how” as many things usually taken for granted are being challenged today. How to collaborate remotely? How to do sales and business development remotely? How to maintain a cohesive company culture? How to save employees from going crazy working home alone?
In our business the challenges were not the work itself, we had plenty. By keeping our client portfolio diverse (different sectors and different countries) Netgen was not hit by budget cuts or similar problems. Our challenge was to make sure the overall team, including employees, partners and clients, go through this as smooth as possible. On one side making sure the work environment is safe, on the other side giving the possibility to people to collaborate and work as a team.
Some companies, noticing an increase in efficiency of remote work, quickly jumped on the “cutting cost” ship by pushing everyone remote, reducing office space, etc. I think this is short-sighted and not in the company’s best interest. Yes, people can be more efficient in isolation when they have well-defined tasks, but they also need face to face time to clash their ideas with colleagues' ideas to get to even better ideas. Not to mention onboarding, coaching, and other knowledge transfers which are way better to do in person.
Even before the pandemic, we at Netgen were flexible regarding work duration and work location and we still think this is the best approach - giving people a place for collaboration in the office and option to work remotely when needed. This kind of flexibility proved to be important during this year, so there were no big shocks while being “enforced” to remote work.
Other people traits groomed before while things were normal proved to be important when people are distant from each other:
- Responsibility and timely communication – responsible behaviour of all involved is the cornerstone of any serious work, especially when remote. If people are focused on agreed results and raise any possible issues on time, there is a very good chance for work to bear fruits. This is common sense, but you can’t take it for granted, so we stem accountability from all involved
- Professionalism, independence and critical thinking – the goal of any employee is to behave professionally, seek mastery and work more and more independently over time. Again, this is common sense, but what eludes often is that every professional needs to question their own or others’ views, as well as to be able to accept and share critique in a constructive way. This builds trust and it is a prerequisite for remote work.
- Passion for learning and self-improvement – there is no learning without passion, one needs to like what they do to learn more and do more of what they like. Learning and getting better is never an end game, one should persist to always be curious.
- Empathy and eagerness to help – one super strong link can’t save the chain, every team needs to enable growth of all of its members. To do this, people need to be open to help others and be considerate over and over again. These traits are hard to cultivate and even harder to maintain in remote teams.
- Flexibility and positive thinking – projects never go as planned. There are always unknowns and unpredictable circumstances – plus, people are not robots. So some flexibility is necessary to overcome issues that will arise. Thinking in positive terms and not succumbing to the situation proved to be paramount during 2020.
Everything we do is based on people. Our company is nothing without people. Also, we in Netgen work with people from partner companies and we work for people from client companies. So whatever we want to do starts and ends with how people interact. By cultivating mentioned traits in our people it was easier for us to deal with this unprecedented year.
A decade of growing up
Btw, this year is also the end of a great decade for us. Ten years ago, Netgen started to work with clients and partners outside of Croatia, we engaged in the community much more, started to work on open source much more, etc. Netgen grew from a 10 people team in 2010 to a 25 people team in 2020 + several usual partners and interns.
During the decade our why became clear over the years: We work as a team to help the web to be better for the users and easier for the makers.
That’s it. Everything comes together in that sentence that explains the most important bits and pieces of Netgen – build teams and partnerships, join forces with our clients to achieve their goals, make useful tools for us and our peers, cherish the web as a medium and technology, sustain open source, share with communities. This remained constant amid all the problems this year.
Looking forward to 2021
With all of its bad reputation, the year 2020 turned out to be more enlightening than many others. With all the losses and pitfalls, everything we’ve learned from it will make us more resilient and wiser in 2021.
Have a great upcoming year and take care!