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Top 7 actions the Aliz team has taken to deal with the Covid pandemic crisis in the last 2 years

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Zsuzsanna Henk | March 31, 2022

5 Minutes Read

Covid-19 first appeared in our lives more than 2 years ago. The Covid pandemic has had a huge impact on the global economy. Many businesses have been hit hard, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). And even if companies have overcome the ensuing financial difficulties, Covid has changed how they engage their employees.

How did the Aliz Team respond to these challenges? What did we learn in the past 2 years? How were we - as a 100- employee IT business - able to deal with this crisis and end up even stronger, both financially and team-wise?

Aliz Team solutions to deal with the Covid pandemic

1. We retained the whole team.

At the beginning of the crisis, there was a lot of uncertainty. As a company that provides professional services, we depend a lot on our customers. We didn't know how deeply our clients would be affected, whether they would be able to pay for our ongoing services, or whether they would order new workloads from us.

The company’s management made it very clear from the beginning that their priority was to keep every employee in work. Our regular annual salary review is in February with salaries effective from March 1 every year. As the insecurity was quite high in March 2020, and although new salaries had been decided, these new salaries were not implemented as in previous years. Instead, the 2019 salaries were retained BUT the cumulated difference was to be paid at the end of every quarter if we achieved our financial targets.

The goal was to make sure that no one had to absorb a cut in salary and no one had to be let go. The initiative was fully supported by everyone in the company. Everyone understood why we were doing it and agreed that keeping the team together should be our top priority. Fortunately, 2020 turned out very well (we grew our income by 50%). Salary increases were paid each quarter. Eventually, our existing customers were able to pay their invoices and we acquired a lot of new customers as well. As a result, from March 2021 this security measure was discontinued.

2. We continued our transparent management to assure employees about their job security.

When a crisis like this hits, the natural reaction is to feel insecure. What will happen to the company? What will happen to my job? You can provide the best online yoga class in the morning or the best online pub experience after work, but if employees are uncertain about their future at the company, it’s all for nothing. To tackle this feeling of insecurity, the management at Aliz introduced weekly all-staff video calls. Before the Covid pandemic, we only had quarterly ones.

Employees welcomed this practice; the participation rate was almost always 100%. We discussed the status of our customers, whether any payments were at risk (e.g. customers in the travel industry), and if yes, how much reserve we needed to mitigate such risks.

As the world got more used to living in a pandemic, and the business environment became less volatile, weekly all-staff calls became unnecessary. With a better understanding of the value of these forums, instead of reverting to quarterly meetings, we now meet monthly.

3. We balanced business between geographical regions and industries.

We are in the fortunate situation of operating in multiple geographical regions. As a consequence, it was possible for us to focus on South East Asia when the number of Covid pandemic cases was worse in Europe, and vice versa.

Also, because of the nature of the professional service business and the multiple industries we operate in, we were able to balance between different industries. When, for example, aviation companies cut their budgets for IT projects, we focused more on e-commerce that was thriving due to the Covid pandemic.

As a result, our growth didn’t stop during Covid-19. If anything, it was stronger than ever: our income grew 50% from 2020 to 2021 and 50% from 2021 to 2022.

4. We maintained our hybrid office.

We have Aliz teams at multiple locations around the world. These locations/countries have had different Covid restrictions all the time, so handling every location the same way was not possible. Let’s focus on our office in Hungary, the largest of our three regional headquarters.

Remote work and home office were not new to us. We were already flexible in this matter. But before the Covid pandemic, the default way of working was still regularly coming to the office. Working mostly from home was a new experience for the Aliz community as well. The situation reversed. The default way of working changed to the home office setup and working from the office became the exception. To create a proper working environment in the home office as well, we ensured that everyone has a good office chair and monitor at home, too.

We have never wanted to close the office entirely, not even before the vaccinations. People have different life situations and preferences. There were always some colleagues who found it important to be able to come to the office. It could be because there was not enough space at home for everyone to be able to work there, or because someone was alone at home all the time. We continuously monitored the Covid case numbers and regulated the number of colleagues allowed in the office accordingly.

After the vaccinations became widely available, we decided to keep the hybrid office setup, only with more office presence. What kind of setup to choose is a major decision for every company. We assessed our colleagues’ preferences, what would be the best for the company and the Aliz community as well, what kind of setup would best fit our core values, and decided accordingly.

5. We put employees’ mental and physical health first.

From the beginning of the Covid pandemic, we introduced additional hygiene measures in the office and paid extra attention to our mental health.

The latter was extremely important, as people had to face a crisis they had never faced before. We found ourselves worrying about our own and our loved one's health, feeling lonely, being distracted at home, increasing our monitor time due to all the virtual meetings, being unable to apply our usual coping mechanisms (e.g. going out with friends), etc. Who wouldn’t feel stressed in a situation like this?

To help the Aliz team, we sought professional help. We introduced employee counseling giving everyone the opportunity to engage with coaches and psychologists financed by the company. We found this practice so useful, that we have decided to continue it. People can consult on any topic; they don't have to relate to the Covid pandemic or to work. Participation in the program and of course the discussions themselves are entirely confidential. Besides employee counseling, we also provided stress management training.

6. We created online events and chat rooms.

At the Aliz community, our culture is our most important value. Even though a lot of events couldn’t be organized as before, we came up with new kinds of events and creative solutions to facilitate our community life, mainly in the virtual space.

One of the lessons learned was that we needed to find the right balance. Of course, it is great to have online programs but after a whole day of sitting in front of the computer, who wants to sit there even longer? Also, we needed to find the right kinds of events and solutions that worked well online.

For example, we organized multiple online cooking events. We sent the ingredients of a recipe to any employee anywhere in the world who wanted to participate and then we made the dish together in a live session. Another successful example of these kinds of solutions is our chat rooms. We used chat rooms before the Covid pandemic as well but naturally, a lot of chit-chat happened in the office. When Covid hit, we channeled those conversations to thematic chat rooms (such as Kids and Pets), and we’re still using them.

7. We iterated. And iterated. And iterate.

There is no secret sauce to solve the issues resulting from Covid. Yes, there were good examples, but there was no one size fits all solution. We needed to experiment and find the solutions that worked for us and for all the members of the Aliz team. Even if something worked once, it could easily happen that it wouldn’t work the next time. The virus changed. Restrictions changed. People and how they perceived the pandemic situation changed. So we needed to iterate.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re far from perfect. We failed at times, too. We had multiple online team-building initiatives that didn’t work at all. For example, we figured it would be nice to meet in the virtual space after work and just talk and have some drinks as the Aliz community. But many people can’t really chit-chat effectively in a video call without facilitation. We learned that it is always nice to have a topic or game or something that drives the conversation. Breakout rooms are useful, too. We had a successful online game during the spring of 2020 with a lot of participants. We tried to repeat it during the summer but no one wanted to sit in front of their computer on a summer’s evening.

We believe in trying out new things, starting small and then quickly iterating. It’s in our DNA to do so as an agile IT company. So, on second thoughts, if there is a secret sauce, after all, perhaps it’s called ‘fast and frequent iterations’.

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