The One Who Succeeds Is the One Who Easily Adapts – Interview with Mariia Krykunova

In a recent interview for IT Dnipro Community, Mariia Krykunova, our Branch Manager in Dnipro, talked about Daxx corporate activities that help our colleagues better cope with the quarantine period, discussed the latest trends in the IT market, and unveiled some cultural features of working with the Dutch. Keep reading! 

Mariia Krykunova - photo
Mariia Krykunova

How are things going at Daxx these days? What plans did you have at the beginning of the year and how did they change given the situation in the world?

Usually, everyone aims for growth, development, and rolling out new projects in the upcoming year. We planned it all, too. Of course, quarantine has made some minor changes. We’ve always been focused on work from the office. It’s such a regular and convenient thing for us. We love our office. Due to the quarantine, we had to adapt to new conditions. Literally in one day, we switched the whole company to remote work. 

What is the number of people we’re talking about? 

In the whole company, the number is approaching 500. In Dnipro, we have about 60 employees. 

Was it difficult for Daxx to switch to the online mode or everything went smoothly?

In my opinion, we managed to succeed in it. We informed everyone about the current situation and told what we were going to do next. We set up remote access for those who need it so they could continue to work with complete security. We also updated our clients on what was happening. We regularly keep in touch with them to know how they’re doing. We check how much remote work has affected the cooperation with our specialists and if they see any changes in their productivity. 

What are the results? Have you noticed any changes?

Daxxers miss the office. It seems to me that if the situation allowed and everyone could feel safe, they would have returned to the office a long time ago. In terms of productivity, some people became even more productive. There’s a fine line between work and home now. At home, they can work sometimes even more than needed. They simply say: “I need to finish this task, I can’t leave it as it is.” 

Communication didn’t change that much. Of course, in terms of HR processes and interaction with development teams, work has changed a bit. It’s one thing when you see people in the office, speak to them every day, and stay updated about how they’re doing. It’s the other thing when they have to call or chat with each other. 

So, some people improved their productivity. As to psychological aspects, has it become more difficult to maintain a work-life balance? 

At first, people were intrigued by the idea of remote work and euphoric about a new thing. Everyone would like to try how it works. Later, as we see, a lot of people felt the lack of communication in person.

For our part, we do our best to always be in touch. We organize a bunch of online activities and webinars, including some psychological ones: how to deal with stress and anxiety; emotional intelligence when interacting with kids, and others. Many people found it pretty challenging to be with their families and relatives all the time. It’s very hard to explain to children why mom and dad are at home, but they have to sit at the computer instead of spending time with kids.

It was quite difficult at first. Over time, everyone gradually adapted and developed the most convenient algorithm for them.

Do you organize such activities regularly or occasionally?

We conduct them regularly, but not too often. We don’t have to spend more time on different webinars than on the work itself. We try to keep people interested in such activities and choose various topics each time. This helps our colleagues better adapt to new conditions and feel the presence of other teammates. 

When gyms were closed, we did yoga online in the morning (via Zoom). Then we had a lecture by the trainer. He explained what kind of exercises are the best for those who have a sedentary job, and how to deal with clogged muscles. There was also an online meeting with an ophthalmologist, who answered questions about eye hygiene and recommended some exercises. These are the things that are good for everyone and help to better cope with the period of our separation.

Plus, we had meetings for fun: parties on Skype/Zoom, “Field of Miracles”, etc. We needed some kind of interactivity to distract people from endless checking of statistics and news as negative information was pretty much everywhere. 

Has the pandemic situation become a crisis for the company and you as a manager, or a new stage that has opened up new opportunities? 

I can’t say it was a crisis for us. We’ve got a wide portfolio of clients, and our business is diversified. Obviously, some industries have suffered more — namely, travel and startups having funding issues. At the same time, some domains feel pretty good under such circumstances: logistics, online learning, and industries like that. 

For me as a manager, the team opened up from a new angle. I see that I can rely on everyone. This also applies to our management — you have support in any matter. At the beginning of the quarantine, the workload tremendously increased. Everything changed so fast and we had to promptly react and reformat it all. In moments like this, you feel support from the whole team, and it means a lot! If we need to help each other, give advice or just talk — no problem. My colleagues demonstrate full understanding and effective interaction. This situation has revealed their new sides that wouldn’t have been opened up otherwise. 

The crisis is the thing that makes you grow. Usually, you go with the flow, processes are set up, communication is established. Then, out of the blue, everything changes and you need to adapt to it. Probably, the most sought-after competencies today are agility and the ability to work with changes that fall like snow on your head. 

Mariia Krykunova at Daxx Dnipro office
Mariia Krykunova at Daxx Dnipro office

What are the main insights you’ve gained in regard to the current situation?

Now I’ve got a strong feeling that the impossible is possible. We’ve been very attached to the office, and I had no idea that I could carry out HR functions remotely.

Decisions come from where you don’t expect them. They are fresh and new. You need to be creative, invent something that didn’t exist before, and put it into action.

Either way, challenges unite people — at the level of the team, company, or offices. These are the positive things that quarantine has brought us. 

Did you have to make crucial management decisions during this time that you didn’t make before?

The new reality dictates its terms. We have to make decisions that define not only the future of the company but everyone who works with us. We found specific ways and conditions of interaction with clients and contractors to minimize the impact of the crisis. There’s a tactic that always works and that I love so much — when you are straightforward with people, talk directly about what is happening and what it leads to, discuss the possible hurdles, and how we’re working on them. 

Obviously, there were some slumps and “fires” that we had to put out. But they were nothing but challenges that we had to work on. You just had to find a solution that you didn’t use as a rule — and it’s done! 

Have you adopted a specific anti-crisis strategy?

We had a specific strategy of communication with clients. They didn’t understand what was happening, and we didn’t understand the current situation in their countries and businesses.

We also set up communication with colleagues and developed an action plan to have an idea of where and how we were going. We discussed all this in as much detail as possible.

The worst thing that could happen is uncertainty. The lack of good or even bad news causes more tension than the knowledge of what is happening.

Are you attracting new clients today? 

Yes, we continue to work with new clients. Of course, there was a short period when their flow decreased a bit. It doesn’t mean they didn’t want to expand the team. The reason was a lack of understanding of what is going to happen next. We went through an initial shock, had to wait a bit, look around, and find a clue of what was currently happening and how to adapt our business to it. Some clients paused their activities for a while and gradually began to gain traction later.

Even in the most critical moments, we had a bunch of vacancies in the company. We didn’t stop recruiting staff at all and continued to work with our clients.

If we look closer at the months, when did you feel the biggest slump? 

The biggest slump was at the very beginning: in April and in May. There were some repercussions in June, but it was way easier. Besides, there are seasonal fluctuations. In summer, everyone is prone to take a rest, it’s vacation season. People who make decisions also take a rest, so summer is a relatively calm season. In autumn, the work is getting more intense and everything returns to previous volumes.

Did you change your tactics of attracting clients during this period?

For sure, our lead generation specialists and sales managers had to adapt their work to the new conditions. It was clear that it couldn’t occur the same way as it did before the quarantine. Now, we have to consider a bunch of new variables when communicating with clients. We try to stick to an individual approach in this regard. Doing a mass mailing is not an option anymore. 

Has the coronavirus crisis affected some services of your company? Perhaps, some of them have become more in demand, and the others less?

I will say more: we even included additional services into the list of our offers for clients — and it worked very well. We’re talking about more specialized services in narrow areas. This is a new additional opportunity for us, and we see that our clients are interested in. It seems to me that the coronavirus crisis was a good boost to launch additional services and find customers for them.

As for your workload, do you have more or less work now? Is it harder or, instead, more comfortable for you to work?

When the quarantine was just getting started, we had to do a lot of things simultaneously, which pushed a very high wave. Then, everything went back to normal. Today, there are some issues, unpredictable and unplanned things arise from time to time, but everything is quite stable overall. 

I try to talk with colleagues via video and see each other as often as possible. We all want to know how everyone is doing and what they’re up to — it’s not just about work-related staff, but a human one. 

Has it become more difficult to motivate your employees? When you’re around you can have a stronger impact on a person, when you’re far away that connection is being lost. How to maintain the working spirit in this case?

Of course, people feel that you’re not always around. The office brightens up a daily work routine: you can go out for coffee with a colleague and talk about something. During quarantine, we had an “online meeting near the cooler” for some time. We placed a photo of our office with a cooler as a screensaver in Zoom and gathered in the “room” to discuss non-work topics. Sometimes, you touched upon some subject — and could barely stop the further discussion.

Now, our colleagues stay one-to-one with clients more often. It’s harder. When there are any issues, they are more visible. On the other hand, clients also understand the situation and try to keep the spirits up. One of our clients even sent our teammates small packages filled with cheerful letters and bandanas that can serve as masks, too. 

Your company is part of IT Dnipro Community. What do you see as the benefits of being a member of the community? 

First and foremost, it’s an opportunity to join large projects. In particular, we participated in IT Dnipro Conference, which, unfortunately, didn’t happen this year.

It’s always great to be a part of something bigger. When you are part of IT Dnipro Community, you feel that there are people and companies beside you who take deep care of what is happening in the city and how the industry is developing, and who can have an impact on these processes.

Communication within the community, exchange of news and opportunities — all this is paramount for understanding of the general situation in the city. Everyone lives in their own world and sees what is happening inside their company, but it’s important to step back and look at yourself in a more general context. These are the most valuable things we get from being a member of IT Dnipro Community. 

Mariia Krykunova with the colleagues are attending RunIT Conference
Mariia and Daxxers are attending RunIT Conference

Do you have time for books these days? Do you read any business literature?

Books are everything to me! For some time, I organized meetings of the reading club for business book lovers. At first, we read a specific book, then met and discussed it. Everyone sees the book story in their own way. It’s so cool to catch new insights while listening to the other person’s thoughts and impressions. I believe it gives you much more than just reading a book on your own.

Now, I organize such discussions outside of any particular club. For the most part, we read fiction as people get tired of the endless working routine and try to distract themselves. Yet, I notice that the interest in this or that type of literature is not stable: now it could be fiction and business in a month. 

As to business literature, I’m currently reading in English The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. It’s about cross-cultural communication. I recommend it to everyone who works with foreign clients as communication tends to break down at the crossroads of different cultures. What is acceptable for us, may be complete nonsense and not acceptable for others. This knowledge is of great help in work. Sometimes, our new hires have never worked with the Dutch before and have experience only within the Ukrainian market. They surprisingly find out that there are specific cultural peculiarities and that they need to adjust their work and communicate accordingly. It’s very interesting! 

Could you share your secrets and name at least two or three features of working with the Dutch?

Firstly, they are very straightforward. Sometimes, you can take their straightforwardness for some kind of rudeness. No one wants to offend each other personally, and you should keep this in mind in your work. This is just another culture of giving feedback. Take it as an attempt to address a specific issue, settle it down, and resolve the whole process. 

Secondly, the Dutch are quite open. They don’t have such a hierarchy as we have. For us, a boss in the classical meaning is a person in a suit that no one can’t approach and talk to. In the Netherlands, things are more casual: bosses can joke and talk with everyone directly. However, you shouldn’t forget that this is your boss, not a regular colleague with whom you can joke in the kitchen.

Thirdly, the Dutch do know how to work as a team. If there are any questions, they try to ask them immediately, not waiting for the situation to become critical. 

Does your company practice corporate social responsibility? 

We are trying to carry out CSR activities on a regular basis. For example, our company supports children with disabilities. Recently, we held a charity campaign in the office: Daxxers were buying socks, and these funds were donated to support children with Down syndrome. We also carry out educational lectures for pupils and students. We take care of animals and raise money to buy food and medicine for them. Overall, we conduct a wide range of CSR activities.

Welcoming Hillel IT School students at Daxx Dnipro office

In your opinion, what should we expect in Ukraine’s IT market in the near future?

The competition with other countries may get tougher. For example, in Europe, a lot of specialists lost their jobs due to the crisis. Earlier, the shortage of talent was one of the main problems in the market — they were all employed. Respectively, the present situation is different, and the competition is growing.

In any case, attracting new clients will be a challenging task as many of them got affected by the crisis. The business has to learn to adapt. What has worked for many years, doesn’t work anymore. We have to come up with new ideas. There’s a natural selection to some extent: those who adapt and find new domains and opportunities — those survive. 

As for the domestic market, a lot of people are afraid to change their job. Chances are, their tenure will increase, which has been rapidly declining in recent years.

In general, the industry continues to grow. New talents enter the market, they learn. So, moving forward is inevitable in any case. 

Could you name any other latest trends in the IT market?

The market is recovering now. The increasing trend of remote work has expanded geography. If before the companies were looking for specialists only within their locations, now it doesn’t matter where a person is physically situated. For those professionals living in small towns, it’s a real opportunity to find a good job. To my mind, even competition in the Dnipro market may decrease as now we have a certain number of companies and specialists in the city who compete quite fiercely with each other.

Another trend is that everything goes online. Meanwhile, if something happens offline, it’s appreciated even more. The mere opportunity to attend an offline event without losing any feeling of safety is a luxury everyone misses a lot.

On the other hand, I got used to the fact that I can buy recordings from the conferences and watch them whenever I’d like to instead of adjusting my schedule. There’s already a competition between offline and online formats. I’m curious to know which of them will win. 

Mariia Krykunova at Daxx Dnipro office

Does Daxx have its superpower?

I don’t want to sound mainstream, but our superpower is the people and our attitude to them. At Daxx, I feel this especially strongly as I know how careful we organize the events, prepare gifts for the holidays, and plan everything to the finest detail to encourage people, show how much they matter for us and that we are one company, we care about them and support each other. Either way, the superpower is in those people who do all of this and invest in it not only a good deal of their work hours, but much more. 

What would you wish for the other IT companies? 

As they say, may the force be with all of us. 🙂 I wish everyone to have inspiration and creativity enough to invent new approaches and discover new opportunities — the so-called ‘blue ocean’ everyone is trying to reach so hard.

The world will never be the same again. It has changed and showed us that the impossible is possible. We can move on with this. 

The original article in Ukrainian is available here.

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