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Project management and staffing are two common operational tasks for IT service providers globally, but the COVID-19 challenge has complicated matters, since it has forced people to self-isolate and work from home. And even though strict quarantine measures are slowly being lifted in some countries, it does not seem like coronavirus is going to go away any time soon. Companies have to re-focus their recruiting and onboarding tactics and look for more flexible management approaches to stay sustainable in the COVID-19 environment. We do not have a method set in stone, but since we have been in the IT consulting business for 30+ years, we are able to adapt to provide high-quality services despite the challenges facing all of us.

Project Management Made More Flexible

Project management is what our customers value most about us, especially during this stressful period. Over 30 years of managing distributed teams, we have created a mindset for remote teams to sustain their productivity and engagement. It is a set of best practices and approaches designed to strengthen employee motivation and foster communication at a distance. Elena Baranova, Director of Engineering at Auriga, says the following regarding project management:

The ambiguity inherent in having engineers working from home can lead to biased assumptions about their focus and commitment to work. We believe that employing strict measures, like spying on employees via webcam, is not a solution. We advocate more flexible management and closer dialogue between team members.

Our flexibility is based on the lessons we’ve learned over the past three decades and our non-stop quest for continuous improvement. Here are some steps our engineering managers and team leads are taking to encourage remote employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Focus on what you can influence. Nobody knows when the pandemic will end, and there is nothing we can do to hurry it along. Nevertheless, even under the pressure of this uncertainty, we can still do our best remotely and influence the results delivered to our customers, including medical device manufacturers on the forefront of the COVID-19 fight.

Recognize hard work and resilience. We used to say that Auriga equals people, but it has never been as true as it has been throughout this pandemic. According to an internal poll conducted by Auriga’s HR Department in April 2020, up to 80% of our engineering teams are successfully following the project plans developed even before the COVID outbreak while staying at home. Some engineers still need to work at our labs to develop and test ICU ventilators and other medical devices and keep the projects for our customers running. We do everything we can to ensure their safety. We appreciate the dedication and commitment all our employees demonstrate in this tough situation.

Spell out goals and roles. It is important to ensure everyone understands the team objectives, individual roles, and each team member’s contribution to the project. Clarifying roles helps engineers understand when they can turn to peers instead of the project manager. This allows project managers to avoid becoming a bottleneck, increase communication, and keep all members engaged. Establishing self-managing nodes (as described here) is also very helpful.

Schedule regular meetings. There can never be too much communication, especially in a remote team. Regular meetings help develop a consistent rhythm of work that keeps the team focused on the project goals. By the way, it is a good idea to add some small talk to every business conversation – this creates a friendly atmosphere and makes people feel included.

Humanize communication. While working from home, we do not rely exclusively on e-mail but switch to group chats, phone calls, and video conferences to figure things out faster. We encourage employees to use web cameras to talk face-to-face with teammates and clients, as it clearly builds trust and boosts the commitment to teamwork and engagement.

Emphasize personal interactions. The biggest challenge our employees face during the self-isolation period is not technology hiccups or communication issues but loneliness due to a lack of human contact. To make more time for personal interaction, we introduced informal team activities, such as the Best Home Office contest and fun video challenges.

Mitigate risks. The crisis is the time to re-evaluate priorities and set up a Plan B or even C. We at Auriga made sure that all our employees had everything they needed to set up an efficient home office by delivering the necessary equipment to them. Those who were not working remotely before had to adapt to new circumstances. We kept employees informed and connected to reduce the level of stress and anxiety.

Recruiting and Onboarding Remotely

Many industries have been hit hard by the pandemic, with some businesses having to close down entirely; others have had to quickly refocus their operations to the online environment. The healthcare industry has been faced with an unprecedented level of demand, and the new priorities have required medical device manufacturers to expand their teams. Alena Berezina, HR Director at Auriga, comments on how this dramatic change in the market has influenced staffing processes in the company:

We provide software development services to customers from various industries. However, a large portion of our projects involves software development for medical devices, so we have not noticed a strong decline in the number of vacancies to fill. Several clients have decided to freeze hiring for the time being, but at the same time, more and more vacancies have arisen from those who have managed to adapt to the new conditions. During the self-isolation period, our HR team has had to remotely hire and handle orientation for candidates who have accepted our job offers. Luckily, Auriga is experienced in hiring remote employees. We use express mail to do onboarding paperwork.

The training processes at Auriga have always been aimed at remote employees, so the pandemic has not caused any specific problems there. Our Training Center is still offering educational webinars and online courses. Even more people are attending our webinars than before, because they are great knowledge-sharing activities! And yes, we hold Zoom parties to support team spirit. One thing we significantly reformed in our processes was internal communications. We shifted from posting periodic company news on the internal portal to sending a weekly e-mail newsletter to keep in touch with our teams.

As for recruiting, we are ready to respond to various scenarios: from a large number of highly qualified specialists flooding the market after coronavirus layoffs to a complete lull, which also often accompanies crises. In fact, we have already experienced both extremes. Since the self-isolation period began, we have received several job-offer rejections: many candidates are especially cautious about changing jobs due to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. At the same time, the whole IT industry is hurting due to unprecedented workloads, limited resources, and effects of the pandemic on clients’ businesses, so on the other hand, we register increased labor market activity. Therefore, we hope for the best and plan to leverage this trend to enrich Auriga with highly qualified and motivated engineering staff.

Summing Up

The human and business impact of COVID-19 is overwhelming, and its long-term consequences will only be understood over time. At Auriga, we are committed to helping our customers maintain business continuity and the pace of building innovative solutions through this time of uncertainty and disruption. In particular, we are contributing to the coronavirus fight by developing and testing life-critical medical devices. Despite the crisis, Auriga is hiring for new projects, and our teams are continuing to work smoothly as extensions of our customers’ teams.

If you would like to learn more about our services or discuss your project with us, please use this contact form to get in touch.

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