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Leadership in a Hybrid Work Environment

Goran Kalanj, CEO

Traditional business models are experiencing rapid changes today, and the use of new technologies and digitization will continue to be the norm for sustaining growth in a hypercompetitive world. The very possibility of choosing between working from home, in the office, or a combination of both models is a departure from the traditional system, and it is clear now that this form of work is not going anywhere.

Working from home, or - as the still valid Croatian Labor Act calls it - working at a separate workplace, was not big news for companies from the IT sector even before the pandemic. Unlike many other industries, due to the nature of the work, such companies are more suitable (and open) for working outside the office and have always practiced it in some way, so they adapted much more easily. However, the fact that suddenly everyone was working from home full-time and that all the employees were separated was new to them too.

Although at the beginning it was mostly questionable whether it would be possible to ensure the same quality of service as when working in an office, it became clear very soon that the quality of work remained at the same level and that work in the IT industry can be done very well regardless of the location. Today, almost three years after the initial shock and separation from colleagues, working in the office is once again a daily routine, and some companies have adopted new business models (a few days of working in the office and a few days of working from home). However, habits have changed, remote work has matured, and both employees and companies know what to expect from it - they are aware that such a way of working has both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage is certainly greater flexibility and productivity of employees and a better balance between business and personal life. The benefits are both financial and environmental: for employers, the cost of 'cold operation' is reduced, and considerable fuel (and time) savings and reduced travel from home to work inevitably affect the climate as well. On the other hand, apart from the sociological effect (alienation from colleagues), there are numerous other disadvantages. Some research, such as the one conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2020, showed that employees work from home more than in the office (an average of 48.5 minutes longer each day).

Saving Time And Money

The newly created circumstances somehow forced us to be even more creative and faster in finding new solutions and business models that will facilitate our daily work and, at the same time, provide uninterrupted and high-quality service to all our clients. In Serengeti, before the corona crisis, we used to send our key team members to the client's location abroad for two months to onboard for each new project. We have continued this practice, only the period of stay with the client is shorter, which requires better onboarding preparation to transfer knowledge with the same quality in less time. Several meetings that used to be organized live are now held online and in most cases are of the same quality. When they are more operational and involve sharing some content, online meetings are even more efficient and better than live meetings. All this certainly represents a considerable financial savings, but even more important is saving time.

The Missing Link

When it comes to daily business processes, the shortcomings are visible in the reduced efficiency of agreeing and harmonizing ideas and requirements, which is especially important in the initial phase of every new project. As far as employees are concerned, working from home to some extent increases the satisfaction of many employees, even though it is also short-lived. It is completely normal and human that at a certain point the employees start to miss hanging out with their colleagues and that the connection with the company and the sense of belonging decreases, and with it the level of satisfaction and engagement.

That is why it is necessary to find a good balance between working in the office and working from home, and it depends on the specifics of the job and the preferences of each employee, so an individual approach is needed. Fortunately, jobs in the IT industry make this possible. It turned out to be optimal for us to choose the intensity of working from home for the employee, and the mandatory arrival of the entire team to the office depends on the stage of the project and the need for intensive negotiation or live problem-solving.

A Company Is Made Up Of People

The fact is that traditional business models are still undergoing rapid changes today, and the use of new technologies and digitization will continue to be the norm for maintaining growth in a hypercompetitive world. The very possibility of choosing between working from home, in the office, or a combination of both options is a departure from the traditional, and it is up to the management and leadership of each organization to assess which way of doing business will work for them and their employees in the long term and will be commercially and financially efficient. At the same time, it should always be kept in mind that employee connectivity means more than just technological connectivity. In the end, a company is made of people.

Employees who mostly work from home will inevitably miss a stronger identification with the company and socializing with colleagues. That is why the company needs to find ways to include them in the work of the collective, inform them about events and important news, attract them to informal gatherings where quality and long-term interpersonal relationships will continue to be built, and continue to motivate them so that they continue to feel part of the organization. Quality middle management has a great responsibility and role in this, and in such changed circumstances - when they do not see their employees every day - they still must know and be able to manage their work and engagement, take care of their interests, and solve possible problems. That last one is extremely difficult. Namely, it is not easy to solve problems if the very background and cause of the problem are not 'visible', so this requires extra effort from the manager and the ability to predict where, when and how their intervention is needed.

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