Business status check
It’s been a while since we’ve shared some insights into our business and life in general at VALA. That long actually, that this nasty virus has had time to make already two somewhat separate visits here in Finland, the latter still ongoing. Since the world has turned upside down during this time, I figured it would be nice to shed some light on whether VALA is upside down or not.
As it happens to be, VALA is still very much vertical and our head is pointing upwards. More intriguingly, it’s been that way the whole year. Sure, we hit a major bump in the spring, but with an instant “emergency mode” we were able to turn the trend, and finally the consequences were not as dramatic as they could have been.
During this “emergency mode”, to cherish our unique culture, and to keep the company healthy, VALA people started working on very basics for a few months: to compensate lowering share of project work, the people still in client projects worked almost 100% of their working hours in these projects, and the sales team worked meticulously to find the new project possibilities that only existed. Simultaneously, we were able to cut some costs – and some costs were forced to be cut due to practical reasons (e.g. events and meetups at this office were no longer possible). All this helped us to maintain almost (pre-corona-) predicted levels of profitability, even though our sales plummeted momentarily by up to 30%.
Then came the summer and as the market started to climb from its ruins, things got closer to normal. And we were able to lift the emergency mode.
Until the fall brought the second wave.
Now we are living somewhat uncertain times. Still, what comes to VALA’s business capabilities, we are much more certain than we were in the spring. Now we know how our cost structure reacts in these situations and we are even more certain of the exceptional work ethic of VALA people.
No one knows how the market reacts to the possibly prolonged second wave. But at VALA, we know we’ll be fine.
What about layoffs? A double edged sword that has saved so many companies, but at the same time made life so very hard for thousands. Luckily, the word hasn’t been in our vocabulary during the crisis. Not once, even in the steepest downhill, did we even think about layoffs. That’s something we cherish and something we’ll hold on to in the future too.
To sum up, we are doing very well. Besides the great people of VALA, we can also thank our luck to be in this kind of industry. It’s a totally different situation in many other fields and we want to express our greatest power hugs, thumbs-ups and bicep emojis to all who are struggling.
What have we learnt
As a second part of this post, I wanted to share three things that we’ve learned during these special times. Maybe there’s something you can take from this, maybe not.
1. Communication: Is there such a thing as “too transparent”?
Because transparency is an important value at VALA, we decided to communicate the company’s challenges during corona as honestly as we possibly can. When things settled down around the pandemic, feedback was requested on how things were communicated throughout the process. It was surprising to see how some felt that transparency could be experienced as “too excessive” and even anxiety evoking.
Although most people were happy with how transparently things were communicated, there were a few people that felt that the effects and speculations on the pandemic’s effects could have been toned down. Weekly updates about corona were seen by some as unnecessary reminders that interrupted their work day. However, others found the weekly updates as reassuring and comforting.
Although people vary in what type of communication they require in uncertain times, we figured that as long as we hold onto our values of transparency, honesty and empathy, we can’t go too wrong. For the future, we know not to bombard people with constant updates, but rather, give a reassuring, yet precise and truthful account of what is going on, perhaps bi-weekly instead of weekly.
2. Postponing development
It’s easy to be afterwise, but looking back now, it would have been better to immediately start arranging various workshops and events to be held remotely, instead of postponing them until autumn. Quite naively, we figured we’d simply postpone our summer party, new community kick-offs and workshops until autumn when face-to-face get-togethers would be safer.
Luckily, we hosted a “remote working methods” workshop early on, to encourage people to get used to the new normal. Nevertheless, a number of plans were postponed to a “post-pandemic time”, which we now realize, may never come.
One shouldn’t freeze in a time of crisis but try to keep up the daily activities as much as possible. We learned from this and are really gearing up to work around this new normal, and finding our own ways of turning it into our advantage.
3. Flexibility and trust gave us a head start
Remote work, autonomy and flexibility regarding working practices have always been important parts of VALA’s culture. People have a lot of freedom and responsibility when it comes to their work, which means that VALA has a high regard of trust towards VALA people. Working from home wasn’t a new practise for us, and neither was trusting people to decide for themselves what the best working methods are for them. These aspects really helped us get used to the new circumstances caused by the pandemic.