For the past 15 years, I have led the Administrative teams at Zemoga. It has been quite a journey, and an amazing one if I may add. Throughout these years I’ve had the opportunity to face the greatest challenges and the most fascinating success stories and everything in between. The goal has always been the same: Lead the teams to deliver above and beyond Zemoga’s expectations, understanding this will have a direct positive impact on staff, clients, vendors and industry in general. Aside from the many things I’ve learned, one of the most important lessons is to know what you don’t know. This will allow you to surround yourself with the right people and trust they will get the job done. Once the right team is assembled is when true leadership comes into place: Connect the teams via the company’s vision, ensure that all decisions are true to corporate values, make sure the team is always evolving and growing both personally and professionally, and empower everyone with the right resources to allow them to do their jobs.
It sounds simpler than it is. I’ve had to reinvent myself more times than I can even remember, and the more it happens, the more confident I become when facing new challenges.
Mastering this was key into approaching all the different challenges that 2020 brought at a global level, at a corporate level and at an individual level. Although challenges were posed across the entire company, including the admin teams that I lead, I would like to focus and share my experience of resilience, reinvention, adaptation and reaction within the Human Resources team.
As a people-oriented and people-driven company, a global pandemic landing with very short notice right at the moment Zemoga was experiencing its greatest expansion meant that we needed to act and react fast, and to be able to do so, it was fundamental to stop and think.
HR’s goals were totally clear: We needed to recruit, onboard, retain and grow talent while connecting them all with the uniqueness of our very own culture that we’ve been collectively building throughout these years. We had our ducks in a row, we had the strategy, the plan, the team and the budgets allocated, and right when we were building up and gaining traction, COVID-19 exploded to our faces. The goal didn’t change, but we needed to figure out how to achieve it, all while working remotely and facing the level of uncertainty COVID-19 came with. No company had a clear protocol on how to react to a global pandemic and we were not the exception, although I’m proud to confess we were somehow prepared to face some of the challenges.
Let’s start by saying that working from home came very natural to us. Zemoga implemented working-from-home policies over 12 years ago, and during this time we have experienced many different types of situations that we have learned from. Telling a 200+ team to work from home was something familiar to everyone. All of us had our routines, communication channels, protocols in place and guaranteed connectivity to continue delivering for our clients, but the one difference this time was that we were not working from home because we wanted to, but because we had to, and we didn’t know for how long it would last.
Back to my earlier point, a moment when a quick reaction is needed, it is critical that we stop, think and then act. When there is no clarity on what to do, we need to revisit the why, and it is there where you will find the answers.
We went to the core, to the most intimate values, to the heart and the roots of this company, regardless of the fears and uncertainty of the global situation. It took us little time to understand what we needed to do at that moment, and it was taking care of what matters most: the people.
Despite the lack of clarity these times came with, visiting our core provided us with a roadmap; we had a guideline and most importantly, we had a purpose: the safety of the team. We were going to get through this and we were going to do it together. This is not a strategy, this is not a mandate, this is a feeling. You can’t fake it, you can’t force it and you can’t impose it. It is only when this feeling is genuine and real that it works and you can act upon it.
From CEO down we all started thinking about ideas, plans and tactics to ensure the team was safe, healthy (both physically and mentally), empowered with the tools to continue working and supported even under vulnerability. To illustrate some of the initiatives we put in place through our People Care programs, we hired some of the nation’s most renowned and experienced psychologists and therapists to have at the disposal of the staff and their extended families to help them out through such difficult times. We quickly understood the different profiles and individual situations our staff was facing – some of them live by themselves, some of them have children, some of them live far away from their families. This allowed us to implement activities to support everyone. Virtual yoga and meditation, cooking lessons, special activities for children, art and online music classes, virtual get togethers, talent shows, and happy hours amongst other activities became part of our collective COVID-19 reality. This brought the team together in the most special bond; we were all surviving the global pandemic and we were doing it together.
While HR’s People Care team was successfully retaining the team engaged and bringing everyone together, the recruitment team had to overcome the challenge of bringing in new joiners and adding them to the team without having the ability to physically bring them to our architect award-winning office or being able to sit across the table to conduct interviews Instead, the way of doing it was by virtually connecting with individuals and sharing the feeling of what we are building here, illustrating our loving and trusting culture, allowing them to truly understand the opportunity of working with the most amazing clients, and being part of a rockstar team.
It is human nature to stay put during times of uncertainty, so despite our renowned reputation, it was challenging to recruit during Covid times. We learned that there was a new ‘fear factor’ among potential candidates – that the concept of real work stability for employees had changed – and so we needed to empower the candidates with enough confidence to make a career change in choosing Zemoga, which is exactly what we did. In what can safely be seen as the most challenging year, we’re proud to say that throughout 2020, Zemoga has successfully recruited and onboarded over 170 people.
One of the most important factors to retain and attract talent is giving the opportunity to grow – this is everyone’s individual goal. Our People Development team had the challenge to ensure consistency in our plan despite everyone working and connecting remotely. This required an orchestration between directors, managers and leaders to come together in putting in place initiatives to continue without interruption to our career plan programs. Everything from online conferences, tech content, brown bags, design share outs, open mics for both hard and soft skills were put in place in record time and our KPIs of growing the team are now off the charts.
All of this was possible by betting on talent, trusting the team and staying true to our roots and values. Understanding WHY are we in business, and always thinking about people first.
A glance to the near future
One of the most recurrent conversations worldwide has been focused around the challenges of COVID-19 that will be here to stay, and which are just temporary during the course of the pandemic. Understanding this will allow companies to adapt as we all reach an inflection point. Only the companies that are able to reinvent and adjust to this reality while taking care of the staff and the clients are the ones that will thrive and continue to be relevant.
Even with the light at the end of the tunnel provided by science via Pfizer, Astrazeneca and Moderna amongst others, the truth is that the world has changed, society has changed and therefore companies must change. Teleworking is here to stay, talent will prevail, and only companies who are able to understand and adapt to talent, their needs, their desires, their lifestyle will be successful. Today’s world is more than timesheets and billings, today’s world is about empathy, about trust, about flexibility. This is why companies need to stay true to their vision, their values, and the people.
For years we have been talking about the advantages and characteristics of nearshore, and the importance of nearshore vs off-shore. But the truth is that the post-pandemic world has no borders. As a company, Zemoga has been able to prove this even pre-Covid. For almost 20 years we have been working kneecap to kneecap with clients while physically being thousands of miles away, connected through technology and being able to export high-end digital services by the reach of a click. We are more than ready for the post-Covid world. Without knowing it we have been preparing for years, and through whatever new challenges that may come, Zemoga will continue to connect clients with their customers by providing them with the most engaged, passionate and talented teams.