Remote access makes the IT market more accessible

About the expert:

She has been working in IT as HR for 9 years. When she join Betby there were 20 staff, this has enlarged to 50 in the first few years of Oksana’s time working there. She can’t work in a company if they don’t share mutual values. She says that there is a complete match between herself and external linkExternal links are prohibited.

In this interview Oana Petrova tells us about the situation with remote work in Europe.

Betby has always been supporting office work

Is remote work popular in Europe now?

There are several things that have affected this issue. First, it’s the matter of the Covid19 pandemic. Many countries encouraged or even forced certain industries to switch to remote working, wherever it was possible. 

Secondly, several different research studies forecast that IT would work remotely more and more over time. They said it was a future trend. But the future has come faster than many expected.

There is different data in regards to Europe depending on which research paper you look at. Generally though it is fair to say that the number of remote work places have doubled in average when compared to pre-COVID times.

The Russian government was criticized a lot for some strange definitions of work and decisions taken during the Covid crisis. For example, the term “non-working days” was used - the one that the law lacks. A State of emergency wasn’t imposed though which many feared. How did the Latvian government react?

All the changes we faced were caused by the state of emergency. It was imposed in March of 2020 in Latvia. The state of emergency itself was lifted on April 7, 2021 but some restrictions remain.

The restrictions were imposed and lifted depending on the amount of infected people. Many of those restrictions have already been eased, because the virus has been spreading slowly for a while now. For example, we can go to the office now is one restriction lifted.

Was it easier for the business to deal with the situation because of the state of emergency?

I’m not sure about everyone, but I can tell you about us.

Betby wasn’t prepared for the pandemic as no one was I guess. We didn’t consider remote work as an acceptable option. We believed it wasn’t good for us, we thought that we would never work remotely. We would give only 12 days a year to work from home before 2020. This was in case some would like to work lying on a couch, being unproductive.

Last March even before the state of emergency was imposed we sent all our employees home to work remotely. So we were ahead of the situation. Our people’s safety has always been a priority for us. We gave our staff all the equipment they needed to work comfortably from home.

Some time after this the government recommended sending all staff to work from home in the cases where it was possible to do so.

As for the bureaucracy involved, the only document we needed to create and give to our employees is a notice that we all could work remotely.

There are many relocated employees at Betby. Did all of them stay in Latvia?

Most of them stayed in Riga or at least in Latvia. I guess no one thought of leaving the country to start with. Everybody believed that it would last for a couple of months, until the autumn at most. But it turned out that we still don’t know when it will be over even now.

As time was passing by, people began to expand their borders. They realized that they could visit someone and kept on working there. They could go abroad. Why not if you work remotely?

Yes, most of our staff still stay in Riga but sometimes somebody goes to a home country and works from there. It’s absolutely OK. The company keeps observing the situation to be able to help in case of some unusual things.

80% of the staff are not ready to give up the remote work

What did the staff think of working remotely when it all started? And the big question... What do they think about it now?

All pre-pandemic trends showed that 70% of all work places would be remote ones within the next five years. The labor market was preparing for this change. The pandemic boosted this process, and it became the reality within a year.

We will keep our office but there are more people in the company than working places in the office now. We’ve kept on hiring people during the pandemic, but have not increased the office space.

I’m not 100 percent sure whether we will get back to the office in the most part or keep on working remotely. I guess we’ll be working with a hybrid system.

Has the office rent price changed recently?

No, it’s almost the same. We had some discounts but to all intents and purposes the price hasn’t decreased.

It’s easier to access the market now

What are the advantages of the remote work in IT?

Hiring people in IT isn’t an easy business. The trend is obvious. There are more positions needing to be filled than skilled people who are ready to fill them. I’m talking about some countries that are usually considered as providers of the skilled IT specialists.

Another thing is that it’s easier to access the market now. It has become more open. We don’t need to be stuck in some particular places. A person can work in our company from any part of the world. No one needs to relocate and physically come here which makes the hiring process easier.

On the other hand it also brings new challenges, because you need to create some new comfortable (for both sides) ways of interacting with the people who work remotely.

Remote work is an advantage for many employees. Therefore because they can do that at Betby, it makes Betby an attractive company to them.

What are the countries that provide IT specialists you mentioned above?

It is considered that companies in Latvia often hire people from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Did you expand your staff hiring people from those countries during the pandemic?

Yes, we hired people from those countries. We still have several employees who don’t want to relocate now and keep on working remotely.

You’re not the only person who says about expanding the staff despite the pandemic. Does remote work serve as an absolute advantage for the IT area and particularly betting?

I can’t say it’s an advantage only. It’s a new reality for us to live and to work in. Remote work is a new thing we have to take into account.

I guess you communicate with the other HRs. What do they say about expanding or narrowing their staff?

The IT work market fell at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic around March 2020. Many companies reduced their staff, some closed down. Hiring new people was put on hold initially too. However the situation started to recover in August 2020. Companies were growing again. The market has reached the previous figures and even overtaken them in terms of demand for specialists.

Maybe it’s not connected to remote work? Maybe the thing is that gambling area was a stable island during the pandemic? I don’t think your business fell harshly since you kept on hiring people…

What an interesting question. You exaggerate it by saying about a stable island. The beginning of the pandemic was a difficult time for many companies. The world has adjusted in the end and so have companies. It is our company’s human resources policy that explains why we kept hiring people and didn’t change our staff significantly.

Challenges for HR

How does remote work affect HR?

We had some challenges, of course. It wasn’t easy as the tools we were used to stopped working, we had to find some other approaches.

Remote work affected everything. Starting from the large processes like hiring, adaptation, development and so on, to small tasks like informal activities or holiday celebrations. We needed to receive information about the team’s conditions as fast as it was possible and we had to create some solutions. It was important to keep the feeling that we’re one team united by one target and common tasks.

You’ve said it affected everything. Was there anything at all that the remote working didn’t affect?

Well, almost everything. Bureaucracy hasn’t changed. People still need to sign their vacation application. The amount of Red tape and paperwork has remained the same.

Has the number of company’s events and parties changed if we’d compare with the pre-COVID times?

We tried some experiments working remotely. People still remember how they had fun at the parties. It was cool when they could gather together, it’s absolutely another thing when you try to do it via a video conference.

I remember we invited our staff to a remote event. Only 20% of them took part in it - those who were missing the office most of all.

In this case you can’t predict an outcome, you need to try to do something and see what happens.

We understood at the very beginning that many people needed our support because they had to change their life and work style immediately. The day before you needed to go to work thus switching from home. And now there was nothing like that - you were at the office right after waking up. It was difficult.

We did whatever we could to support our team. We would inform them about all the changes, restrictions and their cancellations. We would create some anticrisis sets to be delivered to our employers’ households. As soon as it became possible we created an event for our employers and their families. We had time for it between the first and the second waves of COVID. And, of course, we communicated a lot with our employers trying to react to the things they wanted.

What does an HR person have to do in the new conditions?

There’s no magic key that I know of. Every company has its own unique set of actions. The main thing for an HR person is to keep the rhythm of a team. It’s important to follow the needs of both a company and employers. You need to keep the connection. It’s harder to do it when you work remotely, the kind of work changes. But we may call it an evolution.

Do you like this evolution?

For me personally, besides my work, changes are difficult. On the other hand the pandemic has taught us to live right now, not waiting for better times. I guess that now the proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” works the best. We can’t plan anything, but we can adjust to the circumstances to make the best of what we’ve got.. 

I accept the things that happen with interest. I’m sure that it has already lead to irreversible, totally new changes for us all.