The Russian invasion seemed to be a very hypothetical situation for most people and companies. We all tried to calm ourselves down and avoid the panic. You would hear “it is impossible” at the beginning of any work or personal call, private message, or business letter. And yet, on 24 February, it all became very real…
During conversations with our foreign teammates, clients and partners, we’ve noticed how amazed they are that Ukrainian businesses are still working under new circumstances. Moreover, that companies are finding time for both work and volunteering.
Given this, my team and I interviewed Magento and e-commerce development agencies from Ukraine (or with offices in the country) — including GoMage, Astound Commerce, Magefan, Interactivated Ecommerce, Luxinten, Whidegroup and Dinarys — to learn how they’ve managed to keep up working and delivering projects amid the war from its very first days. In addition to this, they each described the team spirit and business environment now.
Measurements Taken Before War
Some companies were preparing backup and relocation plans for worst-case scenarios. For example, Astound Commerce began monitoring the situation daily in late January. Their Ukraine-based Business Continuity Planning (BCP) Leadership Team and local response teams developed proactive and reactive measures in advance. For more than two months now, these teams have provided guidance, emergency supplies, and fully funded transportation and accommodations for all Ukrainian staff and their families to safer areas in western Ukraine, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and other out-of-country locations.
Dinarys and Interectivated Ecommerce created a list with all the relocation preferences and were working on options for relocating employees, their families, and pets to those places. At the same time, Magefan shared information with their team on what to pack in a go-bag, essentials to stock up on, and what to do in case of shelling in a city.
“We made some technical steps in advance as well, like expanding the list of IP addresses that have access to our servers and granting access to a service to more users. It turned out to be the right decision since we expected low chances to go to the office again or that we should prevent the situation where only one person has access to a service,” shared Ihor Vansach, CEO at Magefan
First Days and Weeks: Supporting Employees
On February 24, when all the hypothetical fears became real, the focus for companies was clear — to make sure all of their close people and employees are in safe places, and urgently relocate them to the west of Ukraine or abroad. In addition, HR teams checked if someone needed extra financial aid, work gadgets or food, and organized deliveries to provide those.
It was hard to predict if the banking system would continue working and what to expect next (spoiler: it works perfectly well — as it was before the war — just with some slight restrictions or fewer perks, e.g., fewer cashback categories). Therefore, the critical step for all the interviewed companies was to pay salaries, in full, as soon as possible. Some businesses paid extra financial support or asked the teammates to be in touch if they needed any.
At GoMage, the HR team tries to organize special meetups once per week (like doing motanka dolls, one of the major Ukrainian symbols) to take teammates’ minds off news for a while. Also, the company launched a bot that asks employees from Ukraine if they are okay once per day. If there is a negative reply or no reply, an HR manager gets in touch with that person to help figure things out.
To enable nonstop communication and maintain infrastructure stability, Astound Commerce activated a dedicated SpaceX Starlink satellite-based internet network. In addition, all employees, regardless of their proximity to the war, can use mental health support services, available 24/7 and free of charge.
Some of the development agencies have employees in active duty, defending the freedom of the country. With no doubts, businesses continue paying salaries to those teammates and protect their jobs until they can return to work.
First Days and Weeks: Keeping Projects Going
Fulfilling responsibilities to clients is as crucial as to employees. From day one, companies started searching for solutions to keep their businesses going. GoMage’s employees who live in other countries worked after-hours to meet all projects’ requirements and timelines. Interactivated Commerce cooperated with development partners from Poland, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to continue development work while their Ukrainian teammates were settling down in new cities and countries. And, Whidegroup asked its clients to postpone major project releases for a short time.
“When you are in business for over a decade, you get used to coping with challenges: from small ones such as seasonal spikes and downs to big ones like epidemics and even wars,” commented Yuriy Kuzminov, CEO at GoMage. “You cannot just stop your business since you have responsibilities to other companies, employees, and their families. We have always managed and will manage to provide work to our teams and deliver projects to clients.”
Anastasia Zhuk, co-founder and business development director at Whidegroup, adds that they plan and deliver projects almost like they did before the war, since everyone has a stable workplace now. The only exception they have implemented is a flexible work schedule, since some colleagues became part-time volunteers or need to spend more time with children at home. Every morning each team member informs their manager about involvement and their working schedule for the day.
Most interviewed companies say that the first week was the most emotional. “During the first four days we focused on safety and tried to recover from the major shock. Our clients were very understanding and supportive,” says Vansach. “Starting from Monday, 28 February, we began to resume our work from various locations and, within a week after the beginning of the war, almost all our colleagues returned to their regular schedules.”
Affects on Team Spirit
During war, or any huge traumatic event, people go through four main stages of stress: shock, adrenaline, devastation and plato. Ukrainians are already on the fourth stage, when a person is able to think rationally, adapt and set a new routine. As a result, there are fewer emotions and more effective work being done.
“Even during calls, you see how people smile and make jokes again,” notes Nataly Kaychak, human resources director at GoMage. “Sure, the thoughts of the war are in the background of our minds all the time — or we get back to volunteering after work — but now, we are finally able to focus not only on doing our routine tasks but also on generating new ideas for scaling the results. We constantly hear from our colleagues how grateful they are to have a job that helps free their minds for at least eight hours.”
Apart from work, teammates get especially united for volunteering efforts. Knowing that your company contributes to bringing peace back to Ukraine makes people inspired and consolidated. Whidegroup helps with deliveries of medicine, hospital equipment, food and military ammunition. GoMage donates a part of the revenue to the army force and organized a fund, HelpingHand, to support civilians in need.
For Luxinten, regular team building now takes place in a form of volunteering together during the weekends. “Every member of the Luxinten family helps our country by taking part in volunteering, spreading information about true events through social media, donating to the army, or joining the Ukrainian IT Army to fight against Russia on the cyber front,” shared Iren Rasevych, CBDO and co-founder of Luxinten.
The Business Environment in Ukraine Now
The IT outsource industry is not the only one to continue working amid the war. According to the research of ProZorro, a Ukrainian digital platform for public procurement, around 50% of businesses have kept up working and 41% never even stopped processes. Still another 12% expect to re-open very soon.
International companies, such as Glovo and Uber or any local service provider, also continue delivering services. Companies are reopening, and even new ones have been founded: over 1,000 businesses registered on 29 March alone.
Development companies in e-commerce remain committed to the long-term economic development of Ukraine. “We are accelerating our recruitment efforts in the country to give hope to those whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by the war,” stated Renata Akers, digital commerce analyst at Astound Commerce. “This effort is also essential as the war continues by supporting Ukraine’s economy through tax revenue and helping the country rebuild in the future.”
The experience of Ukrainian e-commerce providers, or companies with teams in Ukraine, is an example of crisis management that works out well for businesses, employees, clients, and overall for the country itself. It exemplifies how proper measures and quick reactions can keep the businesses running.
“The best thing people can do at the moment to distract themselves, and not watch the news all day long, is to focus on work. It helps them, it helps the Ukrainian economy, and it helps us as EU-Ukrainian IT agencies,” says Roy van Eijsselsteijn, CEO and e-commerce solutions specialist at Interactived Ecommerce . “The best thing for the merchants worldwide to do is to provide every agency with that work. The Ukrainian development community has shown itself as the top of the industry over the past years. There is no reason to stop the work with a company that has taken all the needed measures.”
You can find more comments by e-commerce providers from Ukraine in this document. The article was based on their input.
Anna Plachkova is the head of marketing at GoMage, a Magento development company with remote culture in its core and clients around the globe. Connect with her on LinkedIn.