CEO Inge Cuypers on the organisational initiatives Lola Tech undertook in the past year-and-a-half, and how they have helped the company grow - metaphorically and literally.
When we recently welcomed back staff to our new Cluj office, I reflected on Lola Tech’s journey over the last 18 months. When the pandemic hit Europe in early 2020 we, like many other companies, had to shift gears abruptly and dramatically. We were heavily invested in the travel industry and our revenue took a substantial hit.
Our first concern was for our staff. To avoid having to let anyone go, the entire team accepted to work part-time for a while whilst we re-adjusted to the new reality, and after a few months we were able to once again increase hours and go back to normal salaries. However, as developers ourselves, the senior leadership team understood that being benched for any period of time is a developer’s nightmare. So we worked hard to ensure that despite the lack of billable work our team was kept busy and motivated. As a result, Lola Tech has come back better and stronger, and below I explain how we did it - and why it works.
We re-assessed skill sets across the business and identified opportunities for professional development. This meant that even though some colleagues were benched, their time was spent productively and they could focus on achieving tangible results. Some of our colleagues got certified in Kubernetes and AWS, while others, who had previously chiefly worked on back-end technologies, learned front-end languages to become full-stack developers.
Why it works: Learning new skills that can be applied to billable work is a no-brainer. But even without profit in mind, it makes sense - it’s motivating to learn something new and keeps the passion for one’s job alive.
Companies the world over were having to furlough or let go of their IT staff, so we started the ‘Our Bench Is Your Bench’ initiative. It was easy - we put out a call for start-ups and small companies in need of help to contact us. Several businesses reached out and our team ended up working on an automation project for a virtual real estate agency.
Why it works: We may not have made any money out of these engagements, but they were still rewarding. Our team was able to help a business not only survive but thrive - and the project was a fun learning opportunity for the staff involved.
Some staff participated in passion projects which had been sidelined previously due to lack of time. Ethical Tracer was one of those. We based our privacy-first tracing app on the contact tracing technology being used by governments the world over in response to COVID-19. We then layered geofencing, obfuscation and encryption features on top, creating a notification app that was respectful of users’ privacy and identities. This project allowed us to experiment with new technology, try out different ways of working and ultimately release an app that we were able to offer to clients.
Why it works: Using internal resources to work on R&D projects keeps staff engaged and offers the perfect opportunity to learn new tech and processes. It is also an ideal training ground for agile teamwork, which forms the basis of our client engagements.
Like many businesses, we tried our best to retain a sense of community and togetherness. But after the nth Zoom coffee meeting we admittedly all rather lost the drive, so our Managing Director in Cluj hand-delivered cheese and wine baskets and cakes to every single team member for two major holidays and even managed to get some goodies to our staff across Europe.
Why it works: So much depends on human relationships, from employee engagement to project delivery. Showing our staff that we valued them beyond shout-outs on Slack (which obviously are also important) ensured everyone felt appreciated and part of a team.
While it was difficult at times, we retained our positivity and showed resilience, and I am proud of our tenacity, loyalty and positive attitude throughout. 18 months later, we have dozens of happy new customers, have released several major systems, mobile apps and websites and are actively recruiting to once again grow our team.
Do these initiatives resonate with you? Did your company do something similar? Different? I’m always interested to hear from others how they have navigated this strange time, so find me on LinkedIn and let’s connect. And do follow us on LinkedIn, we're always happy to meet new friends.