Lilia Messechkova, VP, Enterprise Products, Progress
What was the impact of COVID on Progress’ business?
As a technology company with global teams and an existing work-from-home policy, we were prepared to quickly adapt to the new environment when the pandemic struck. Our number-one goal was to keep our colleagues and their families safe and healthy, minimize the impact of the pandemic crisis to our customers’ and partners’ businesses and help our communities. Our business continued to operate as usual thanks to the commitment and dedication of all colleagues across the globe. Even in this difficult time, we kept our team spirit and together turned challenges into opportunities.
What were the biggest changes in your workflow and R&D activities?
Like many IT organizations, the biggest change was around transitioning to fully remote work. We saw both benefits and tradeoffs in this new reality.
People saved time from travel and had the flexibility to work from everywhere. We saw increased team productivity around planning events where technology helped significantly to bring people together, then split them into teams and then bring them back again. That was harder to achieve when being physically in the office.
One of the biggest challenges that we faced is providing context and visibility in an effective way. Placing yet another 30-min meeting in the calendar is not a good option anymore. Onboarding people with things you want them to know and inviting them for input requires more preparation in advance. It also requires the discipline in capturing decisions and action items during discussions. While that was a problem even when working in the office with remote work and people being conscious of the time spent on meetings this becomes even more critical. Knowledge sharing and learning as an organization are crucial for discovering new opportunities and innovations, it is very rare that one person does it on their own.
One thing that we really learned during the pandemic is that we can maximize our internal know-how through leveraging the technology to build relations across geographies and so to tap into the best talent that we have for the problem we want to solve.
How hard was it to innovate with the different teams not being together?
Well, it was hard. The culture in Progress’ Sofia office is very centred around people being together in the office. The space there is very collaborative, and interactions are very spontaneous. Innovation came naturally when people were forced to work differently, so this changed the way they were thinking about what they are doing. These new perspectives brought fresh ideas about how we can organize our daily work and rethink working agreements. The biggest challenge was to establish a focus on thinking about what is next. In a large-scale context with many things in motion and people not seeing the big picture because of being remote, it was extremely hard to bring the same understanding across the board of where we are. It really required continuous communication and feedback loop at all levels of what we see changes in the world and how that affects us and how we can take advantage of the momentum. Finding hidden connections between our internal combined knowledge and external transformations is a key to success.
Do you think the changes from the pandemic are here to stay?
I do think some of the changes are here to stay. There is a change in people’s desire and expectation for purpose, autonomy, and flexibility more than ever. They want to be part of solving problems with a higher impact on our society and are seeking like-minded people to work with. Business leaders who manage to respond to this change providing a compelling vision quickly and effectively would be those to attract and retain the best talent.
The other change that’s here to stay is the user's expectation for a seamless self-service digital experience in every interaction with businesses and governments. One thing that I hope to get back when we return to normal is the desire for us to be together more often when possible. Emotional connection is a key factor for people to thrive but is also essential for the team in times of crises, and this was one thing that made us succeed in these challenging times.
As the cliche goes “every crisis presents new opportunities.” Do you think this is the case with COVID also?
Yes, absolutely. And this is actually what I am going to talk about at DigitalK. What’s unique about crises is that they create a tense environment of limited information, constraints and an urgent need for action. You don’t have time to weigh in options – you need to act fast as possible. In this environment, the brightest minds and the most successful organizations unleash their creativity to come up with novel approaches and take risks. Crises are the ideal time for reshaping mindsets and behaviours and finding new opportunities for growth. The Covid-19 pandemic forced us in very limited time to find ways to stay connected with each other, with our communities and customers, to collaborate and solve new, unseen so far challenges. Digital transformation was no longer a cool term but a reality, the only way to survive. We’re yet to see in the coming years the innovations brought about by the pandemic. One thing is certain – the way people interact and work and the way organizations operate will never be the same.
What are the technologies that you are most excited about?
Based on my personal background with Microsoft technologies, I am really excited about the transformation that we observed in their cloud services and development framework and the opportunities that these two bring. Both Azure Services/Management portal and .NET Core are key technologies that shape the reimagined IT and development processes in the Digital Experience Platform we deliver to the business today to help them build the seamless digital experience their customers expect. It is extremely exciting to be part of this journey and see how the technologies that we build help organizations achieve their mission. I am passionate about technologies that make people live better. All technologies that bring us closer, help us connect, share, brainstorm, dream together and do good at large scale is something that I am really excited about.