Denis Lagutenko - an entrepreneur, the founder of several projects in the fields of the Internet and affiliate marketing, as well as the owner of the manicure network WOW NAIL, one of the first who did not wait for the government guidance on quarantine and switched his companies to remote work before the official announcement.
Why he has done this and how the business is going - read all about this in an interview with Denis.
P.S. This interview was taken at the end of March 2020 for one Russian magazine and at that moment I didn't know how everything goes...
- Denis, when were the first actions on preventing pandemic made in your company?
My partners and I paid close and active attention on the evolving situation in European countries at the beginning of the pandemic. The trend of the disease spread showed that the scenario for our country would neither be encouraging. Therefore, 3 weeks before the announcement of the official quarantine, namely on the 9th of March, we started to require everyone who had returned from other countries to work 2 weeks remotely. If anyone of our colleagues felt weak or unwell, we immediately sent them home.
From the very beginning, we had a rather serious attitude to everything that was happening, and we were not amused by the ideas that this was some kind of world conspiracy or media hype.
As soon as the virus began to spread widely, we realized that we needed to quickly study the issue of all staff transition to remote work. At that time, the practice of other countries showed that with a high degree of probability all companies would be quarantined and we wanted to be
prepared for this moment as early as possible.
- What measures had been taken to ensure the safety of employees who continued to work from the office?
Every hour we disinfected all surfaces, as well as those areas that are frequently used in the office: door handles, access system, plugs, etc. We strongly recommended colleagues to sanitize their hands, phones and any other personal items that they had touched.
We also tried to minimize any contact with each other - we left all the doors opened to minimize touches on the handles, limited access to the shared kitchen, even stopped greetings with handshakes.
In the morning, when colleagues came to work, we took their temperature and repeated this procedure several times during the day. We installed sanitizers throughout the office so that employees can easily use them. We tried to use every chance to warn colleagues and ourselves against infection.
- Denis, when did you transition all your staff to remote work?
Firstly, we introduced all measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the office, but after a week we realized that it would be safer to send off all employees to work remotely from home. Then, we announced that since March 16th employees should not come to the office.
Those who had no chance to work from home because of the lack of computer, monitor or the Internet were provided with all the required needs. So for over 2 weeks we have been working remotely.
- Companies were continuing working from office. Why did you switch to remote work before others?
The experience of other countries has shown that the transition to a remote form of work is just a matter of time. We did not want to risk the health of our colleagues. Many of them came to work by public transport, and in these places we could not control the quality of cleaning and
disinfection, and therefore it was decided to get ahead of it and declare
quarantine in our companies before everyone else.
- How do you communicate with your employees now, how do you hold general meetings?
Everything is simple - there is the Internet, it gives full access to communication. We use the good old e-mail, texting in messengers; use the internal platform to coordinate documents. Meetings are neither a problem. Skype conferences are great for this kind of event.
- What about communication with customers or contractors – is it online either?
Due to the specifics of our work, namely Internet marketing, we have previously spent most of our communication with customers or contractors online. We call each other, chat with each other or send e-mails. There is no issue.
- Have you reduced wages of employees?
Despite the difficult financial situation and the fact that the companies are actually going through hard times, we are trying to avoid strong changes in salaries. Previously, a remote worker always received a little less comparing to a similar office employee, but in this situation we did not reduce payments, even if employees switched to remote work.
- What is the work schedule you keep for employees?
Here everything remains the same, too. Most of the colleagues begin their working day at 10 a.m. and end at 7 p.m. We also have special schedules for those employees who must monitor the data 24 hours a day. They are also “on duty” as before, but from home.
- What is happening in the office now?
The office is open and in cases of urgent need colleagues can visit it, however for the most part there is nobody there. But as for the manicure studios - they are closed; this is the decision of the government.
- What is your attitude to those companies that were continuing operation from offices till the very end, Denis?
It's hard for me to judge, it depends. Perhaps it was a production necessity, and perhaps an underestimated situation. I suppose that now everyone perfectly understands that the situation is serious and that ignoring the actions equals criminal punishment!
- Do you have colleagues or friends with COVID-19?
Thanks God, I do not know people with the confirmed diagnosis, but this does not mean that the situation is not critical. I often read on the Internet that Coronavirus is fiction, and that almost no one has a person they know who suffers from this, that everyone has a story like a friend of mine or a distant relative of my friend get infected. But I prefer in such cases to be careful instead of negligent and irresponsible.
- Have the incomes fallen within these several weeks significantly?
I can say for sure that since March 16th, the manicure studios have shown almost zero profit. This kind of business does not imply a transition to remote work, comparing with an Internet project, or a transition to delivery, as in the case of restaurants and cafes. Here we are completely dependent on clients who visit our studios and almost a week before the official announcement of quarantine – footfall has fallen 80%.
- What do you forecast - will it be necessary to reduce the staff after returning to the office?
It depends on many factors - the business sphere, the financial cushion that the company currently has, whether it was possible to agree on reduction in periodic payments, such as office rent. At the moment, the most affected area is tourism, catering and services, and it will be rather difficult for these companies to recover.
- Denis, could you kindly share some pieces of advice with
the head of companies that are currently experiencing difficult times.
They should assess the situation with a clear head and make decision on time. If you rent a room - try to agree on a discount. If you can’t agree with the landlords - move out. Perhaps now it would be economically more profitable to suspend activity and resume it later, when things return to the way they were. Yes, it is always hard to lose what was being built
over the years, but the situation is unlikely to change for the better in the
next 3 months.
- And lastly, please give some advice to employees.
I would strongly advise everyone to safe efficiency despite of the remote work! In this situation, you need to become more active and help the company out of a tough spot. And of course, I’d like to tell that it is important to stay at home, go outside only for urgent needs, get enough sleep, spend time with benefit and remember that during this period each of us bears a huge responsibility both for ourselves and for the people around us.
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