Home and office by Fornax – or far from the office in the time of quarantine

2020. 05. 08.

Due to the situation caused by the Corona virus pandemic many Hungarian enterprises were faced with serious hardships and decisions. The Fornax company group made a swift decision in March: the activity of the company group was moved to home offices within 24 hours. An interview with Zoltán Nagy, the professional leader of Fornax ICT.

Many Hungarian enterprises had to make difficult choices once the Corona virus pandemic showed up in the country. Even before the closing of the schools the leadership of the Fornax company group made telecommuting mandatory to ensure the safety and health of its co-workers. The full shift to home offices was done in the span of 24 hours, and more than 120 employees of the company group has been working from home efficiently and seamlessly for months.

When making decisions and taking steps human factors play an important role beside professional and business considerations. Opinion and experience from first-hand – an interview with Zoltán Nagy, the professional leader of Fornax ICT.

Since when is home office an option in the life of the company, and what jobs does it apply to?

About two years ago our team size increased substantially, and the office space was starting to get tight. The idea of a regular home office was born then, maybe for one day per week. In our company this is feasible for practically all the positions, half or two-thirds of the team already did periods of telecommuting.

What are your experiences with home office so far, what are its advantages and disadvantages?

As there is an overdemand for programmers on the market, the competition is fierce in this area as well. Every employer strives to offer more and more workforce retaining benefits. Among other things, home office serves this purpose as well. The majority of our co-workers look upon it as a motivational tool, a perk.

Regarding advantages and drawbacks, in our experience employees can be categorized into one of two groups. Most of them see the option of staying at home as opposed to commuting as a plus, they are happy to have the choice. The others are not that keen to work from home, they feel the circumstances to be inadequate, or simply don’t find the home environment motivating enough. These are mainly our co-workers with small children, or someone coding a software, who needs to focus on the task long term. These people don’t necessarily prefer the option.

The introduction of a regular home office was beneficial to the employer as well, the co-workers mostly used the opportunity without abusing it. Many articles have been written about this: when people work the odd day from home, they often regard it as „sort of a day off”. We had none of that, because if someone has been used to working like this for a long time, the arrangement is more of a plus than a minus.

What helped in the quick decision making when the pandemic arrived in March?

The thing that helped the most was that independently of the pandemic, we had earlier prepared for remote work and we created its technical background, its working solutions – of course nobody was prepared for what was to come. We continuously watched the news, and once we saw that mass contagion is quite likely, we made telecommuting mandatory before the official restrictions. We were motivated by two things: primary was of course the personal safety of our staff, but we also considered the impact the pandemic could have on the workforce, endangering our projects and the activity of the whole company.

What IT solutions and workflows aided the seamless transition?

Fortunately, we already had experience with home office, everything was given for a quick transition. Our operation, our development methodology, our support background are all adequate for remote working. Practically everybody can work from home without difficulty.

Support software had been installed earlier, most of our data is stored securely on a hybrid cloud, so they can be accessed from anywhere. Our development environment is set up to enable decentralized work. And our proprietary Eventus software still assists the remote handling of the various HR and financial processes.

How was the workplace community affected by the transition, what were the experiences of the leadership?

The whole company group, every single employee reacted in a disciplined manner. The greatest challenge for me as a leader is the lack of personal contact. For instance, I think it is important to have the cameras turned on during online discussions, to make the communication as personal as possible. In the beginning this was unusual for a lot of our colleagues.

We created common spaces, such as online poker, a virtual kitchen, but of course there is no remedy for the lack of everyday interaction of the co-workers. The greatest problem is that although we can work remotely just as well, personal contact cannot be replaced by the various IT tools.

We monitor the teams continuously, to see how efficient their work is from home, and it is also important to see how the co-workers are coping with the situation on a human level. We endeavour to watch out for our colleagues even more, so we made steps to make this period of hardship somewhat easier for them. We sent a precaution package to everyone’s home with FFP2 certified masks, gloves, sanitizers, and vitamins to boost the immune system.

In your opinion would it make sense to make home office more regular at companies with an office environment?

The arrangement of working two days a week from home and three days in the office is much healthier and more sustainable than the current situation. This isolation is not good for anyone, I think people need to meet from time to time. Although even the integration of new joiners is possible, it is much more cumbersome than the cooperation with the existing team. Without the personal contact the video calls are unpersonal, so I do not think any company would prefer a permanent home office solution.

I do see a chance, however, that some firms will introduce one or two days of home office per week even when we are back to normal. If this is introduced on a massive scale, that will raise new questions: how will it affect the economy, the society, the environment and even education, in other words, our everyday life? These are intriguing questions.