In a post-COVID world, it is hard to say which work models are still conventional and part of the status quo. Such lines have been blurred for traditional 9 to 5’s and open office floor plans. Leading one of the monumental changes to make work from home all the more easier and convenient is TimeXtender‘s CEO Heine Krog Iversen. Heine shares with you how TimeXtender managed time efficiently during the pandemic with a remote workforce and “work from anywhere” business model.
By far the dominant theme in the business world, as in the world as a whole, in 2020 was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. What were the immediate issues that confronted your company at the outset of the crisis?
We had a very short reaction time to make changes. We had to work with people who were traveling in different parts of the world, and we had to adjust our business based on actions that were taken in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world to react to the virus. And of course, we had to make fast adjustments for employees to work from home.
How did you as a company set about dealing with these issues?
We had to make certain that we could all work with our technology offering from remote and had to make sure that our customers and partners had everything they needed from us regarding our software. Also, while some employees had worked from home from time to time, now, they might need to strengthen their WiFi or other upgrades or business additions to help them have a more formidable home office to work from daily. There’s a big difference from working from home one day a week to working from home full-time and we had to support each of them in different ways.
We might be tempted to think that software-based businesses and those with a high degree of automation in their processes would be less vulnerable to the disruptive effect of the pandemic than the majority of other organisations. Is this, in fact, the case?
I agree that automation helps businesses become more productive, efficient and saves time, all of which are important for them during these challenging times. As a software company, we had to ensure that our customers and their different use cases and situations were addressed. While TimeXtender was working hard to go remote, we also paid close to attention to help our customers and partners located all around the world. They had challenges as well and we had to support each of them based on their specific needs. This was the biggest issue for us and at times made things a bit interesting as we had to extend our capabilities to help others while helping ourselves as a company. I think we came through it pretty well.
It’s probably fair to say that many companies’ business continuity plans had not envisaged such a catastrophe, so that their response to it was often faltering. Do you think that there are lessons to be learned at a general level about the formulation of more comprehensive plans?
I completely agree that a continuity plan is important, and many companies do have comprehensive plans in place, but how many organizations had a plan to really handle this crisis? What we have seen is a lot of companies, with or without a comprehensive plan, adapting as they were going along and fundamentally changing their organization to deal with Covid-19. I would also add that having an active plan in place for a cloud strategy is one efficient way to help businesses deal with something as impactful as this pandemic.
Clearly, no business lives in a bubble, so that issues that affect its clients and customers can also have grave consequences for a company. Has your company experienced a serious knock-on effect as a result of the issues faced by its customers?
Our customers are a top priority. Their challenges differ as they have different needs, come from different locations, and work in different industries. It’s not so much that work got more complicated for us it’s that everything took longer. Work processes and business dealings took much more time. This was exasperated due to businesses and their staff now working from home but also, people having to deal with very important personal issues such as home schooling — systems and norms were really disrupted.
Are there any technology-based solutions that you have been able to offer your customers to assist them in coping with their pandemic-related issues?
It depends on the customer and which industry they come from as, generally speaking, industries dealt with the pandemic in different ways based on their industry norms, requirements and constraints. This meant we had to accommodate for different needs for various customers from multiple industries. For example, some companies have computation software, while some don’t. Some businesses have their analytics data in the cloud and some still prefer on-premises.
The natural tendency is to view the pandemic as an entirely negative phenomenon and, of course, it has been a huge disaster for people all around the world, on business, political, social and personal levels. Nevertheless, it could also present opportunities in some respects. Do you see any such opportunities for IT-related businesses in particular?
It has been devastating for a lot of people but the overall improvement that we have seen has been with development for items such as remote work, faster Internet access, and executive networking. TimeXtender plays an important role here as we can help businesses greatly improve their processes and time efficiency for managing their data. I believe that those companies that haven’t migrated to the cloud might step back and rethink this and look to the cloud to help strengthen remote work going forward. I also envision that we will see more businesses getting creative and providing support for work from home/work from anywhere even after we all get through the pandemic. This has been an opportunity for us to step back and consider business and the way we do things – for all businesses, not just IT-related businesses – and to look for new opportunities to improve.
How do you think business leaders in general have performed in their response to the pandemic crisis? What could or should they have done better? How can they do better in the future?
In general, business leaders come from many different backgrounds and different industries, and everyone’s situation is different. We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic but the extent of it really depends on everyone’s own business circumstance. Bottom line is that going through this experience has made most of us stronger and forced us to take a hard look at “old-school” methods.
I would add that one approach that we found helpful at TimeXtender was to “embrace this as an opportunity;” in other words, rather than looking at this as a major roadblock, we set out early on to use this time and this experience to make us stronger for current times and into the future. We worked hard to support our employees by developing a model for “One Global Team – Working from Anywhere.” We built in flexibility for working with customers and partners. We modified our company policies. I think this is how you have to confront an issue as big as this – look to improve rather than merely accept it. Try new approaches, consider ridding of status quo – the way we’ve always done things approach – and get outside your norm to support your company and get the most out of this time. The pandemic has no memory of the way things used to be. There are many great executives in the business world who come from the finest business schools, but most did not see this coming. The key is not that it hit us from behind but what you do about it once it arrived and moving forward.
Would you say that an effective strategy to cope with a pandemic situation is more likely to focus on technology or on adapting business processes?
This is an interesting question. The intention of simply buying new technology for the sake of doing so is not the right approach. You have to start by looking to improve a challenge, problem, or a business process and then consider the use of technology to help you solve your problem more efficiently. The key is understanding how to combine the desire to improve your organization’s infrastructure or a particular business process with the use of technology. Just giving someone technology without a good reason can be very wasteful, however, you should also be open minded to the use of technology and the strong capabilities that it can deliver to your business.
Most would agree that businesses have a responsibility towards their employees in supporting them through such difficult times. Do you think that companies’ performance has been up to the mark in this? What could they improve in the future?
A lot of companies have done a phenomenal job in making adjustments to keep business going and to support employees. We have learned that yes you can work from home and in fact, doing so can be so much more efficient for many employees than having them travel to the office. When this is all over, many companies will want to get back to do the old ways of doing things, while others might consider a combination of both such as working from home two days a week and the office three days. Why not consider a new model that doesn’t focus on hours but rather the skills that somebody brings to the company and their derived work output regardless of location? If you have a skilled workforce, it’s not just putting in the hours that matter, but what one is producing and accomplishing during the workday.
Is it possible to point to any kind of innovations that have stemmed from the pandemic situation that might either never have occurred or have been longer in coming?
We have seen people buying and selling products and services online. Technology for sharing, collaboration, project management and video conferencing have all grown in demand and have become quite prevalent in industry and the workforce and are likely here for good.
What would you say are the most significant changes in the software and information sector as a consequence of coronavirus? Are they in any sense beneficial? Will the “new normal” in the industry be very different from the old one, and will the effects be permanent?
People have learned and discovered new ways to train, educate, and support those on the technical side of business. We have found new ways to still meet and network. We have identified new ways to monitor and evaluate technologies and revelations in the marketplace for both providers and buyers and know that it can be much more feasible to review items online. For example, rather than spending a lot of resources for travel and expenses to get to large trade shows, a lot of this type of networking and evaluation can be done online with technology. This is something that may stay with us for the foreseeable future.
Has your company had to do a dramatic rethink of its plans for the future or has it been, rather, a question of adapting to new circumstances?
Stop and breath. We will keep pushing ahead and moving forward. We’re always looking for ways to enhance our approach based on certain needs from particular industries, but we have a pretty solid model in place that has proven to be successful for working with customers and partners, and so I don’t see a complete reinvention or anything of that sort for us.
Many companies, having experienced the benefits of remote working, are planning to switch to this model permanently, either fully or partially. How do you see the pros and cons of this, both for employers and employees? What is gained and what could be lost?
With remote work, you can open up your company to a talent pool from anywhere rather than just recruiting local talent. This can provide diversity and different ideas and bring new approaches to our business. We still have to provide training for items such as self-management, teamwork, support and assessment, but in the end it’s about action. Companies that have come to prefer remote work, might find that they still need an office building, although maybe not as large as their previous, classic office building, for those employees who prefer to get away to an office setting. Having a physical structure also allows for in-person team meetings and events as needed throughout the year. In the end, I’m not entirely convinced that going remote should be primarily with the intention for saving costs. I think many other factors come into play that are essential.
What issues does managing a remote workforce pose for business leaders? Does technology offer all the solutions?
It’s important to make sure that everyone still feels as though they’re part of the company culture and part of their team. This can be done through training, education, collaboration and communication. You can include a training and event calendar online that helps support employees and keeps everyone abreast of company activities. TimeXtender is fortunate as we previously put forth organizational purpose circles which allows our employees to be mostly self-managed and to share responsibilities with their colleagues. This organizational approach enhances creativity, innovation, and new ideas.
Remote working has aroused the interest of cyber-criminal’s intent on exploiting any security weaknesses that might result. It’s a complex and challenging area for companies to deal with. Have you any advice for business leaders as they consider how to confront it?
This is always an ongoing issue regardless of remote work or not. For years, businesses have had people on the road helping customers or partners and during their travels they have used a laptop. People have also been working from home from time to time, albeit not at this same level. The point is that security is an issue if we’re working from an office building from the road or at home. One of the biggest concerns is still when someone clicks on a link in an email that is from an intruder. The bottom line is that most companies continue to reinforce security measures and provide training about items such as email phishing.
Heine Krog Iversen is the founder and CEO of TimeXtender. Since founding the company in 2006, Heine has been the chief executive responsible for transforming TimeXtender from a small startup to one of the fastest growing software companies in the world, growing TimeXtender to 3,300 customers across 95 countries.
Heine is driven by one core purpose: to empower every person in every organization with instant access to data, for any use case they might have, thus enabling them to achieve more by making superior business decisions with data, mind and heart.
He oversees strategic planning, global outreach, positioning and differentiation, and organizational growth. Heine has worked tirelessly to manage TimeXtender’s growth and to build the management systems needed to support a rapidly growing organization with new regional offices, staff, customers, sales channels, alliances and partnerships.
Heine has also played an instrumental role as an industry thought leader in helping to educate the market about becoming a data-driven organization, building bridges between business units and IT departments, offering the next generation of data automation for the future of BI and analytics.