June 5, 2023
Read time: 11 min.

Supporting People In Times of Crisis

Kateryna Hubaryeva, SoftServe’s VP of Global HR and Geo on managing multicultural teams in times of crisis and how 2022 influenced HR’s priorities 

SoftServe, the largest global IT company with Ukrainian roots, has faced numerous challenges over the past year, including the ongoing war, relocation, and other related issues. Despite these difficulties, the company’s HR team has remained committed to supporting its employees and maintaining a sense of normalcy. With over 13,000 associates worldwide, including those from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and other countries where SoftServe operates, the HR function has become more critical than ever. We had the opportunity to speak with Kateryna Hubaryeva, SoftServe’s Vice President of Global HR and Geo, about managing the HR function during times of crisis and what to expect in 2023. Kateryna brings a wealth of experience from leading tech companies, and has been with SoftServe for the last several years. In this article, we explore SoftServe’s HR approach, the role of HR in times of crisis, and the company’s plans for the future.

What is HR for tech companies all about?

HR is not about HR, or people, only. Mostly, it’s about how to build an ecosystem to ensure people’s success and how to manage it. This is what I liked the most about HR when I started – and I still love creating complex systems that help employees to strive and contribute to the success of the organization, which means making the business successful. 

So, regardless of the industry or company, the primary objective of every HR department is to create a safe and productive work environment that enables employees to thrive and contribute to the organization’s success. 

For tech companies, we must consider the industry’s youthfulness and dynamic evolution. Something new occurs very often – just look at how ChatGPT is shaking up the tech industry. Five years ago, we heard AI was not powerful enough to create risks for some jobs, and now we can’t be so confident about it. So, HR’s role now is to understand how to turn this threat into an opportunity and help people adapt and effectively work in this new reality. 

Innovation is at the core of tech companies, and HR must support a culture of innovation. For tech people, it is important to have an environment where they are fearless in their aspirations, where they have enough opportunities to grow and develop, and where they can take ownership and show what they are capable of. Last but not least, we need to remember that HR should cover all aspects of the employee lifecycle while prioritizing competitiveness in the job market. To attract top talent, companies must offer attractive compensation and benefits packages and provide opportunities for professional development.

At SoftServe, we have really developed an HR ecosystem that works together toward these common goals: HR country/region leaders partner with our business leaders to tailor the global strategy to local reality; HR Marketing vertical creates strategies to attract top-talent and engage people while HR Business Partners are dedicated to units and help them with all people-related issues. We have SoftServe University that offers a vast range of possibilities to enhance your knowledge or get new skills. 

Global differences 

Of course, HR function have some unique differences depending on location. From my experience, in the United States, compliance and risk management are top priorities for HR. They need to ensure they oblige the labor laws and other regulations. While in Europe, employee development and training are also heavily emphasized. However, both regions share a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

In Asia, the HR function is dedicated to employee relations, unions, and work standard safety, but today diversity issues are not addressed in full because of cultural background and traditions. 

Despite these differences, the ultimate goal of HR is the same: to create an environment for a productive and engaged workforce. To achieve this goal, we have global standards, but we must also consider local realities. What works for compensation and benefits in one country may not work in another, and cultural differences impact everything from career progression procedures to hiring and termination practices. As such, managing a global HR function requires a nuanced understanding of the differentiators between locations and how they impact HR agendas.

What do people need in crisis

As HR manager, I faced a lot of crises at my work, and thanks to this rather difficult but very handful experience, 2022 wasn’t the most challenging year in my career. Personally, of course, it was extremely complex as we all were affected, and I had to move with my children and adapt to the new reality. But professionally, I had previous experience of crisis management practices, change management. I’ve seen how people react to cross-cultural differences and what pitfalls can wait us here, and what to do to avoid mistakes. 

During the global financial crisis of 2008, HR specialists worldwide, including me, helped companies cope with the economic downturn. Together with the business, we had to review and develop workforce plans aligned with financial goals quickly. For example, identify areas where cost savings could be made, such as workforce reductions or freezing hiring in certain departments. As in any crisis, we focused on communication. We frequently communicated with employees to keep them informed about the company’s financial situation and any changes to policies or procedures. This helped to build trust and maintain morale during a difficult time. Also, we provided support to employees who were experiencing financial difficulties or job loss as a result of the crisis. This included offering counseling services, assistance with job searches, and outplacement services.

We focused on employee safety and well-being during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. We closely monitored the political situation and communicated regularly with employees to keep them informed about any developments that could impact their safety. I worked with senior management to develop contingency plans for different scenarios, such as evacuation procedures or alternate work arrangements.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the workplace, and HR professionals played a crucial role in responding to the crisis. We prioritized employee safety by implementing measures such as remote work arrangements, social distancing policies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements; communicated regularly with employees to keep them informed about the company’s response to the pandemic, provide updates on health and safety protocols, and address any concerns or questions. We provided employees with flexible work arrangements, such as adjusted schedules, leave policies, and alternative work arrangements, to help them balance work and personal responsibilities during the pandemic; offered resources and support for employee wellness, such as mental health resources, wellness programs, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Furthermore, we also ensured that the company complied with local and national regulations related to the pandemic, such as workplace safety requirements and leave policies. 

What this experience has taught me well is that in any emergency situation, people’s safety is the most crucial thing. 

At the very beginning of the full-scale war, HR teams were fully involved in relocations, mobility, policy changes, onboarding reforms, reformatting the teams, crisis communications, and many more. All our activity shown that people and their safety are on the first place. And I guess, this is what every company should have as a principal rule. 

After we ensured that people were more or less safe, we had to continue thinking about business safety and business continuity. We already had clear plans because we had to keep the business running otherwise we wouldn’t be able to help people. We understood people cannot be as productive as in normal situations, so we communicated it within the teams and clients. So, the second important thing is transparency. 

Around 1800 of SoftServe’s associated moved abroad, and it was their decision what country to stay in and for how long. Many of them got back to Ukraine. What we did, on our side, was a lot of clear and transparent communication – we provided as much information as possible to help our people make a well-considered decision.  

And apart from physical safety, psychological safety also matters. We put much effort into support of mental health and well-being. For example, our associates could talk to psychologists for free about any issues they were bothered by. We introduced Safety Check, a short regular survey to ask people if they are safe and if they need any help, so they feel supported. 

How 2022 influenced our priorities 

It has been a challenging and unprecedented year, one that has undoubtedly altered our company’s priorities. In light of this, we have identified five key areas that have become our primary focus. The first of these is safety, which encompasses both physical and psychological well-being. 

The war has caused many people to lose control over various aspects of their lives, and our company has made it a top priority to ensure their safety first and help them to regain control.

For many of our associates, work was something stable, so we ensured people can come to the office and have uninterrupted connection and power even during blackouts. We also have continued to prioritize their career progression and compensation, despite the adverse conditions. People worked hard, and they knew we can promote them.  

In response to the crisis, our company has recognized the importance of community and belonging to cope with stress. Feeling isolated can be debilitating, but a sense of solidarity with others in similar circumstances can be empowering. To foster this, we have encouraged people to gather, volunteer, and support one another through our Open Eyes charity fund and Open Tech crowdsourcing platform. Our aim has been to create an environment where our associates can feel supported, valued, and connected.

Cross-functionality has become another crucial focus for our company. With many of our associates moving abroad, we have had to monitor changes in legislation and analyze their implications carefully. We have involved not just our lawyers but also our HR team in this process, recognizing the importance of cultural assimilation and cross-cultural training to ensure our associates’ productivity and comfort. Our HR team worked a lot on cross-cultural workshops, language courses, and other initiatives to support our associates‌.

Effective multi-layer communication has been vital in this difficult year, and we have made it a priority to ensure that our associates are well-informed and connected. We have established an emergency mailbox, regular syncs with our leaders, and all-company and all-Ukraine online town halls with our top management, providing people with the opportunity to ask important questions and receive updates on the company’s policies and steps.

Responding to the future challenges

As we continue to navigate this ongoing war in Ukraine and the financial crisis it has engendered, our company remains committed to supporting our people and our country. We recognize the need to save as many jobs as possible and help our associates stay productive and resourceful. Therefore, we will continue to invest heavily in our well-being programs to ensure that our associates feel supported and valued during this challenging time.

At the same time, we will definitely need to adapt to the new global changes such as dissemination of ChatGPT, which has the potential to revolutionize HR in many ways. AI can streamline the recruitment process by automating tasks like CV screening, pre-employment tests, and initial candidate interviews. This can save time and resources for HR professionals and help identify the most qualified candidates more efficiently. Most of these activities are in use already.

Speaking of employee engagement, AI can help improve it by analyzing data from surveys and feedback platforms to identify areas for improvement in company culture, communication, and leadership. AI-powered chatbots can also provide employees with personalized support and guidance. Moreover, it can analyze data to identify patterns of bias and recommend strategies for improving diversity and inclusion. 

However, it’s important to note that it should be used ethically and transparently to avoid any unintended negative consequences. AI has the potential to automate many routine HR tasks, allowing HR professionals to focus on more strategic and value-adding activities that require human skills like empathy and creativity and improve employee experience at work.

Supporting People In Times of Crisis

Kateryna Hubaryeva, SoftServe’s VP of Global HR and Geo on managing multicultural teams in times of crisis and how 2022 influenced HR’s priorities  SoftServe, the largest global IT company with Ukrainian roots, has faced numerous challenges over the past year, including the ongoing war, relocation, and other related issues. Despite these difficulties, the company’s HR […]