18 May 2020
What an IT Services CEO has learned about working from home during COVID-19.
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In our fifth interview with a CEO at home, we talk to Pien Oosterman, CEO of IT Services Provider Levi9 Technology Services, about her leadership challenges during the pandemic.
What does your work situation look like during this pandemic?
I am in my husband’s loft. It is a terrible loft, to be honest. I started downstairs and after three days, I thought ‘I'm going to kill someone’. I was in the middle of a call and then my family would play the piano or make coffee. We really had such a fight after three days. Then my husband said “well, then sit in my room”, so here I am now.
What type of insights has this COVID-19 situation given you?
The eye-opener of the year is that remote working is much better than we could have ever expected. Both for business and education.
There was still quite a lot of criticism about it, as in ‘is this the way to do it’? But we actually see that many people are more productive. And we also see that half of them really miss the social element of work. All in all, the business keeps going very well.
What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?
I travel a lot, so I spend about half the time in the countries where we have our people: Serbia, Romania and Ukraine. There I have a lot of meetings with groups of employees. It allows me to read between the lines and to understand what is going on on the floor. I miss that interaction.
“1-on-1 with Microsoft Teams is fine, but not so suitable for larger groups. You just don't feel that connection”
So I have to say, I miss the contact with my colleagues.
What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?
The first week I had such long days with calls, that I had a headache at the end of the day.
I just couldn't anymore, it was too much. Now, I clear my schedule from 12 to 1, which I never do, and take the time to eat. Or I'll be hula hooping for an hour, but of course you can also just walk around the block. I try to join dinner at half-past six and stop working after that. I noticed that the burnout level increases very quickly because the intensity of calls is heavier.
“Arrange time for yourself, because otherwise you can't keep it up.”
A lot of my time is spent on communication and coordination.
I think thoroughly about what we send from our headquarters to our colleagues - what is the tone of voice and what do they need at what time. Do they need me or is it something else? When you look at how productive I am, you might wonder. Sometimes it costs me three days to produce one video or email. I find it very important to pay attention to finding the right tone of voice.
We have a fairly homogeneous group of people, all highly educated. In that sense, communication is easy, but what makes it difficult is the big cultural differences compared to The Netherlands.
These differences are ‘so-so’ compared to each other, but compared to the Netherlands very different. Solidarity has a different meaning in those countries than it does for us.
We are quite individualistic. There, community is much more important.
I need to keep paying attention to that cultural difference because the risk of miscommunication is always there.