Arquiconsult activated, right from the beginning of this pandemic, more precisely on March 9, its Prevention Plan with the aim of ensuring that its teams would remain safe and informed and, in this way, they could remotely ensure the services to customers and partners without interruption.
Starting from the beginning, do you want to explain to us what this Prevention Plan consists of, which was promptly activated on March 9th?
We were observant early on to everything that was going on in China. On March 9 it was explained internally what to expect. Everyone was given the chance to work from home and we were reasonably informed that the home office could last 3 months. Adhesion to remote work was not immediate because people continued to prefer to work on client's premises or in the office. On March 12, Arquiconsult's Board then decided to close its offices in Lisbon and Porto and the confinement was then mandatory. At the time, not even a plan was, but only a single measure of containment. Then everything was planned, and we feel that we are prepared for the time it will be necessary.
Being Arquiconsult an information systems company, I deduce that it had all the tools and conditions for employees to perform remotely. So, what adjustments were necessary implement to continue to operate normally?
Just and only, adjustments to the order of people management, because the rest were all operational and already used. A great deal of work is carried out by our Management and Project Leaders. It is these organizational levels where changes occur. The organization of work, its modification, is done differently by several people due to the different size of each team, the nature of the work, and this has changed the most. Remote work is more demanding at middle managers level than at all other levels. They are the ones who, by organizing, helping their people, controlling, and verifying the results, manage to make, in reality, few changes occur.
Do you consider that it is possible, in a remote work regime, to continue to maintain the quality of response and operations with customers?
Totally. In our sector there are some activities that must be carried out in person. In this phase, we won several new projects already thought to be executed remotely. We had some customers, mainly international, asking if we had the capacity to operate even during the pandemic. We always said yes and later we managed to prove it.
To what extent has this pandemic affected the company's turnover?
If we want to be realistic, it has not affected us in any way. The current period is running exactly as planned. We are above last year's turnover in the first quarter and we already know that starting in May we will be lower than in the previous year, but this was already predicted because last year we had some of the best months of Arquiconsult's entire life, for this time of year. April was a normal month in terms of activity. The major concern is not even economic, but financial with the receipts having to be very well controlled at this stage. The indications we have so far are that even in this area we are in a period considered quite normal.
Turning the topic over to human resources, with a team of more than 150 employees, what strategies do you use to keep your teams focused, motivated, and committed?
It is something we always do. There are some specific actions, but in general the concern for the well-being of all, making available all the conditions to do a good job and some actions of friendliness among all, are the recipe. Twice a year we spend 2 days together with everyone at Christmas and Summer events, a total of 4 days where people know each other and where they can live outside of work. These actions are carried out across the country and once in Spain. Then the organization itself remains quite flat. On the other hand, we ask and listen and reflect on all the proposals made by employees to improve their working conditions. Finally, we are among the best paying companies in our industry.
Do you intend to maintain in the future, some of the measures now adopted in this pandemic phase? Namely more meetings by Microsoft Teams, remote working arrangements, flexitime?
Yes, because they had been tested before. We have just given the option to any director in this house to authorize remote work (outside the pandemic) for up to 4 weeks without having to speak to anyone. We always evaluate on a case-by-case basis, but there is a possibility of being used. With regard to tools, they have always been available and were already used since we have many projects abroad where it is not always possible to be in person.
Arquiconsult carried out some social solidarity actions during this period. Do you want to tell us a little about these initiatives?
There are so many that I am afraid I can't remember them all. On the one hand, Arquiconsult normally supports Amovalflor monthly, an institution that works as a nursery school for the most needy and has a day center for the elderly. Then we are donating masks and visors. We have already donated to the Police and we are going to donate to various institutions. We are only waiting for the arrival of most N95 masks to proceed with further distribution. In total there will be 1000 visors and 11 000 N95 masks. But the most expensive program so far has been the distribution of 29 laptops to a school, in Serra da Luz, that will serve students in need to be able to attend classes online. We are preparing 6 more notebooks for this purpose and we are hoping to meet the needs in terms of communications to also advance with 35 calls paid for by us. Then we are building a platform in collaboration with the Odivelas City Council, 3Dways for Covid19 volunteers project. In short, this platform will link the needs of IPSS across the country with volunteers and donations to fill them. Licensing has already been guaranteed for a period of 6 months free by Microsoft. We will have another set of aid throughout the year, but we are still preparing it.
Finally, what do you expect from 2020? Future prospects?
The goal is to match the best year ever, which was last year. We had an excellent year based on several growth factors, the most important of which were the Angolan legal changes (VAT and other measures taken) that gave us great market growth, also influencing our results in Portugal. This year we don't have that much of a factor, so we hope to just match last year. We are still above last year's turnover, so it is not impossible to reach this goal. In a scenario like the one we live in, we cannot ask for much more than this, at this moment. In the future, investment in diversifying the company and expanding it, particularly in Vial Real where we created a nearshoring company and in Barcelona where the market potential still has a lot to explore, will be the main growth regions. We also evaluate electric mobility as something new that we may experience. This last plan was under evaluation when the pandemic started and, as such, has not yet progressed, but we hope to be able to reevaluate it in September. For now, that is all we are going to do this year. For the future, we will still have investment in nearshoring from Portugal as a vector for growth, but one of the plans has already been stopped by us and our partners, because the pandemic has affected Europe and our Belgian partners a lot. So for now we are waiting, because the world can still change and there is no point in evaluating everything without knowing better what will happen.