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Managing a Company Amid War

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

While most of us are fol­low­ing the war in Ukraine from a dis­tance, Vadim Yasi­novsky, Co-Founder & CPO at airS­late / PDF​filler​.com, has had to expe­ri­ence it at a gran­u­lar lev­el: at the time the war broke out 70% of his work­force was in the coun­try. Vadim came on The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast recent­ly to share how it’s going and how com­pa­ny cul­ture has played a role in over­com­ing the challenges.

Vadim has been a ser­i­al entre­pre­neur for most of his life. He moved to Amer­i­ca when he was 18, start­ed his first com­pa­ny when he was 23 and ran that for 16 years before build­ing oth­er com­pa­nies. He was very much ready for retire­ment when a friend reached out and asked him for help with some­thing he was build­ing. The first prod­uct that came out of that part­ner­ship was PDF​filler​.com, which is still going strong. Some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened with airS­late but accord­ing to Vadim, there were more bot­tles of wine involved in con­vinc­ing him to get started.

Late 2021/​Early 2022

Some time before the war began, there was a sense that some­thing might hap­pen. As a pre­cau­tion, Vadim moved 35 of his peo­ple to Poland, a NATO coun­try. Yet even as he did this, he believed it was ​“pre­pos­ter­ous” to think any­thing would happen.

When the war did end up hap­pen­ing, Vadim and some col­leagues man­aged to fig­ure out it was about to start and began mak­ing phone calls to every­one they could. The mes­sage was: ​“The war is going to start in three hours. Get your stuff and get out.” Strange­ly, a lot of the team were skep­ti­cal, includ­ing Vadim’s own sis­ter who lived in Kyiv. She just went back to sleep and then spent sev­en days in the base­ment with­out elec­tric­i­ty (she’s in Poland now). Vadim’s father react­ed the same way. Thank­ful­ly some of the team did lis­ten to him and evac­u­at­ed. The rest were stuck, togeth­er with their fam­i­lies, friends and animals.

No Sleep for a Week

Vadim and his team dug in to find a solu­tion. They had to find bus­es, gas for those bus­es, dri­vers, cash, etc. They were sleep­ing maybe two hours a day but in the end, they man­aged to move 650 peo­ple includ­ing young chil­dren, as well as fam­i­ly pets.

Performing Under Pressure

It’s rea­son­able to think that peo­ple deal­ing with this kind of stress might strug­gle with their work respon­si­bil­i­ties, but Vadim not­ed that sup­port scores actu­al­ly went up. There was also a peri­od of time when only 40% of the team on a par­tic­u­lar project were work­ing, yet they were deliv­er­ing 95% on the road map! Vadim thinks these may have been self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies: you know there’s no back­up and the ranks are thin, so you bring your A+ game.

This was seen even more dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing reg­u­lar work meet­ings when peo­ple would say they had to leave to go to a bomb shel­ter, and then would rejoin the meet­ing from the bomb shelter.

As the weeks wore on, Vadim real­ized that part of this impres­sive per­for­mance under pres­sure was attrib­ut­able to the fact that work was pro­vid­ing a lit­tle piece of nor­mal­i­ty amid the chaos.

Peo­ple also worked longer hours because they want­ed to sup­port those who were evac­u­at­ing or were tem­porar­i­ly unable to work. They sup­ple­ment­ed their work­days with human­i­tar­i­an aid. Vadim shared that some team mem­bers would deliv­er aid dur­ing the day­time and then work for most of the night so that they would stay on top of their work projects.

One of the vec­tors for that human­i­tar­i­an aid was Slack chan­nels. Dif­fer­ent ones were in place for food, cloth­ing, mon­ey, trans­porta­tion, etc., and every­one vol­un­teered or tried to make con­nec­tions when­ev­er pos­si­ble. One of the team mem­bers even per­son­al­ly raised $2.5M.

The Lull

What hap­pens when the adren­a­line goes down and there are moments of peace? Vadim con­sid­ers these to be some of the tough­est peri­ods because you’ve still got to stay on point with work and oth­er projects while deal­ing with the uncer­tain­ty that a lull brings. If we learned one thing from the pan­dem­ic, it was how stress­ful uncer­tain­ty can be. Not just indi­vid­u­al­ly, but dis­trib­uted across teams and companies.

A lull is also a time for Vadim to think about the future. One of his max­ims is ​“always have a Plan B.” But he knows that there’s no cer­tain­ty as to what will hap­pen in the future. No one would have guessed that the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict would have gone on as long as it has, or that US troops would still be sta­tioned in Korea more than half a cen­tu­ry after a cease­fire. Many did not pre­dict the war in Ukraine, so how can they pre­dict peace?

Vadim isn’t say­ing that things won’t get resolved but he’s men­tal­ly prepar­ing his team for the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a res­o­lu­tion may not come soon. And Ukraine and its work­ers and com­pa­nies will have to deal with that.

Managing Growth

A lot of the con­ver­sa­tions that Vadim has had with his team in the past months have been high­ly per­son­al, not just because of the sit­u­a­tion on the ground in Ukraine but because he knows some of those team mem­bers excep­tion­al­ly well. But as the com­pa­ny grows, the nature of the rela­tion­ships change. The rela­tion­ships that exist between employ­ees and man­age­ment, as well as between employ­ees, sim­ply aren’t the same when there are hun­dreds of employ­ees rather than just 14. Vadim likens it to the dif­fer­ence between hav­ing a small spe­cial forces unit that you can call at 3 a.m., and man­ag­ing a large army, which can’t be done by one per­son alone.

Those who were with you when you were a ​“spe­cial forces group” have to adjust to the new nor­mal and can’t be upset that they get treat­ed like one of the new team mem­bers. They have to see this employ­ee growth as a nor­mal part of the evo­lu­tion of the com­pa­ny and cel­e­brate that change as some­thing that’s not just good for the com­pa­ny, but good for everyone.

Check Out the Full Episode

Are you inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Vadim and man­ag­ing a com­pa­ny through tur­bu­lence? Lis­ten to the full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.

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