While most of us are following the war in Ukraine from a distance, Vadim Yasinovsky, Co-Founder & CPO at airSlate / PDFfiller.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 PDFfiller.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.
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.
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
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