Arquiconsult activated, right at the beginning of this pandemic, more precisely on March 9, its Prevention Plan with the objective of ensuring that its teams would remain safe and informed and, in this way, could remotely ensure the provision of services to your customers and partners without interruption.
Starting at the beginning, would you like to explain to us what this Prevention Plan, which was promptly activated on March 9th, consists of?
We were aware of everything that was going on in China early on. On March 9th, what was coming was explained internally. Everyone was given the possibility to work from home and we were already reasonably informed that the period for this would be around 3 months. Joining telework was not immediate because people continued to prefer working on clients and in the office. On March 12, Arquiconsult’s administration then decided to close its offices in Lisbon and Porto and began the mandatory confinement. At the time, it was not even a plan, but only a single measure of confinement. Then everything was planned and we feel that we are prepared for the time that is needed.
As Arquiconsult is an information systems company, I deduce that they had all the tools and conditions for employees to carry out the work remotely. So what adjustments were necessary for the teams to continue to operate normally?
Just and only, adjustments to the order of people management, because the rest was already operational and was already used. In fact, the great work is all deposited in our Management and in the project heads. These are the levels of the company where everything changes much more. The organization of work, its modification, done differently by different people due to the different size of the teams, the nature of each one’s work, was what changed the most. Telework is more demanding at the level of middle managers than at all other levels. They are the ones who, by organizing, helping their people, controlling and verifying the results, manage to ensure that in reality little has changed in the teams.
Do you consider that it is possible, in a teleworking regime, to continue to maintain the quality of response and operations with customers?
Totally. In our activity there are some jobs that really have to be carried out in person. In this phase we won several new projects already thought to be executed at a distance. We had some customers, mainly international ones, asking if we were capable of operating even during the pandemic. We always said yes and later we were able to prove it.
To what extent has this pandemic already affected the company’s turnover?
If we are to be realistic in any way. The current period is going exactly as planned. We are above last year’s invoicing in the first quarter and we already know that from May we will be lower than the previous year, but this was already foreseen because last year we had some of the best months of Arquiconsult’s entire life at this time of year. April was a pretty normal month in terms of activity. The big concern is not even economic, but financial, with 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 the period still considered quite normal.
Transferring the focus to human resources, with a team of over 150 employees, what strategies do you use to keep the team focused, motivated and engaged?
It’s something we always do. There are some actions, but in general the concern with the well-being of everyone, making all the conditions available to do a good job and some actions for socializing among everyone, 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 get to know each other and where they can socialize outside of work. These actions are carried out throughout the country and once in Spain. Afterwards the organization itself remains quite flat. On the other hand, we ask, listen and reflect on all the proposals presented by employees to improve their working conditions. Finally, we are among the best paying companies in our industry.
Do you intend to keep in the future some of the measures now adopted in this phase of the pandemic? Namely more meetings by Microsoft Teams, telecommuting, flexitime?
Yes, because they’ve been tested before. We have just given the option to any director of this house to authorize telework (outside the pandemic) for up to 4 weeks without having to talk to anyone. We always evaluate case by case, but there is the possibility of being used. With regard to the tools, they were always available and were already used since we have many projects abroad where it is not always possible to be in person and, on top of that, we have offices in Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and Luanda so it was inevitable to have this type of tools already in use. There are many projects in which teams are formed with consultants from more than one country or city and where collaboration from a distance is even necessary. We’ve been doing it for years.
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 fear I don’t remember them all. On the one hand, Arquiconsult already supports Amovalflor on a monthly basis, an institution that works as a day care center for the most disadvantaged people and has a day center for the elderly. Then we are donating masks and visors. We have already donated to the Police, we are going to donate to various institutions. We are just waiting for the arrival of most of the N95 masks to proceed with further distribution. In total there will be 1000 strongest 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 underprivileged students to take online classes. We are preparing 6 more laptops for this purpose and we are waiting to meet the needs in terms of communications to also come up with 35 connections paid for by us. Then we are building a platform together with the Municipality of Odivelas, 3Dways for the Covid19 volunteers project. Briefly, this platform will link the needs of IPSS across the country with volunteers and donations to address them. Licensing has already been guaranteed for a 6-month free period by Microsoft. We will have another set of aids throughout the year, but we are still preparing them.
To finish, what do you still expect since 2020? Future perspectives?
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 being the Angolan legal changes (VAT and other measures taken) which gave us great growth in that market, also influencing the results in Portugal. This year we don’t have this factor so much, so we only hope to match last year. We are still above last year in terms of sales, so it is not impossible to reach the goal. In a scenario like the one we live in, we can’t ask for much more than that right now. Going forward, investment in the company’s diversification and expansion, particularly in Vila 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 be trying. This last plan was under evaluation when the pandemic began and as such has not progressed yet, but we hope to be able to re-evaluate in September. For now, that’s just what we’re going to do this year. For the future, we will also have investment in nearshoring from Portugal as a growth driver, but one of the plans has already been put in place by us and our partners, because the pandemic has greatly affected Europe and our Belgian partners. So for now it’s just a matter of waiting, because the world can still change a lot and it’s not worth it to be evaluating everything without knowing better what’s going to happen.