Flexibility and trust are the key to motivated employees, says Eva Vodenková in an interview for Computerworld

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March 28, 2024

Over the past year, a number of companies have moved away from the unlimited home office policy and have required employees to return to the office for at least part of the time. At OKsystem, however, we stand firmly behind a flexible model that promotes…

Eva Vodenková, our HR and Operations Director, spoke about the benefits of long-term employee motivation and work-life balance for Computerworld magazine's TOP IT Employers supplement.

In the interview, you can find out why we pay so much attention to middle management, what new benefits we will be offering our employees from 2024 to help them achieve a better work-life balance, and why we are not yet considering unlimited vacation time. The interview was published in the print issue of Computerworld 4/2024 and also online.

What is your OKsystem policy on working from home?

I would describe it as accommodating and supportive of work-life balance. We are committed to our flexible working arrangements and have no plans for a mass or forced return, despite the fact that many companies are now trying to get their staff back into the office. This is despite the fact that everyone still has their own workstation in our offices. This decision may not make economic sense to some. However, it is important to us to build long-term relationships with our employees and create attractive working conditions. Some employees come to work every day, some several times a week/month and some very rarely. I can say that this trust towards our employees is paying off. We want them to feel they are part of the company, to be innovative, to think about how to improve processes, to take responsibility for results and to be proud of the success of the projects and the company.

That's easy to say. But how do you make it happen?

Ensuring the long-term motivation and performance of hundreds of employees from different generations and professions is a great challenge. It pays to be open, to create an inspiring and positive atmosphere and to foster a healthy corporate culture. Yes, it sounds like a tired cliché. However, to be successful, we need the right people in key positions who communicate and act openly, consistently and humanely towards all employees. Middle management has an indispensable role to play in this context, as they are in daily contact with their teams and have the opportunity to become aware of potential problems and to deal with them in a timely manner.

How do you support leaders in this difficult role?

In many ways. For example, we offer them practical development workshops covering topics that interest them or that they are currently addressing in their teams. They are available to all leaders who seek peer-to-peer discussion and who find it stimulating to share what works and what doesn't work in their teams across divisions.

We are currently preparing training for them in the area of recognising psychological distress in an effort to prevent long-term stress and actively prevent employee burnout. There are more and more factors around us to worry about. Whether it was Covid, the current war conflicts or even the home-based work we support, which in some cases can contribute to greater social isolation. What is certain is that we all react differently to similar stimuli, which is why we are devoting more space to prevention and diagnosis than ever before.

We also meet twice a year with all managers to discuss current events in the company and to foster communication and friendly relations. We deliberately organise these meetings in an informal environment away from the workplace, where there is space and time for fun. The active team games we prepare for them not only exercise their minds but often their bodies as well.

Do you organise similar meetings at other levels?

Participation in various company events is a natural part of the job for all members of management. Our directors travel to the company's branches at least once a year and always combine business meetings with informal meetings with employees. I remember a moment from a recent visit to Ostrava when Martin Procházka, the company's founder and current majority owner, praised the work of our colleagues in Ostrava and, as part of his thanks for their work, mentioned that the size of the team, their enthusiasm, team spirit and willingness to work reminded him of the beginnings of OKsystem in the Holešovice market in the 1990s. The natural interaction with shareholders, visionaries, and company leaders is something that our employees appreciate.

Another event that was very positively perceived by the employees was the summer ice cream afternoon. For a few hours, members of the management team become ice cream makers and serve ice cream to employees from the refrigerated counter. The first time, we had to persuade the directors a bit, but now they are happy to take their turn.

We organise countless similar meetings for our employees, whether across the company, within individual branches or according to their focus, and they come up with more ideas themselves. From my point of view, these are often time-saving and relatively inexpensive events with a large reach. Some are charitable, such as our 'We (don't) bake for charity' for the Good Angel charity or the Christmas collection in partnership with Give Children a Chance for gifts for children in orphanages. Just as we do not require office work, none of these activities are mandatory, of course. We are even more pleased with the great turnout they have. 

Is OKsystem one of the companies that support work-life balance?

I'm convinced of it. It is, or at least should be, the task of every employer to prepare such conditions for their employees so they can perform their often demanding tasks effectively. Enabling them to reconcile their professional and personal lives is one of them. We support this balance by having flexible working hours, encouraging part-time work and allowing home working. We also offer regular yoga classes on-site to strengthen the body and mental well-being. It is also important to us that our employees plan their time off and holidays without regret and enjoy them to the full. By resting, they gain distance, new energy for projects and a fresh perspective. For this reason, we have also introduced a benefit of five extra days off from this year onwards, extending our 25 days of "standard" vacation. We are convinced that it will pay off.

Some IT companies already offer unlimited vacation. Are you considering it, too?

In my opinion, unlimited vacation is a bit of a marketing gimmick that has a number of hidden pitfalls despite its appealing cover. On the other hand, if there is no clear definition of what is acceptable, employees may feel stressed by taking longer time off, and feelings of guilt or unfairness may arise if there is unequal use in teams. As a result, such an initially well-intentioned benefit can do great damage, impacting company culture and productivity. It is important to remember that we are still in a market world in which companies pay employees for the work they do. I believe that most people look for a job not just for the financial reward, but to fulfil themselves, to make something of themselves. In short, we don't just work for benefits and vacation time. With a clear 25 + 5 days off policy, on the other hand, we want all employees to really use them for their rest.


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