Management Lessons From the Crisis in Ukraine

My company had employees in Ukraine when war broke out. In 30 days, I learned some valuable lessons about the responsibilities that accompany employing a global workforce that will shape my next 30 years.

Written by Andrew Amann
Published on Aug. 10, 2022
Management Lessons From the Crisis in Ukraine
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Entrepreneurs looking for high-quality and cost-effective development talent typically source workers from countries located all over the world. This staffing strategy provides many significant benefits, most notably lower salaries for experienced and talented programmers, QA analysts, and other technical roles. This approach dovetails nicely with the revenue-challenged state in which most startup organizations operate. 

Managing a global workforce requires a deft hand, however, especially in an era marked by increasing conflict. My company employs a team that includes 25 developers located in Ukraine. Needless to say, these programmers, project managers, designers, engineers and their families have faced an extremely difficult period. Most of them have been displaced because of the war. 

Nevertheless, we continue to financially support our Ukrainian team, even when they’re unable to work, while still meeting our project deadlines. Notably, some businesses stopped all payments or interactions with their remote technical teams in Ukraine. Ultimately, if you intend to benefit from a global workforce, you need to accept the responsibilities that come with it. We feel our approach remains the right one for any organization that greatly benefits from the time and talent of foreign software developers and designers. 

The Ethics of Outsourcing for Startups

Ultimately, if you intend to benefit from a global workforce, you need to accept the responsibilities that come with it. We feel our approach remains the right one for any organization that greatly benefits from the time and talent of foreign software developers and designers. 

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The Benefits of Outsourcing Development Talent 

As highlighted above, our venture studio enjoys tangible benefits from hiring project managers, designers, and engineers located in a foreign country, like Ukraine. Their technical aptitude and professionalism is indistinguishable from programmers located in the United States. 

We have looked to Ukraine as a great source for high-level software engineering talent since the beginning of our company. After completing 50 projects and hiring over 130 people from Ukraine over the years, we now operate like a well-oiled machine. A major reason for this success is the brilliant minds and dedication of our programming team. Retaining talented teammates over time plays a key role in building a culture focused on both technical and business success. 


The Responsibilities of a Global Workforce 

Outsourcing work to other countries isn’t all upside, however, as it increases the chances your team members will be displaced or disrupted by global conflicts. It also doesn’t make non-U.S.-based employees any less a part of your team. Before you employ teammates from other countries, you need to understand how to support them by both preparing for unexpected circumstances ahead of time and offering financial and logistical support when crises occur.

The Russian attack on Ukraine came as a shock to both our Ukrainian and our American staffs. Communication channels still remained open when the conflict broke out, so I made it a point to reach out to each teammate if they were online. I worked with our Ukrainian team manager to determine the location, current status, and potential evacuation plans of every employee and their families. After a harrowing night, we made contact with all 25 of our Ukrainian employees. Here are several takeaways we learned from the experience.


Prepare Your Teams for Unexpected Circumstances

Keeping our ongoing projects in motion required our non-Ukrainian teammates to ramp up their efforts while losing the contributions of most of our Ukrainian teammates. Thankfully, cross-training our teams on each company project is the standard operating procedure for our organization.

Due to the way our teams are structured, we were able to quickly reassign client projects to non-Ukrainian teammates and get to a 40 percent utilization score only four days after the first attacks. This made sense with about half of our team located in Ukraine.

Next, we looked to acquire additional development talent as quickly as possible to make up the difference and meet our client deadlines. I crafted personal emails to 10 CEOs of foreign software development agencies. Many understood our situation and wanted to help. Consider forming similar relationships before unexpected disruptions so you are in a better position.

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Support Your Teams When They Need It

We quickly made the decision to continue paying our Ukrainian teammates their full salaries, no matter their productivity level. At the same, we also needed to increase revenue to manage these additional talent costs. 

I reached out to former clients and potential new ones, explaining the situation. Again, most wanted to help Ukraine by helping us. Over the next month, we doubled our revenue. This approach enabled us to stay on schedule even with half of our regular development team largely unavailable. 

After working to reassign team members, bring on additional support, and increase revenue, something unexpected happened. The very next day, our Ukrainian team members started signing in and tracking hours. Many were working from basements, parking garages, and overcrowded apartments, but they still found a way to contribute to the team effort. Our utilization score actually improved compared to a week prior!

Startup businesses gain significant benefits from drawing on the software engineering talent located in foreign locales. However, the significant responsibilities of employing development talent in a region of conflict also matter. Because we supported our foreign engineers when they needed it, they supported the team. Because our non-Ukrainian teammates knew we’d do the same for them if they ever needed help, they were happy to pick up the slack.

Businesses simply can’t walk away during times like these. Supporting our Ukrainian teammates and their families was the right approach to take. It required some extra effort to source new talent and new project work, but it remains worth it both now and in the future. 

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