Special interview with CEO of Elinar, in closed Finland.

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyday life around the world. In the empty office of Elinar, no one sits around the coffee table where people used to have their breakfast together. All have moved to work remotely from their home offices. Mikko Hörkkö has been the CEO of this Pori based Software Company for over seven years now, but he is used to working wherever he is. Now he answers the phone at home, which is in Tampere, Finland.

“The coronavirus took us Finns by surprise. As a nation, we are going through drastic changes right now, even though we cannot see the source of it”, Hörkkö ponders.  He hasn’t lost night sleep yet due to the pandemic but is concerned about the situation. “Of course, at Elinar we are prepared for this invisible threat too.” 

Arrangements and preparations

The CEO has different kinds of responsibilities and things to be done every day. “This situation has required arrangements and preparations, however no actual crisis measures yet”, he tells calmly. “Luckily, the type of business we are in has enabled us as an organization the quick transition to work remotely. Thanks to this move, we’ve minimized the threat of employees falling sick and neither do we spread the virus forward.” 

At Elinar, the basic work has continued almost normally. “We have to invest in some divergent things. As long we cannot see the full impact of the pandemic on the overall economy, we need to prepare for different scenarios. Unlike in the restaurant sector, for example, the effect on our sector might be seen much later”, Hörkkö explains.

Experts work remotely around the world

Elinar provides AI-assisted Content Management for large companies and organizations all over the world. However, the closure of state borders or flight bans has no effect on Elinar’s work itself. “We provide maintenance and deliver projects remotely all the time, so this is a very familiar way of working for us. Our employees attend meetings remotely from Pori, so we don’t travel so much, after all”, Hörkkö tells.

The economic situation and the threat of a recession cause concerns – many people might wonder about their future. However, according to the CEO, Elinar’s situation is quite stable now. “Perhaps surprisingly, our work situation in terms of orders is good. Within the limits where things can be predicted, the future seems secured and there is enough work available”, he reassures. “However, the situation tends to develop all the time, so I follow it up very closely.” 

The core of leadership has not changed

The unique situation caused by the coronavirus arrived in Finland unexpectedly and quickly. Can anyone prepare for that? “We couldn’t predict that exactly this would happen. But in fact, the measures we took have been pre-planned precautionary procedures”, Hörkkö reveals. “Over the years, the company’s management has considered many different risks. One way of mitigating those is that staff can work from anywhere.” 

Even supervisory work is not tied to time or place. “In the past, while working in Singapore, all my subordinates were located across Asia”, the CEO explains. “The most important is to maintain dialog and connection between the supervisor and the subordinate. In the office it is easy to exchange daily news over the coffee, but now the active approach takes a bit more effort. Chat applications and phone calls play an important role.” 

Calm attitude to the future

As the first signs of the coronavirus reaching Finland were visible, many concerns did arise. However, it is not the first time the CEO is in the middle of an epidemic. “While I lived in Singapore, Asia struggled against the SARS virus. The aftermath lasted for more than a year after the acute phase. For example, there were passenger fever measuring points at the airports for a long time”, recalls Hörkkö, who used to travel a lot for his work at that time. “Also, that crisis is in the past now.” 

Yet no-one knows how long the pandemic will last in the world. However, it seems to have lasting effects on some things. “Some companies in vulnerable business sectors no longer exist after the crisis. Many businesses, on the other hand, will change completely as suppliers adapt their activities to suit people’s needs. For example, various digital tools and services have been around for a long time, but now the utilization rate has grown exponentially”, the forward-looking CEO describes. “This also creates opportunities for fresh innovations and people’s overall well-being.” 

An important role in the middle of the crisis

Elinar’s role is essential as the service supplier for different systems in society. “Our agreements require us to maintain certain service levels. Some of our customers operate in critical sectors for the functioning of society”, says Hörkkö. For that reason, the health of employees, coping at work and uninterrupted continuity of the business have been important.

The CEO is pleased with the flexibility of Elinar employees in the middle of challenging conditions. “Overall, the transition to full-time remote work has been very smooth for our organization and staff”, he praises. His concerns are more about people’s patience in these exceptional circumstances to stay at home for a long enough. As an active person in sports, Hörkkö admits that the situation is challenging, especially if one’s hobbies have only been outside the home. “Although families are now mostly locked inside, fortunately, outdoor activities are not banned. During these times, it is important to keep the regular daily rhythm and stay active”, he suggests.