The impact of Coronavirus on Ukrainian digitalisation

Changes in daily working hours and business formats
Digital Communication Network begins the series of publications on Digital Challenges in the Time of COVID-19 Crisis.
Background situation with virus outbreak in Ukraine and its influence on employment market

The worldwide Coronavirus epidemic that started in the Chinese city Wuhan at the end of December affected Ukraine substantially. As of 4th May in Ukraine, there are 12,331 people that officially have Covid-19 from 129,723 tested, with 500 people being infected daily (MOH statistics — link/ Center of Public Health). Ukraine was fast to respond to the threat, and was one of the countries that initiated lockdown rapidly. This affected businesses drastically. The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers launched a quarantine that started on 26th March, and as of 4th May the quarantine will be continued until at least 22nd May restricting the opening of schools, beauty parlours, cafes and restaurants, small businesses, shopping centers, public gatherings, entertainment events and many other industries will also be affected. As a result 29% of Ukrainian companies have stopped functioning and 6% have fully closed down their businesses.

In the inflation report done by the National Bank of Ukraine social polls indicate that 35% of people continued with work in some form, 29% work from home or away from their place of work and 4% lost their jobs, which according to social polling firm InfoSapiens accounts for a -10% decrease. Therefore, according to Ukrainian Prime-Minister, Denis Shmygal, this is 10 times more if it is compared with the employment numbers before the quarantine. Some industries such as transport, food and entertainment have not generated any profits sice the quarantine. Those who still work are experiencing a decrease in profits of up to 90–100%.

According to OpenData Bot more than 277,000 private entrepreneurs/ small businesses have closed down due to the quarantine. Such an effect on Ukrainian businesses resulted in attempts to change the existing business models to establish new working formats. According to statistics found on Work.ua, the biggest Ukrainian employment portal, the number of new vacancies has decreased, but the number of new vacancies for distant work has increased. Basically speaking the market has divided between those companies who can still function and work within the existing working model and those who can switch to the new distance working structure. The management team of the Work.ua portal has even created a special section on the website for distance work. Some companies were forced to change internal working processes, like cutting personnel or using new technologies.



"Before, I have checked the situation every 3 months, now we try to analyze each two weeks, because there a lot of changes, and changes are coming fast, because it is all related to people, who should be paid. Our economy has been collapsing, and Coronavirus made the situation worse. Business thinks how to stay alive. Mostly small and medium businesses have been affected. Those who can bring products online, and they will survive. Customers also should have money to buy products and services".


Elena Gapych
HR expert
In all cases the daily working habits of people have changed, and more digital tools are being used. People were forced to either learn new modes of distance work, or after losing the possibility of work, to try learning new skills.
Digitization processes in Ukraine and their development during Covid-19
The effect on the working market saw digitization processes speed up due to the pandemic lockdown. One of the Ukrainian goals over the last few years was the development and spread of national digitalization both in the private business and government sectors. In 2019, the new President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy had declared an initiative to create "The country in the smartphone" program, with the aim to create the Ministry of Digital Transformation, which was opened at the end of 2019. The new ministry initiated programs in the realms of education, government services, career and employment support and the development of business initiatives. All those programs support the increasing need for digital literacy, and business and the government digital needs have merged to best provide services to the public that are needed because of the impact of Covid-19. Aleksandr Bornyakov, Deputy Minister of IT development in the Ministry of Digital Transformations sees Coronavirus as a positive impact on the digitisation processes not only for businesses but also for government institutions to change the daily habits of Ukrainians:
"We have online court hearings that were unimaginable before, we have installed an electronic management system between institutions that provides the possibility to use my electronic signature to sign documents outside of the office or abroad. Paper documents have been changed to digital. All of that will be available after the lockdown. A good example of how digitalisation in the government affects the daily habits of people is the employment agencies. Before applicants had to go and fill in the documents manually. No one actually took care of this. But, recently people understood that people can do this online. Right now since there is an increase of applicants, we have a Diya app — you can apply online if you are looking for a job. You don't have to do anything else. We have created a form that guides you through the process, which is the most advanced that I have seen anywhere in the world."
An app mentioned "Diia"- was launched in early February. It is supposed to be the channel of digital communication between the government and the country's citizens by combining all of the digital documents. Within a week, it had been installed by more than one million Ukrainians and for a while the app was leading the app download charts. For the moment, the "Diia" app offers storage of digital driving licenses, ID for domestic flights, Digital passports; possibilities to open private businesses and making a court claim. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the app creators added mailing lists with information about virus spread, and specialized Push messages with government decisions and recommendations.

Another digital program that became very popular during the Covid 19 pandemic is the national program for promoting digital literacy: "Diia. Digital Education". The "Diia. Digital Education" platform was created in the form of edutainment, where free series are combined with experts and celebrities to explain how to use websites, the possible applications of smartphones and laptops, basic Internet safety rules, use of online services and courses on how to find jobs and how to acquire new skills to combat rising unemployment. Soon there will be courses regarding digital professions, like artificial intelligence and digital marketing. The audience on the platform rose from 36,000 people to 200,000 during the lockdown highlighting the issues the population currently face in their working routines. Research done by the ministry indicates that 53% of Ukrainians have a lower than basic level of digital literacy, with 15.1% of the population not having any skills at all.

According to the UNDP Laboratory of innovative development the gap between those that managed to stay in tune with digitalisation and those that couldn't has increased lately. This happened because of the large number of elderly who struggled to keep up with the technological changes of the rapid digitalization of all spheres of life. The shift to working online is undeniable, yet the access to technologies and connection could be an obstacle, in particular in smaller villages or close to the front line of the ongoing military operations in the Donbas.
"We have 4 main goals as a government for the next 3 years. We want 100% of services to be available online, we want to cover Ukraine with Internet access, increase the level of IT products in GDP and to provide the possibilities to learn new skills. All of this makes an ecosystem to help Ukraine digitise. Also we plan to have in every ministry a chief Digital Officer that will be responsible for the digital projects" sums up Valeriya Ionan who is leading the "Diia. Digital Education project".
According to the same UNDP research, Ukrainian society was quick to react. In addition to the government a lot of organisations, businesses and universities have opened free access to numerous online services and initiatives that will help develop digital and professional skills, free services and consultations for both skills development on digital communication usage and business operations. There were cases when the government and businesses united to develop products that would assist the population in times of crises. For instance an interesting initiative has been started by the Ukrainian government #HackCoronaChallenge, which united IT experts, civil society, start-ups and journalists to develop IT projects to ease the life of citizens and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the winners were "Sluhay" an online library of audiobooks in Ukrainian and SkillAR a mobile platform for distance interactive learning with the help of VR tools.

When evaluating how Coronavirus has affected government institutions and their employees within the legislative and the executive branches, then were a couple of changes. For example, parliamentary deputies started to participate in committees online, using e-signatures to access the video rooms.

"The committee involvement has increased by up to 85%, since the video mode is convenient. Many deputies before needed to travel big distances. All parliamentary meetings are done with Zoom conferences and are broadcast on YouTube so that the population can follow the meetings. After the lockdown we will move towards a fully digital document model without any paper document excepting rare exceptions. We have sped up our work using electronic tablets for work. During the Covid-19 lockdown we have developed more than 100 bills, and conducted 32 sessions. Overall deputies have perceived changes as good. More than 100 members of Parliament now are connected to the electronic management system between government institutions, using their electronic signatures".
Pavel Frolov
Member of Parliament who authored two laws on digitalisation, which were ratified by the Parliament
In general, government digital initiatives were accepted, apart from some experts and around 10% of population which raises the question of safety of personal data within government apps.

Businesses also increased their usage of e-signatures, online tools for business operations, online consulting and ordering and digital payment systems. Businesses need to adapt to the new practices to increase profits, but they also need to increase the working capabilities of employees, while educating and supporting employees. Covid-19 has forced workers to explore digital tools and social media. While, this may be painful for some employees it is increasingly necessary to use digital and social media tools. The most used platforms for work in the case study companies were Slack, Microsoft Teams, Bitrix 24, iDone This, ProdPad, Skype/Hangouts, Cisco Webex and Zoom for big conferences. A lot of businesses have organized online Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook chats and YouTube for internal and informal/support communications. YouTube, Zoom and Facebook webinars are also used to discuss the current industry situation and the potential methods to exit the crisis. For example, "Reve ta Stohne Restorator (Restaurant owner that cries and suffers) and Tugashev talks for the food industry, Doki Vsi Vdoma — use digital education and entertainment while at home and the Kyiv International Economic Forum zoom webinars about the situation in the Ukrainian economy.

Interesting cases
Distance working was found to be an effective system that sped up the organisational processes of companies and inspired creative approaches, such as with the working routines of employees, which allow for higher production and stress-free work.

Even though Covid-19 has influenced the work of the IT industry where 38.7% companies have started to cut expenses on the education of teams. For instance, Beetroot an IT company, put an emphasis on digital communications and training.For a long time the company consulted on building development teams for clients, and as well as this the company initiated Beetroot Academy. Beetroot is an interesting case of how IT companies who have a history of distance work can offer advice to their clients on how to change the current working situation.
How COVID-19 affects daily working habits
According to Anastasiya Khyzhniak even though the company was used to working remotely they faced a change in the needs of employees, to increase productivity in the company, in regard to both the usage of communication tools and in organisational ways as "Digitalization happened for us a long time ago. We use Slack for external communications between offices and individuals. We use them for announcements, for various chats that were divided by cities and interests. We use hangout for calls, Zoom for bigger conferences to not compromise on the quality and attempting to move away from Skype. We have started to use these tools a lot more. All office meet- ups are now online, like informal presentations for newcomers. We now have more communication occurring inside the company with the possibility for all employees to join the meetings. For the moment 90% of us work online". For the moment Beetroot is one of the companies that consults their clients on distance working routines, in order to improve healthy collaboration, and explain dominant online work processes, in addition to mentoring startup companies within existing Ukrainian start-up funds to enable the usage of more digital services in Ukraine. "For some of our clients the change was easy, for some a bit of an adjustment. We advise on sharing more information between employees, since they need updates on what is happening with the product and the company. There is a need for social gatherings, celebrating things together, such as birthdays or Friday beers. Plus a good thing might be daily reports in the evenings to check on progress since some people and managers might perceive working from home as less productive. This is the balance of staying in tune, or burning-out."
Similar ideas are used by Elena Gapych at her IT group management "In the HR department we communicate through webinars, and we conduct surveys in every team as to whether our employees are happy or not. We also provide them with flexible working hours. People understand that somebody takes care of them"
This is a similar approach used by Grigoriy Frolov, who is a representative in the NGO sector working for Free Russia Foundation and Free Russia House in Ukraine. As a communication specialist he sees the lockdown as a motivator to find more work formats, and for the improvement of the organisation's overall communication, which is located in 4 different places: Washington DC, Tbilisi, Berlin and Kyiv "I think everyone is on the same page now. Before you needed to schedule a meeting in advance, and take extra steps to help people, right now you just call and it works". Like with Beetroot, Grigoriy identifies several changes after the lockdown in terms of work results within the digital framework that he hopes will remain after quarantine. He literally created a fully equipped office with audio recorders, hired digital specialists to provide knowledge and the production of online projects.
"in terms of communicating with the audience, we have several positive inputs from this lockdown, in particular production of more content. We have more listeners, viewers and readers because of this. The competition in our small market of expert opinions is oversaturated because everyone started to produce their content, but still it seems that everyone has some place in the market. In these 40 days of lockdown we have launched a podcast, we have organized webcast presentations of our reports with a large audience attendance. Usually most people lack the time to attend on site events, and we also do online webinars on digital security, digital storytelling, Covid-19 assistance, which we would not have done without this push from Coronavirus… Each of our activities will become more digital for us from now on".
Grigoriy Frolov
Free Russia Foundation and Free Russia House in Ukraine
An interesting perspective of the consequences of lockdown can be analysed by investigating how the working day has been scheduled now for people working online. For instance, Grigoy rescheduled his daily routines, to fit the hours when he feels work is most productive, placing lunch time as a time for relaxation when he walks around the neighborhood and just relaxes.

Oleg Shimanskyy, a Crisis Communication Specialist Consultant uses digital tools to track his working time, on of which is the Self Control app that measures 60 minute work periods when you cannot access social media. He also uses Trello for structuring tasks with his team, checking messages every 15 minutes and using a separate chat for informal communication with colleagues. Trello allows people can put forward any questions to be asked.

Such methods allowed him to stay productive previously when he switched to distance working two years ago, and helps now during the lockdown "You need to be structured and in control, to be on top of your game. You need to schedule your time very precisely in order to meet your deadlines. That's exactly what Coronavirus made people do, it turned everyone to consulting mode, when you need to schedule your time, you need to be the one who makes yourself productive. I suggest a strict routine, it's really good to try and go to sleep earlier, it's really much easier, try to shuffle things around, try to be productive for a couple of hours and then relax. It's extra important that you devote time for your well-being in these times of epidemic, where you can get into your Zoom zumba class, or just walk, or call yours friends, anything that makes you happy.
Oleg Shimanskyy
Crisis Communication Specialist Consultant
Entertainment, food and tourism
Businesses that used to provide 'happiness' services, such as entertainment, food and tourism were affected the most by the pandemic. Coronavirus pushed these industries to be creative in order not to close. For example, 40% of cafes and restaurants might not open after the quarantine ends. From the beginning of the pandemic — 12,000 cafes and restaurants out of 30,000 had been closed before the quarantine. Thus entrepreneurs in the food industry either started to change business models and work with deliveries, or started other projects in the production of semi-finished products. Both versions rely on digital tools and online services. Among many interesting cases the most original might be Telegram bots, like PastaBoxBot for the restaurant Pastateca, which allows people to order a box of products that are cooked in the restaurant, or online-culinary apps such as Cookit where people can order ready dishes and semi-finished products in various forms and sets for different occasions.


One of the interesting cases of business transformation and the usage of digital tools is the Online dining restaurant "100 years ago ahead" and it's chef Evgeniy Klopotenko:
"If you can't go to the restaurant then the restaurant will come to you. Each Saturday we have different online diners to whom we deliver in one hour a set of dishes before the event is ready and they all join me for an online diner. If your audience wants emotions, you need to sell these and not just food ." Such a business approach has become very successful. The first event gathered 70 people who joined via Zoom to have a dinner with ready dishes from the restaurant, and at the same time the chef talked with them about the dishes. "Our restaurant is not a delivery restaurant; we have maybe 5-10 orders per day, so I am trying different things during quarantine, different things every week. My thing is to be reactive. As to digital tools I am using everything, from Skype/Zoom platforms, chat bots, and Google forms for orders. Young programmers want to make money during the lockdown so they constantly come up with new applications. For now I think we use 10-15 digital instruments. I want digital platforms to continue existing and to improve them and combine with our onsite practices after the lockdown" says Evgeniy confidently. He saw results from his digital activities. His website saw an increase from 700,000 to 1.5million visitors per month, due to an access to cooking courses with discounts, and an abundance of content. "My strategy is to provide information daily and consistently"



Changes in Education
A good example of digital usage and transformation of working habits is found in the educational industry where a majority of teachers had a low understanding of digital tools. For instance, Prometheus, an Ukrainian tool analogues to Coursera, gave access to 100 of their courses for free, like kindergartens online, national school program online, and many others to unite people connected to the education sphere through the help of automated document systems, online libraries and multimedia materials for kids. Teachers are starting to use Zoom for school classes and use Viber to chat with one another and with parents. An interesting case can be seen when teachers adapt to new realities, and start making videos on social media that educate children. For example, Olga, a biology teacher from the Kharkiv region, learned PowerPoint, how to edit programs and has started her own YouTube channel where she raps while talking about nature.




Media outlets
Media outlets faced hardships because of advertising revenues and cancellation of offline events. However, subscription models and programming have increased. Every company has tried to invent something, since competition has increased with everyone turning to information content. Gleb Gusev, co-founder of Babel media found the first weeks of lockdown quite hard for employee internal communications, especially as they had moved to another office before the quarantine and hired some new employees "We are working from home and it's hard to work with people you don't know personally through Facebook, Skype, Zoom. In the first month we were getting acquainted, and were (additionally) discussing how to manage our lives, because it is very easy to lose your working habits when you stay at home. We have around 20 people, and for our communications we used Skype/Zoom for meetings, Telegram for urgent communications (around 14–15 chats) and we have Trello for planning. Every morning we have editorial meetings."
Even though the work continues, Gleb admitted that lockdown hit him and his colleagues hard "Most of them struggle. I haven't adapted to be honest too. In order to support each other we are making funny jokes using Snapchat filters during online calls." All media that wanted to go digital, Gleb claims have gone digital. Yet now an interesting case is happening with Hromadske media, when they are reorienting from a television platform to online digital news with a strong presence on Facebook. Another good example of changes in people's habits and perception is Liga media, which instigated an online pledge to contribute to its existence because of the decrease of advertisement profits. "Quite a lot of people have helped actually. There are enough people that are ready to pay for quality content now. It only proves that the market for digital marketing and media will grow and it's up to entrepreneurs to explore it".
Entertainment and leisure industries also try new formats of content production and business formats. For example, Concert.ua, the biggest ticket and events aggregator, started to create online events, like concerts and music performances. Sport centers and groups have started online training and webinars. Tourist agencies started digital advertising campaigns with content production promoting travel after the lockdown. Product companies like others, paused or minimised their production during lockdown and are now waiting for the end of the lockdown.

Artem Kolyuka, founder of Next Level Lighting was one whose work was affected by Coronavirus. Orders for his products decreased drastically, and in order to sustain his life and his family he feel back on his former profession — interior design.

"We do not want to change our profile. Our company tries to use this time to invent something new, some new technologies. We try to be as productive as possible during this time. Those who have physical products — for them it's harder to go digital. We have launched some advertisement ads on Facebook and we understand the need to go online, but our products are not in demand nowadays."
Artem Kolyuka
founder of Next Level Lighting
The same issues face other small businesses. Some small productions leave signs on doors with phone numbers or websites where you can order goods from the company or shop. For instance "Kyiv city committee to save business" claims that more than half of the city's small goods shops are not currently operational, which is around 4,000 small businesses. Everyone is in a state of waiting. Some close to wait until the financial situation improves.

Working habits have been changed due to the stress of staying home and the rapid changes in the work environment and self-isolation.

Conclusion
The digitalisation trend in Ukraine will definitely exist after the lockdown. Coronavirus has sped up a lot of processes in the country and led people to investigate new business forms, and new skills for personal development. "People feel more flexible now, they are analysing how to stay productive, how to try different things, different times to work, when to get up, they can test their environment. It's good for people. We are quickly preparing for that. Some people will go back to the old ways, but many will see the new ways of how to communicate with the world" concludes Anastasiya, from Beetroot.

Another prominent expert within the digital realm Vitaliy Moroz agrees that in the next 2–3 years business will save money in every sector "The working routine will be changed. There will be an emphasis on remote work. Working in the office and team work will be rethought. Rental space, coffee times — partly it will be neglected. Everything will go digital as much as possible."
Editor
Natalie Gryvnyak is a Communication expert, journalist for top international media and producer of media projects. She is the founder of Story Production InFeatures and gives lectures on storytelling and communication issues.




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