STEFANINI NORTH AMERICA: Work from home is here to stay. So says Spencer Gracias, the CEO of Stefanini North America. A Brazilian business and technology consulting firm with its North American headquarters in Southfield, the company has now seen firsthand over the last six months how work — and where its done — is set to change permanently. The company, with more than 550 employees in Michigan and $274 million in annual revenue for its North American and Asia/Pacific region, is also seeing the “digital transformation” that’s been underway for years now being completed as social distancing becomes the norm. Gracias spoke with Crain’s on how these changes are impacting his company and many of his clients.
How has Stefanini’s thinking about work from home changed over six months, both for its own employees and for clients?
You know the old saying that the challenges and concerns shift. Like any other company, we were thinking (work from home will) take two to four weeks or so. And right now we are actually seeing that could be, in some degree, could be permanent. It’s not temporary anymore. So what we need now is to make sure that this is sustainable (for a) long time. So we have been thinking about our people.
What does that entail?
How do we make sure everybody’s OK and conditions are good for long-term working from home? So we evolved in our tools and in the way that we are organized and the way that we interact with our teams, making sure that tribal way of thinking is preserved. We don’t want a bunch of strangers that works for a company, (so) how do you keep that feeling of being part of something? We have been putting a lot of energy on that, keeping the engagement, making sure that we have the appropriate management, (and) how we track productivity, how we track and manage performance.
What has the pandemic meant for the company’s overall business?
What we have seen is, you know, we really experienced growth throughout the crisis. In business, in revenue. So, since we started that we were able to engage customers in a sales cycle, and close deals, and implemented operations. So we have probably three or four examples (where) we have been increasing our business during the COVID crisis.
I’m glad to say that Stefanini will keep investing … and acquiring companies. We just announced an acquisition in Brazil. Our acquisition movement never stopped, so that is good.
How has the crisis been impacting some of Stefanini’s clients around the country?
Some of our customers were hit more drastically by the COVID, and I can tell you, retail customers that we have — they are now starting coming back — but they were suffering a lot with all the stores closed and everything else. They were reduced to e-commerce only, so they were affected pretty bad. And of course, we adapted, helping them … to shrink business … (and) helping them be flexible. And so as they were coming back, we were, you know, coming back as well with them.
But the new business that we acquired was sufficient enough to offset and … not only keep us afloat, but keep us growing. So, we definitely are foreseeing growth in 2020, which is, due to the circumstances, is kind of amazing.
To your point about e-commerce, how are companies viewing that as they emerge from the pandemic?
So we’re seeing much more engagement on the digital projects, and digital transformation has gained way more priority within the industry. So like e-commerce, some of the customers are like, ‘yeah we have an e-commerce (presence), but our real sales (are) face-to-face in the stores.’
So what we are seeing in our portfolio of solutions are the digital solutions that we offer are being way more received from the prospects and also from the customers … because they realize this is the new world. So the money on investment to technology should allow for digital projects and accelerating digital transformations, which is, I think, good for everybody. At the end if we can see a positive side of this COVID-19 crisis, it is that industries are now really into the digital transformation.
To what extent have you seen that working from home — whether for Stefanini’s employees or for clients — has truly changed how business gets done?
In some of the areas that we serve our customers, the change was radical, and some others, nothing changed. For example: help desk, the contact center. People are sitting getting calls, nothing changed. If you have a problem, you call, it doesn’t matter if you’re working from office or working from your home.
There was a radical change of when we have to apply tools and techniques now to support and fix the things remotely. (Now) we have the logistics to send them by mail a new computer, and they will send the broken one to us.
So in our area of operation, the thing that changed is really supporting the industry facilities that have been closed and now are reopening. So our engineers are back in to the field (after) a couple months. Our field engineers were working from their homes as well, doing all the remote support instead of doing a physical presence support. That was the big change for us.
So if you look in your crystal ball and we reach a time period where COVID-19 is no longer the health and economic crisis that it is today, what will business look like?
So we told our employees already, you have three options: you can be permanently working from home, you can go to the office if (you want), or you can have a hybrid-type of solution. What I’m seeing is the customers doing the same. They are really considering permanent arrangements for working from home.
For us … some of the limitations are gone. Like I look for talent now, not only in the Detroit metro area, I look for talent in all the states.
So does this mean that a company like Stefanini will be looking to downsize its office footprint?
What I’m seeing right now is definitely not growing. The next step will probably be a downsizing. I’m not going to say right away, and I don’t want to create panic with my leasers, but yeah, we’re foreseeing a 50 percent reduction in our traditional office footprint.