#LifeinCzechia She’s always been interested in how things work. She’s also one of Foreigners’ oldest employees. Alena Holubcová brings innovative solutions to already established processes to increase their efficiency. As such, she ends up saving herself and her colleagues hours of work. In the interview, she explained what her position entails and what she enjoys the most about it.
Chief Operating Officer Alena Holubcová
How long have you been working for Foreigners?
It’s been over 7 years; I’m such a dinosaur. (laughs) I’ve had several positions within the company. I started off at the reception and then moved to Relocation Consultant. After a small break, I came back to a position called Executive Assistant. Over a year ago, this position changed to Chief Operating Officer.
How did you get your initial job?
I originally studied in Hradec Králové. Since it’s a smaller city, people who work with foreigners usually know each other. A friend of mine told me to look up Foreigners, that I would like them. And he was right.
What does the position of Chief Operating Officer entail?
I am responsible for several different areas. I have oversight of basically all processes within the company. Therefore, I ensure that everyone has the information they need and that all the computer systems work. When someone has a technical problem, I’m usually the first person they turn to. Lately, I’ve also been enjoying automation. I take an annoying activity and try to figure out how to make it easier or outsource it to a machine so that the employee can focus solely on the creative work.
In what ways has the company changed the most over the years?
Automation is definitely one of the biggest changes. In the beginning, we did everything in Excel or Word. Then we created our own computer system, RealSYS, and we gradually added things that might come in handy. For example, we now have a contract generator or digital document signing. All of this has shortened the process considerably. It always amuses me when newcomers complain about how much paperwork they have. They don’t know how much we used to do before. The advancement of all these things allows us to do what we are truly here for – providing a service to people. Devoting our time to them instead of spending hours on admin.
You had to adjust quickly to a lot of things during covid. What was the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge was navigating all the government regulations. Every week we dealt with figures and new measures. We had to inform foreigners about the current epidemiological situation on a daily basis. Plus, we had to get to know the market all over again. Suddenly the borders shut down, and we didn’t know what percentage of our foreign clients had been new arrivals and those already living here. We also had to introduce covid tests and working from home for employees in the company. It was about keeping the team together, even if we couldn’t physically see each other and didn’t know what would happen next.
How did you respond to the change in the market during the pandemic?
We had a drop in inquiries of about 70 percent, so it was clear that most of our clients had been newcomers before the crisis. So we started to focus more on providing services to the foreigners already living here. For example, many EU citizens were living in the Czech Republic without a registration certificate (formerly temporary residence) because they didn’t need one until then. But during covid, they could not cross the border without one. So we launched a huge PR campaign on the certificates, and it ended up working. We also focused more on providing services to Czech clients whom we hadn’t targeted as much before.
A big part of your job is creating policies and manuals. How does one create a system for a company that has multiple branches and areas of focus?
I think it’s mainly based on your internal setup. Personally, I’ve always been interested in how things work. I see the whole system as communication terminals and particles that run between them. I focus on whether the particle is going straight from point A to point B or if it’s wandering around in between. Then I straighten out the whole process so that there’s as little wandering around as possible and everything runs efficiently.
You are also responsible for onboarding new employees. What is involved in the training of a new Relocation Consultant?
Apart from the very basics, we connect him to a conference email and Google Drive. This way, the new employee automatically gets access to wherever he needs to go. We also have written guidelines. Every new Relocation Consultant is given a list of tasks to complete, which includes practical exercises. This saves us hours of explaining and allows them to experience everything for themselves. The program is designed so that the tasks follow in a logical order and ask about the most crucial points. All they have to do next is ride-along to a few apartment showings and handovers, take care of the first few clients under someone else’s supervision, and then they’re ready to work on their own.
What do you enjoy most about being a Chief Operating Officer?
I most enjoy making order out of chaos. I believe that 95 percent of things can be planned. In the beginning, we didn’t have a set long-term strategy, so some tasks came up at the worst possible times, and I had to deal with them. Now we have a strategy, and fewer things surprise me. I have time to prepare for everything. I think it’s good because there are always enough new stimuli coming in to keep me interested, but at the same time, we have enough of a system in place to make things work the way they’re supposed to.
What basic qualities does a person in this position need to have?
They need to have a good understanding of all the particles and how things work. They also have to be able to handle a lot of open tasks and backlogs. I have an average of about 70 unread emails. The highest number I got to during covid was 444. It’s also important to be able to figure things out and incorporate them into already established processes.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy personal development and like to educate myself often.
How would you describe your job in five words?
Challenge, system, technology, processes, (un)predictability.
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