Interview with Szymon Boniecki about the HR Tech Scene Response to COVID19

COVID19 has struck the world and also the global economy. But what does that mean for HR and HR Technology as their journey towards The Future of Work was just getting started?

Looking for answers, it was our luck to interview Szymon Boniecki, co-founder and co-ceo of Monterail.

How does COVID 19 crisis impact the business reality of the HR Tech Startups you know?

Two factors play a major role here:

1) their market - so how are they targeted segments being affected by the new situation and

2) their product, and what specific problem it is solving.

Starting from point 2)

- we’ve seen a huge impact among startups specializing in virtual work

- companies that had not integrated working remotely into their culture before the outbreak now want to minimize the chaos of the transition and look for a turn-key solution from an expert who already got most common pitfalls covered.

It is definitely going to be interesting how the current situation will affect HR Tech depending on a couple of factors: will necessity solutions (such as admin tools or payroll) be more prevalent than aspirational ones (like employee branding or wellness solutions)?

Will new-comers meet a more digitally mature market, or shall they experience harsher barriers to entry, which brings us to point 1)

- that is as broad and complex as the global economy.

Here we might need to rely on the old framework – are you solving a real issue of your chosen customer and their ability to pay for your product.

But I have seen quite a few of HRTech startups and scale-ups in a full speed hiring mode, which is a good indicator for the industry.

Do you consider the Corona-crisis to be a threat for all HR Tech Startups?

I’ve observed an interesting shift - one of our clients and your member btw :)

- Headminer, who specializes in providing matches between specialized blue collar workers and workplace demand has established a partnership with your government to facilitate the crisis management.

On the other hand I’ve heard the interview with the Director of Forum HR Poland the market of traditional contract work in our country has been heavily hurt by lay-offs that are not covered under any protective schemes; this inconsistency struck me, as both units – our HR Tech start-up and companies in the Forum HR umbrella– essentially provide the same “marketplace” service.

The most significant difference between them being - the underlying tech that supports their operation.

This lets me believe that the “Tech” in “HR Tech” is a token of good fortune going forward.

Do you expect HR and Business in general to use this situation to redesign work and accelerate their digitization process? If yes, what will be on top of their agenda?

We’ve heard a lot of conservative messages lately, so my attention was coughed by the article “The great need for matching individuals to jobs during the recession” (published: Clay Christiansen Institute; author: Micheal B. Horn), advocating for collaboration between business and e-learning platforms to better connect newly unemployment with new, sudden demand other companies are predicting to have.

It sounds close to the concepts of reskilling, upskilling and alternative talents markets that have been very popular already in 2019, if not before. Here again we can look for an old lesson to help us in the new situation: adapt or die.

To give you an example - if we agree that businesses and HR will become more flexible in their sourcing, because of governmental subsidies for example – how is the traditional ATS going to handle this gap between current and desired skills of the candidate?

And as allowing time is essential in such process – precise analytic and forecasting tools for operations would be essential in such process; much like ones that map skills, predispositions of an employee, features of the role - functionalities often associated with AI, which comes with a demand for unbiasing and promoting diversity.

What should HR Tech Startups do in this situation to safeguard and/or boost their business?

We are looking into recession, and that tends to cut the waste out of a lot of processes. I’ve been seeing more and more HR Tech platforms introduce discounted or free tiers to onboard new customers that are facing new reality and need these tools.

Their budgets are tight right now but may make great clients. I’ve personally spoken to companies that did so and their existing paying clients were absolutely ok with this given circumstances.

In Poland we have seen the launch of PomagamyHR. It’s an initiative that lists HR Tech startups that offer at least 50% discount.

There are many strategies that apply now to any sort of business, HR Tech or not. For us at Monterail one of the main priorities is to support our clients and to navigate through this together. It’s important for us to understand their challenges and adapt accordingly. Everyone in the team understands it.

When all this is over, will the World of Work;

a) turn back to "normal"

b) switch focus towards a Big Reset (keep the good, loose the bad)

c) Reboot and shift gear towards the future of work?

Going back is rarely a good thing, but I don’t anticipate a Big Wipe out either.

The way the Future of Work was going, it largely anticipated what we’re experiencing now, like remote work for instance. New circumstance on the other is that the economy may go into a zero tolerance for speculation mode, so priorities of investing may change as well, affecting objectives and key results for a lot of startups.

So I’d say we are on leaner, hence accelerated trajectory for FoW.

Shortly before the outbreak, in Feb 2020 we compiled months of interviews and research about HRTech into an ebook - I think this may be a good resource for all that want to touch base of what were the priorities and forecasts prior to the outbreak and evaluate what is still relevant, and what should be adjusted.

What is your crucial tip of survival for any HR Tech Startup, with or without this crisis?

I’m afraid there is no silver bullet. I keep reminding myself that crises are inevitable and they all finally pass.


Szymon Boniecki

Co-founder and Co-CEO of Monterail, a software development consultancy that delivers meaningful software.

Monterail has designed and developed numerous HR Tech products across the globe.