Vesela Kerekova, HR Manager, on how a Bulgarian company became a player on a very competitive German market
IntelliWay Services stands out in the crowded outsourcing field in Bulgaria: it specializes in providing real estate management services to the German market. Established in 2012, the company's core competencies are in the field of property management, accounting and digitalization by providing property managers access to human resource capital for all tasks that do not require physical presence onsite.
The foundation of the company's success lies in the use of the digital cross-border business model within the EU and the strive to establish long-term partnerships by ensuring high productivity and efficiency. IntelliWay Services never fails to pay close attention to quality, deadlines and the strict protection of its clients' confidential information. By doing this, the company adds significant value to its business partners.
IntelliWay Services offers flexible access to qualified real estate experts who provide tailored solutions at peak workloads. Single-point of contact ensures that the client always communicates with a dedicated key-account familiar with their standards and requirements and trained at their premises. A secure VPN network ensures safe communication between IntelliWay and its clients. To ensure full data protection, the company has its own cloud and data backup. All service delivery risks and potential damages are covered by a professional indemnity insurance issued by a reputable global insurance company.
The success of IntelliWay Services would be impossible without its dedicated, highly competent team that provides excellent quality of services and ensures customer satisfaction.
To learn more, we talked to Vesela Kerekova, who has been IntelliWay Services's HR manager for four years now.
Property management is an activity that we associate with presence on site. How can it be successfully outsourced?
Remote property management is a practice in Germany. Property managers in Germany manage dozens of buildings in different parts of the country from a single location. The services offered by IntelliWay in the field of property management – accounting, service charge reconciliation and back-office property management do not require presence on site, as well as communication with tenants. In fact, what we do is to assist the property managers with all administrative tasks, allowing them time to focus on their relationship with the owners and the tenants, building improvements and increasing the value of the properties they manage.
What are the advantages of this type of service for your customers?
We already have 10 years of experience in what we do. IntelliWay employs over 80 people with excellent knowledge of German, affinity to German culture and higher education. Many of them graduated in Germany or worked there for years. We have successfully integrated German colleagues as well. If I can sum it up in one sentence: educated, experienced, professionally prepared, willing to help, conscientious people who provide professional support to property managers, who in turn provide high quality service to owners and tenants.
In your experience, how has the client – service provider relationship of outsourcing services changed since the Covid-19 pandemic?
In this respect, the pandemic has had a positive effect on us. Online communication and remote working have become the norm, not an exotic form as it used to be perceived. The number of our meetings with clients has increased, as well as the trust between us. Evidence of this has been the growing number of assignments from our existing clients.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a service provider in Bulgaria in recent years?
The company has grown by 240% in the last 3 years in terms of employees and tripled its client portfolio. We faced uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic, a standstill on the demand side as well as difficult contact with customers. In just a week we had to organize the transition to a completely remote working mode to protect, as much as possible, the health of our colleagues. Shortly after, clients surprised us with 14 inquiries and multiple assignments within a few months and an immediate change in business strategy was required to successfully complete these new projects. We had to make dynamic onboarding of new customers and colleagues.
Along the way we faced disloyal employees, attempts of customer theft and damage of the image of the company, bullying of the key employees from former colleagues for personal gain, inflation, which strongly hit us, as some of the contracts were concluded years ago at fixed prices and in the meantime, as it usually happens in service companies, the workload from these customers gradually increased by 50% as compared to the initial assignment. We had to make a lot of changes in a short time. The biggest challenge over these few years was to cope with the growth and changes of the market, both in Germany and in Bulgaria.
We had a moment when we questioned the management model of the company – should we continue democratically as before – share information, be transparent about customers and finances or should our mandates be divided into "bits and pieces" among different team leaders, as is customary in the outsourcing sector. Eventually we decided that we should not change our transparent management model because of the few people who abused it as for the majority of our colleagues it inspired a sense of purpose, partnership and commitment.
Another important decision was to strengthen our legal protection, which is the only option for dealing with unethical behavior for a company that is completely legal in Bulgaria. In addition we decided to continue to do new things and constantly progress – we were awarded ISO 9001 Quality Management, 14001 Environmental Management and 27001 Information Security Management certifications, selected a better office, digitized processes, introduced new services, participated in and organized events, restructured repeatedly until we found the right project for the right person, audited the efficiency of each project, focused on active marketing in Germany and Bulgaria, organized numerous trainings for colleagues, participated in social initiatives. We are working on our new website and there is much more to do.
What is more important for the success of IntelliWay Services – the technologies or the qualities of your employees?
Undoubtedly, this is a business that is people centric. We rely on conscientious, responsible, educated, hardworking and independent people who are our face in front of the customers and thanks to whom we are constantly growing, building teams and introducing new services.
Regarding technology, our main topic is protecting the information of our customers and colleagues. Our main method of operation is direct access to our clients' software systems via an encrypted VPN tunnel, with each of our computers having a special security certificate installed. All passwords meet the highest standards for security. They are verified at each login and are changed periodically. All communication is protected with a firewall. Each of our colleagues signs a NDA based on the specifics of their work. We use our own cloud in an authorized data center and we do regular backup twice a week. There we host our internal administrative information, our file servers and online tools. We have implemented a disaster recovery procedure, working on replicated clouds to ensure the preservation and recovery of data in the event of fire, flood or other natural disaster. If one of the two clouds is affected, the data will be restored in the other cloud.
Most important for the success of IntelliWay is patience and consistency in improving our knowledge base and technology to stay adequate to the constantly evolving German real estate market.
During the pandemic, you hired Bulgarians who returned to Bulgaria from Germany. Does this trend continue in the workforce? How do you find and retain your employees in 2022?
With the growth of IntelliWay we now aim at having a contribution outside the framework of our core activity, which is the property management market in Germany, and do our best to take part in initiatives in the country where we live. We, as a company, value education, continuous learning and development and support of people who want to return to their families in Bulgaria. We provide beneficial working conditions, attitude and fulfillment, which corresponds to the investment in education of colleagues, and in fact in our company they perform very similar work to the one they had in Germany.
We are about to move to a new office, a 5-storey building in the center of Sofia, a cultural monument, renovated and an excellent combination of history and a modern vision, in which colleagues will feel comfortable and will come willingly whenever they choose to. We digitize routine processes to "free" time for meaningful work and to increase the speed and quality of service.
The company's services are strictly specialized and the profile of the people is narrow – excellent German, desire to work with numbers and documents, economic or engineering education, affinity to or experience in real estate, independence in decision making and organizing work, loyalty and long-term perspective. Finding suitable candidates is not easy. In the last year, more people apply because they have heard about us, be it from publications, advertisements, or recommendations from colleagues. As we become recognizable our image works well for us. The company has grown in size and so have the satisfied employees who recommend us.
My observations are that the rotation of people in the labor market has been significant in the last two years – after the pandemic, the main motivation of applicants was the need for change or the desire to continue working from home, this year – it is the search for better remuneration.
For us, the main challenge is to retain the colleagues with whom we work and develop IntelliWay. In 2021-2022, we increased wages and social benefits as much as possible to meet inflation and kept the possibility to work from home. Experienced and loyal colleagues became "owners" of projects. We did our best not to increase bureaucracy and administration despite growth and left the flat hierarchy to ensure easy communication and quick decision-making.
In my opinion, the labor market would evolve if the paradigm of dichotomy of company vs employees, of management vs subordinates were to change. If both parties perceive themselves as partners and important participants in the development of the company with interconnected contributions, this will bring about equal motivation for all involved for the success of the business. This would also drastically change the main topics on the labor market.
Linkedin: IntelliWay Services