Israeli firms cope with worker shortages, missed deadlines
Business as usual is rare right now inside the companies that power Israel’s $520 billion economy, as leaders try to keep operations going while offering emotional and other support to workers.
The realities of the Israel-Hamas war are upending not only the everyday logistics of running a company, but the lives of executives and their employees. Many are dealing with the trauma of the Hamas attack, including the death of friends or loved ones. Some offices have lost significant portions of their workforce to the army reserves.
Even working side-by-side is a challenge at many firms, given that schools have been closed and some employees prefer to remain home. Some business leaders told Bloomberg News that they were providing workers with access to safe rooms and child care, while reassigning projects and managing other operational hurdles.
In Gaza, the business community has all but come to a halt, as half the population contends with evacuation orders and the entire Strip remains subject to ongoing aerial bombardments from Israel. Several dozen trucks of emergency aid have been trickling in.
Itai Ben-Zaken, co-founder and chief executive officer of Honeycomb Insurance in Tel Aviv, has allowed his 35 employees to work from home since the fighting began, similar to moves announced by bigger employers in the region, like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. For those who do come into the office, there’s a large safe room.
Ben-Zaken also conducted one-on-one calls with all of his employees soon after the violence erupted to see what they needed and if any friends or relatives had been impacted. Executives at Flare, a legal technology startup with just under 100 employees in Israel, did the same, and even hired an on-site babysitter so staff could bring their kids to the office for an all-hands meeting.
“It became more and more clear that people were struggling,” David Hanrahan, Flare’s US-based chief people officer, said of the days after Oct. 7. “Some had two or three funerals on the same day. It was pretty intense.”
Wherever their workers are located, displaying empathy is key for Israel-based CEOs right now, said Ron Culp, a former corporate public relations executive who now advises at DePaul University’s College of Communication. Managers must make themselves available and provide counseling for those having the toughest time dealing with events, he said.
Gal Bar Dea, CEO of digital bank One Zero, is staying in close contact with his 400 full-time employees in Tel Aviv, offering flexible schedules when needed. But not all leaders are around to manage the situation: At plant-based seafood producer Oshi, a small company with 25 employees, CEO Ofek Ron has been recruited to the special forces, said director of product marketing Noga Bronsky. Eran Groner, CEO at vegan egg company Yo Egg, has also left his post to join the reserves.
For those still working, the last two weeks have presented challenges. For instance, when the project manager of One Zero’s new AI-powered customer chatbot got called to the front lines, colleagues — some of whom hadn’t worked on the product before — filled in to help keep it on track for a year-end launch.
Cloud-security firm Dazz was in the late stages of trying to win over a potential client when the fighting began. A key member of the team conducting a trial for the would-be customer got assigned to military duty, one of 16 Dazz staffers who have been called up to fight.
The next day, a colleague jumped in and moved the trial forward successfully, said CEO and co-founder Merav Bahat. Employees have stepped up to cover meetings around the clock, even well outside normal business hours. “Whether it’s a call at 2 a.m. Israeli time or 2 a.m. ET, our teams are working together throughout the night,” said Bahat, who previously worked at Microsoft.
Not all deadlines will get met. Flare has reduced its roster of critical product initiatives, Hanrahan said, as much of its R&D team is in Tel Aviv and about 10 have been called for reserve duty. The company was also in the midst of employee performance reviews when the conflict erupted, so it’s postponed those for Israeli staff for now.
For some, the losses and war have offered a new sense of purpose. Tel Aviv-based Monday.com, whose work management software is used by Coca-Cola Co. and other big global employers, created an online portal for impacted employees to ask for assistance, and has received about 130 requests so far, ranging from relocation to dog walking. The company has also provided resilience training for its senior leaders and, like other firms, has donated food and supplies to those in need.
“Our first priority was supporting employees’ mental and physical health,” said Shiran Nawi, Monday.com’s chief people and legal officer. “That’s remained, but last week it also shifted to doing what you can. And this week, it’s full-on work. So it’s a gradual return.”
Some factories have had to reduce production, at least temporarily. Chunk Food’s factory about 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv is operating at about 80% capacity, CEO Amos Golan said. At times, employees have to run to a shelter when air-raid sirens go off.
At Yofix Probiotics, the pilot and R&D plant wasn’t operating in the immediate aftermath of the attack, said CEO Moran Avni, as it’s near Gaza and subject to attacks. The company was planning to temporarily relocate its research and development hub and expects only “minor delays,” he said in an email earlier this month.
Some businesses, like Amit Logistics, are hoping for government support. The company, which handles goods coming in and out of Israel, has had its operations significantly disrupted by halted international flights and increased shipping fees.
“The war has hurt us badly,” said CEO Liat Hadar Sharvit.
At Amai Proteins, the small team has been hit hard by the conflict. One worker was killed, four lost relatives in the attack and six more are in reserves, said CEO Ilan Samish.
Amai is making a sugar replacement that it now plans to name after Lilia Gurevich, one of the company’s in-house scientists and a mother of two, who was killed by a grenade after the deadly outdoor music festival.