COVID-19 and remote working solutions

On 23 March 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa uttered words that South Africans have never heard before:  The country will be going into full lockdown.  South Africans were only given 3 days to prepare for this with similar scenarios playing out in Namibia, Botswana, and Kenya.

In a call centre environment where working from home was never considered viable, 3 days was not much time to set up hundreds of agents to work from home.  This is also a great opportunity to reflect on what can be achieved in 3 days, to see what lessons have been learned from this for the future.

Working remotely is not possible for everyone

For most people the option of working from home brought many unanticipated positive benefits.  Cost is saved on transport and office lunches.  Time is saved on getting ready for work and commuting to work. Many agents are doing much better from the comfort of their home.

But many simply do not have the ability to do this.  There may not be a dedicated room or area suitable for making calls.  Family and home life for some people do not allow for work from home. Internet connectivity and electricity connections are simply not reliable enough.

We are now learning from this and working closely with our teams to identify who is able to sustainably work from home in the future, and creating an environment that will accommodate both work from home solutions and office-based business as usual.

Technical support is a full-time job

There are a couple of factors here that made this a bigger challenge under the lockdown conditions.  Firstly, many agents were given equipment that they were not familiar with, including laptops, internet dongles, 3G cards, and VPN connections.  Although it is admirable how quickly the support function adapted to the challenges of remote working, our technical support solutions are evolving to better support our remote workforce.

Performance management is different now

While working in office, both agents and team managers know exactly how to communicate performance targets, monitor progress against targets, and how to coach and support struggling agents.

When agents are working remotely this dynamic is thrown on its head.  Literally.  We are finding that agents often thrive when being granted more independence and being able to self-regulate their behaviour.  Agents know exactly what they need to do to be successful.  In fact, some agents seem to be more productive simply because they don’t have their team manager looking over their shoulders every few minutes proving that micro-management is not for everyone!

We are responding to this challenge by rolling out digital performance management and coaching solutions provided online, as well as customised and prioritised training interventions for each unique agent.

Communication is different now

The method of communication is perhaps the most obvious, but arguably also the most delicate activity to recalibrate.  Gone is the ability to glare at an agent who is having a private chat with a colleague, or to guard over an agent’s shoulder who is having a difficult conversation.  Instead, it is verbal only, and not face to face anymore.

Yes, many in-house chat solutions work very well, and the boundaries of WhatsApp chats and video calls are pushed to the limit, but it is all still trial and error, and a new rhythm beyond the technological platform will need to be found for those who are continuing to work remotely, and for those managing them.

Connectedness and culture

I’m quite confident that even the most introverted of us started craving human interaction sometime during the lockdown.  In many ways it is the same for those working remotely.  Many can go a long time without getting their corporate culture fix, or catching up on office gossip, or sharing stories over some hot chips from the canteen, but all of us will need some human interaction in some way at some point.

Although we have learned that our teams are capable of astonishingly great teamwork on short notice, we are working hard at rolling out new ways of staying connected.  Virtual coffee meetings, theme days and selfie challenges are just some of the new ways we are building a new culture and finding new ways to stay connected.

Conclusion

To overcome the technical and practical challenges is not going to be difficult or take long.  In fact most of them have already been overcome.

We are learning new things about our team dynamics, our people’s abilities and adaptability, our systems and our processes.  We are building a new tomorrow, one that will be remarkably different but unmistakably Nimble. We will be Nimble, it’s who we are!

Written by: Nico Nel, Nimble Group HR Executive

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