About a month after IAOP gathered in Florida for OWS2.0, the world came to a halt as the COVID-19 crisis dramatically impacted entire nations, organizations and individuals.
Wherever you are located, we all share a disruption like never seen before that will likely change the way we live and work into the future. But our IAOP community is resilient and staying strong. We are optimistic and appreciative. Compassion shines through as people around the world display acts of kindness.
IAOP reached out to its European Outsourcing Council (EOC) to hear how members are faring, their outlooks and what they most look forward to doing again. Sharing their views from different parts of the world are: from Poland, Wiktor Doktór, CEO, Pro Progressio; Germany, Susanne Richter-Wills, Head of Enterprise Sales DACH ABBYY Europe GmbH; Serbia, Marko Kovacevic, Partner & Chief Business Development Officer, New Startegy; and the U.K., Jonathan Yarlett, COO, Intelligent Sourcing.
How IAOP Members Are Feeling
The EOC members said they are generally doing well although feelings of worry and anxiety for family members are common. But through the uncertainty, optimism and a sense of resilience have emerged.
“I feel very energized to find ways to move forward,” Kovacevic said. “Days are different and long, and I miss being with people and interacting in person. Those are the best moments where we can co-create and resolve any problems. I try to amortize all the fear and negativity around me and help transform it into motivation for the solution. It is not easy and I still have a long way to go, but there is no surrender.”
Kovacevic is taking time to see the positive by focusing on three Rs: “reflecting” on who we are and what we can be; “reconnecting” with the ones who are most important to us; and “reinventing” how we care about each other, our planet, our society, our businesses, and our economy.
Living in a multi-generation house with elderly parents has made Richter-Wills especially cautious about their higher health risks. After returning from overseas trips in the initial stages of the crisis, she self-isolated to ensure her mild symptoms were not more serious, which, fortunately, they were not.
Having her parents at home and nature nearby has been a release from the long work days at home. “Spending quality time with the family and getting back to basics are the positive effects of this awful crisis,” she says.
Doktór is also taking the good out of the situation by spending more time with his family although he misses the 50 percent of his work day he would normally spend meeting people in person.
Like many, Yarlett has worries about how his younger children are coping and about sustaining a small business. He is looking at identifying new opportunities and revenue streams that are relevant during the current crisis. “It is an anxious and scary time both on a business and family level,” he says.
What Has Changed
While many of the members normally work from home to some extent, travel and in-person meetings have come to a stand-still. Video conferencing, chats, online sharing platforms and other technology tools are keeping colleagues connected but have their limitations.
Doktór is using the phone, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other tools to stay in regular communication but as a social person wishes he could meet instead and says video isn’t the same as in person.
“Homeworking is nothing new for me,” Richter-Wills says. “My entire team is used to communicating via the different tools available. Customers are not all used to home working which can be witnessed in some of the interactions that are hindered by technical difficulties on their end. I miss traveling to customers or one of our offices. I am used to being on the road each week.”
Yarlett says he is used to remote working but before the UK’s “lockdown,” he enjoyed going into the office to share ideas with the team, catch up, and plan activities and campaigns face to face. “We can still communicate,” he says. “However, it isn’t the same as being in the room with colleagues.”
What initially was a shock to the business has now turned into a “new normal” for Kovacevic and his team working from home. But he doesn’t see the current practice being sustainable long-term.
“We are over-communicating and continually talking to teams and clients,” Kovacevic says. “It is a time when we all need to share and care about creating value together.”
Many members have seen a drop off in business, buying decisions suspended, and difficulty by customers in paying for services. Call center contracts have been reduced, lost or put on hold because these services may not be needed with people working from home.
But the IAOP members interviewed are optimistic and demonstrating creativity and flexibility. A few sectors even are on the uptick as a result of the changes.
ABBYY, a provider of software solutions to automate business processes, has had to postpone or stop some projects due to not being able to meet with customers and partners. Some customers also are having problems paying their bills on time and the company is continuously looking at options to help overcome this.
On the positive side, Richter-Wills says the company has seen increased demand from customers that previously have not taken digital transformation too seriously and now find themselves in peril. Its digitization apps, cloud offerings and Artificial Intelligence supported capture solutions have seen a hike in demand, she says.
ABBYY immediately started to offer free usage periods for some of its OCR tools to allow users to digitize their documentation and work from home. The company also is reviewing its cloud offerings to ensure it can optimally support its customer base.
Doktór says he noticed most of his business partners have stopped making purchasing decisions during this time. Pro Progressio, an event organizer, media publisher and Poland-based membership organization, has suspended its events but is considering starting a new series of webinars. Doktór also has been keeping busy recording podcasts in English and Polish.
As people seek information during the work from home period, its media business has seen a significant increase in people publishing articles and members visiting its website. Pro Progressio has also started a new web platform supporting companies in sharing human resources for short-term projects and has opened its web platforms for companies to more openly share content.
Yarlett’s media company has rescheduled numerous customer-facing client events and also revised campaigns to maximize its return on investment during a time when many people are not working. He’s also adding new offerings and being agile. His company has changed short-term invoicing terms for suppliers and clients to help.
Kovacevic is taking a proactive approach and finding new ways to continue his business and help its customers move forward. For some clients, the company is making a change from traditional to digital delivery.
What Will Happen to the Industry
Many countries are bracing for a recession as the repercussions of the pandemic will continue to be felt across economies with staggering unemployment.
“Even before the COVID-19 crisis there were a lot of analysts expecting a recession in Germany to come in due time,” says Richter-Wills. “Now most analysts expect it to happen with few months delay.”
Most scenarios expect a German GDP drop of 4 to 9 percent until the end of 2020, according to a McKinsey Report on COVID-19’s economic impact on Germany. Government assistance programs have delayed the immediate impact on businesses.
In the BPO and the Shared Service Industry in Germany, some companies have used worktime reductions with the state to reduce costs called Kurzarbeit. But other areas are seeing growth such as BPO providers who have had to increase hours to 24/7 to support their customers. Microservices via crowdsourcing organizations have also increased, she said.
Other industries that may see more work as a result of the health crisis are legal, IT and cybersecurity companies, Doktór notes.
How will Work Change in the Future
In the future, remote work may become more widely accepted and continue in many countries.
While Germany has been very reluctant in the past to allow employees to work from home due to trust issues, the stay-at-home orders have proven this can be productive and most companies have smoothly transitioned, says Richter-Wills.
“Using virtual tools instead of physical meetings will also stay at a much higher level than before, as for some time to come people may carefully consider which interactions are ‘worth the risk,’” she says.
According to Doktór, companies will need to review the business recovery plans and much more seriously include work from home possibilities or coworking areas as an alternative to large office space. This will require a closer look at health and safety factors at home and cybersecurity, he says.
Yarlett hopes the various lockdown scenarios in countries will lead society to rethink work and service delivery. People may slow down and realize they don’t need to be in the office as much but can better structure their days and potentially spend more time with their families, he says.
Technology providers also have the opportunity now to come up with innovative solutions and the greater use of automation while the pharmaceutical industry may develop new vaccines and medicines in their quest to find a solution to the pandemic, Yarlett predicts.
COVID-19 will move all businesses toward quicker digital transformation, particularly the hospitality and travel industries and education, which will transform and continue in new states, says Kovacevic.
“Every business will do an in-depth self-assessment in this period of how to survive and how to move forward,” he says. “It will be like doing a reboot on your PC.”
Despite the trying times and tremendous change, the compassion and humanity of mankind will be remembered during this time – from the daily showings of support by people cheering for healthcare and other essential workers from balconies to the illumination of buildings and nightly church bells ringing as a sign of unity.
“Healthcare professionals are heroes who are doing their job every day so we can carry on with our work,” Kovacevic says.
People are offering to shop and walk dogs for neighbors via town Facebook pages in Germany. Musicians are lifting spirits by sharing their talents with free streamed performances. Children are painting pictures and writing notes to cheer up seniors living in care homes who can no longer have visitors.
In Poland, people are sharing what they are cooking during isolation on social media with a new hashtag – #koronagotowanie, which means coronacooking.
While social distancing is the new requirement, people also seem friendlier and even greet strangers on the street. Neighbors who have not seen each other are saying hello for the first time as they come out of their homes for daily walks.
“One thing I have seen is how lucky we are to have a national health service and how hard these people work,” Yarlett says of the United Kingdom. “We often take this service for granted and in fact, we are luckier than most.”
What We Miss Most
From wanting to eat in our favorite restaurants to enjoying social gatherings and hugging loved ones, we all long for things we once took for granted.
When restrictions are lifted, Richter-Wills will be quick to go to an ice cream parlor to have “Spaghetti Ice” and chat with friends.
Kovacevic will be spending time around the dining table in one room with parents and family, visiting clients in person again, meeting with his school alumni friends and hiking with his children. Doktór also will be seeing people live instead of on video and enjoying meals in restaurants.
After spending this long period at home with young children, Yarlett jokes that he’s looking forward to “dropping my kids at my parents and picking them up a month later.”