How COVID-19 Made Employee Engagement a Lifeline

Photo credit: iStockphoto/MamikaStock

When COVID-19 struck, companies were in disarray. Employees felt a disconnect, having lived a dual lifestyle at work and home. Some felt loss, others became anxious once the novelty wore off.

But for digital native companies, you would have imagined that shifting to remote working and collaboration would be easier. In reality, it is only part of the truth.

StashAway, an online investment management company headquartered in Singapore, notes that moving to work from home (WFH) mode during Singapore’s circuit breaker was not that difficult.

“To be honest, were we fully prepared? I would say, we were somewhat prepared to manage a full lockdown like we went through, but because of A, the fact that we run a fully digital business, and B, the fact that our workforce is actually quite young — on average 30 years old. I think it was actually fairly easy to adjust,” said Michele Ferrario, co-founder and chief executive officer at StashAway at a recent online panel discussion moderated by Zendesk.

However, Ferrario admits that employee experience efforts were fast tracked because of the WFH measures.

“From an internal perspective, we have tried to roll out a one engagement tool faster than we originally envisioned. So, it’s something that helps people appraise each other, give feedback to each other online. And I think that helped. We were already ready from a communication perspective with Slack as our internal tool,” he shared.

GCash, a leading mobile wallet player in the Philippines, was prepared. “Because ever since a few months ago, we’ve always been looking at business continuity as part of our protocols,” said Joanne Avendano, vice president of customer experience at GCash.

Avendano admitted that building a strong partner ecosystem helped immensely. “Although, our operation has been cut to half because of the current crisis, we’ve been able to continuously work hand in hand with our valued partners and BPOs to ensure that GCash will continue to be available to our customers as we have committed. When we started this set up, we have actually been looking at how Zendesk can actually be optimized,” she said.

Metrics matter

While we  see digital natives as 100% online companies, a certain part of their operations is still offline. It is also the area that hobbled many startups during the pandemic.

So, GCash invested in becoming more digital in terms of operations. For example, it moved its support from “40% half line and 60% digital” before COVID-19 to “80% digital” after.

The shift has been a positive one for the company, resulting in “higher productivity.” “And we’re not going to go back. We’re not going back to the old normal,” Avendano said.

For Ferrario, being digital is not enough. With less ability to manage staff, he saw the importance of metrics. He noted how metrics from data and reports that Zendesk delivered helped them to maintain top service levels by the StashAway client engagement team. The data also provided better control of the operations, allowing the company to transition to WFH mode.

“That also couples with automation. I think Joanne [Avendano] mentioned earlier using automation Zendesk. I think we have also improved a little, the way we use automation. It’s part of a cycle of life for our company,” Ferrario said.

It is also about working smarter, said Avendano. “We need to work smarter, right? Especially during this time. Although, I can say that because our operations have shrunk, we still have the same number of customers coming to our plate every single day. So, we have to prioritize,” she said.  

By prioritizing customer requests, GCash could transition without overloading their customer support. “In terms of priority, of course you prioritize someone who needs her money back as opposed to someone just asking for a how-to question,” Avendano explained.

Human touch

Both Avendano and Ferrario noted that while their organizations were agile enough to weather the ravages COVID-19 measures, there were some hard lessons.

For Ferrario, it was about changing how managers engaged their team members. He urged them to get closer to the team and make the effort to ensure that each member is close to each other.

“What really you get missing when you go fully remote is the informal conversations that happened randomly as you walk through the desk or as you are at the water cooler or as you just meet somebody. So that’s what goes missing because everything needs to be planned,” said Ferrario.

He acknowledged that achieving this closeness requires additional effort and not to plan out everything to the detail. “So, what we’ve done — for instance — on the unplanned side is that we have created to use Google Meets as our internal video call system. We have a room called water cooler, which is always open. So, people can just log in and see if there is somebody else and have a chat.”

At GCash, Avendano sees value in listening to the employees and show that you care that goes beyond policies and announcements.

“Our people might be living alone. They are not with their families. So, if you don’t connect constantly with them, then you would lose that people advantage that you have in your organization. It’s really about listening to your customers and listening to your own people and always connecting to them.”

Photo credit: iStockphoto/MamikaStock