Business process outsourcing solutions provider Merchants South Africa (SA) has identified a formal framework to help combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on its call centre environments, for staff and clients.
“The framework is a multifaceted approach to ensure that we comply with disaster recovery protocol, with guidelines for essential services providers as stipulated by government,” says Merchants SA MD Zain Patel.
The company was approved as an essential services provider, as it provides call centre services to financial institutions such as banks, and telecommunications and internet service providers.
The company adheres to current Covid-19 stipulations, as well as previously gazetted health and safety measures in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Patel suggests that while the company is obligated by law to be a responsible employer, this also formed part of the company’s long-standing ethos.
He explains that in response to the pandemic the company has selected a risk assessment team, undertaken the identification of hazards through a process of evaluation and control, and implemented a three-pronged approach to reintegrating staff.
Firstly, a risk assessment team has been assigned to monitor all activities within the company and its branches through a single portal, evaluating which work processes would not be affected during the process.
He says that Merchants SA successfully enabled about 60% to 70% of its staff to work remotely during the initial stages of lockdown.
Secondly the company also implemented staggered shifts for those who could not work remotely.
Finally, it opened satellite branches or hubs close to its regional bases in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban to enable smaller groups to work together while practising physical distancing.
“Should any of the staff test positive for the virus at one of the hubs, the location can easily be closed down, with those staff being placed in isolation and tested. This is all in conjunction with the hub’s working environment being sanitised and having minimal impact on the company’s workload,” says Patel.
He states that a company needs to be adaptable in any given situation – although he notes wryly that a global pandemic does not come to mind when planning for potential risks – to stay ahead of its competitors. “One cannot call force majeure without trying,” he stresses.
Meanwhile, he says, “South Africa is recognised globally as one of the top two destinations for call centre outsourcing, and the way in which the country has tackled the Covid-19 situation has piqued even more interest,” Patel observes.
The country has become a “very attractive sourcing destination” because of its readily available workforce, its technology and connectivity, as well as certain sectors having remained open for business, Patel adds.