These days, as we previously reported, telephone and internet networks are stretched to their limits by the huge amount of people, who while responsibly practicing social distancing and staying home, are almost continuously connected to their devices, either working remotely or to pass time at home. Business Review talked to Murielle Lorilloux, CEO Vodafone Romania, to see how the company manages this period, how they are balancing their efforts to keep Romania connected despite large surges of network usage, and how they turned remote work into smart work for their employees.
Which are the measures you took during this period, how do you manage the crisis for your employees and your business?
We are facing difficult times with the spread of COVID-19, but Vodafone is doing its best to keep all Romanians connected.
The health and safety of our employees and customers is our top priority. While putting the health and safety of our teams first, using our remote working technology, our teams are working hard to support all our customers, whether that be businesses, authorities and government departments, healthcare institutions, as well as residential customers, by ensuring world-class connectivity and the communications services they need.
The presence of COVID-19 across Romania is having a significant impact on our day-to-day lives, changing the way we interact, work, learn, get entertained. Our mission now more than ever is keeping all our customers connected and ensuring them all the communication services they need to work, to stay connected to their family and friends, to have access to healthcare and emergency services.
Many businesses are relying on our services to ensure continuity. For those working remotely, it is critical that mobile and broadband connectivity supports everything they need to do. As a provider of critical connectivity and communications services enabling our digital society, Vodafone Romania has activated its Business Continuity Plan and implemented specific procedures to monitor and ensure fast reaction whenever needed. With the increase of traffic we experience on both mobile and fixed network, our engineers are working hard to maintain our best network quality and increase capacity as soon as it is necessary. Our ultimate goal is to best serve the Romanian society during such hard times in the way Vodafone truly can. Everyone needs good connectivity, perhaps now more than ever.
In addition, we have been focusing on the best way to support our customers in a meaningful way, therefore we have developed tailored offers to facilitate our customers’ communication with their family and friends. We are offering our customers unlimited calls to Romania from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, UK and Austria free of charge. Also, we have introduced a free bonus with 300 international minutes for mobile and fixed line available for calls to Italy, Spain, Germany, France, UK and Austria. For companies we offer several options as well, depending on their business needs, which may consist in 300 international minutes free of charge for fixed and mobile networks towards Italy, Spain, Germany, France, UK, Austria and all the countries from EEA until March 31st, unlimited national voice or data, or 600 international minutes within EEA for free, until April 15.
More customized offers will be coming fast in our effort to continue to help everyone in a way that really makes a difference during these times.
At Vodafone Romania, we put customers at the heart of everything we do, but our employees are at the epicenter of our business. We have taken immediate actions to protect them and ensure best technology tools for them to conduct their activities. We have constantly increased smart working and shifted to working from home in all the business functions where that was possible. Currently, all our office employees all over the country are working remotely, including all the customer care teams.
Our colleagues in retail locations that are still open have shorter working times and a new set of rules of conduct was put in place in the stores, for everyone’s health safety, which is being constantly updated, depending on how the situation evolves and according to authorities’ latest measures. Also, we have implemented a restricted access in the stores, one person per agent at a time. Floor indicators with the safety distance to be observed have been put in place in our retail network. We have provided protective materials to our staff and we are helping all our sales partners (dealers, franchise stores etc) to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for both employees and customers.
Our field teams, especially those working directly with customers, have been provided protective equipment and have been instructed regarding the preventive actions that they need to take in order to protect themselves and the customers. We have very strict measures in this regard and no works are being carried out by our field teams to customers’ premises without safety equipment. All our employees and contractors must remain safe and well protected. Therefore, more guidance and support with additional protective measures and equipment should be provided by authorities, especially for ensuring works in areas of higher risk.
We are constantly monitoring the situation at national level and we will act accordingly to protect our employees, as needed and with the observance of all enforced measures announced by the authorities.
Last but not least, supporting the Romanian society during this unprecedented crisis has been extremely important for us and Vodafone Romania Foundation has immediately got involved in supporting several initiatives, in healthcare, online education, digital platforms aiming to inform the population correctly, from official sources. For the triage center in Arad Vodafone Romania Foundation has sponsored the acquisition of a testing machine and of 5,000 tests to be used for people coming to Romania via Nadlac border, while for Marie Curie Hospital it has bought medical equipment consisting in 100 individual inhalers for the neonatology section, 50 air pumps, 5 air purifiers for larger spaces and 5 mini-inhalers.
What solutions have you identified so that your activity can continue? What tools are you using, how do you communicate with your teams, how does your organization manage the meetings with the customers?
Actually, for us this is an opportunity to show our technology and smart working principles at their best.
As an immediate measure, we have intensified smart working in all the business and function areas where that was possible. Even our customer care teams have been working remotely. In just a few days we have successfully managed to set up the entire customer care activity outside the office, in smart working, maintaining, at the same time, the quality of our customer services. This has been a huge challenge, but all our teams did everything was needed to shift to the new way of working, while continuing to be there for our customers with no interruptions. We already have over 75% of our employees working from home now, after closing our stores located in the shopping centers.
Our internal face-to-face meetings have moved online, on video conferences or on conf calls. As a rule, we are strongly encouraging within the company the use of solutions and technologies that enable audio-video conferences with partners and collaborators, and thus limit direct contact. So meetings with partners, collaborators, business customers are now conducted virtually.
Was smart working already implemented within your organization? How difficult was it to make this shift?
Smart working was already an option for many of our people before the COVID crisis. We had already in place the procedures, solutions and office equipment enabling our employees to work remotely. So what we did now was extending smart working as a day to day operating model and to all the areas where that was possible. For some function areas that was an easier process, while for others, like customer care, it was more challenging. But our people have put a remarkable effort and work so that we had everything in place in a very short time. I am really proud and appreciate each and everyone’s effort!
How did your working days look like one month before and how do they look now?
My work, our work has become much more intense. The whole Vodafone team is working much harder those days and nights, adjusting and adapting every day to the new enforced measures announced by the authorities and to ensure continuity of services for our customers and safety for our employees.
In addition, since no one can predict how things will evolve and how long it will take to stop this crisis, we also try preparing for the need to manage this situation for a longer period and anticipate all the impact we will have on the longer run, from business to financial impact.
What is your advice for business leaders for this crisis?
Definitely, the global situation we as individuals, businesses and society are facing is unprecedented. There will be much volatility around us and it is hard to predict how things will look like in three months, 6 months, one year from now. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the business environment and humanity will overcome this difficult situation by working together with agility and resilience, already adapting fast to the new conditions. By working together, by understanding the specific needs and challenges that each industry is facing right now, by supporting each other in a meaningful way, we can overcome the difficulties.
At the same time, I believe that this is also an opportunity for businesses to re-assess their flows, their processes, to recognize their vulnerabilities, think of how they can be better prepared for such situations and how they can grow stronger and more resilient. Others may experiment new ideas, new lines of business or new ways of doing things, and we can already see examples of reinvented business in just few weeks or even days.
But above all, I think that this crisis has shown us how central connectivity and technology are today, enabling businesses to continue to run using remote working and collaborative solutions, people to stay connected to their family and friends, students to continue their education virtually. Collaborative office, video conferencing, smart working, remote customer support and other systems have played a tremendous role in coping with the challenges posed by the epidemic.
I think that many businesses that were not ready to this new operating model will put digital transformation higher on their agenda, while others will confidently continue this journey even further.
What is the most positive business news you have read recently and want to share?
Positive business news is hard to spot during such difficult times, extremely challenging for the business environment.
But I am very proud to see the positive mindset and spirit of Vodafone team having a common goal and working together to adapt fast and put all their effort to support our customers to stay connected and efficient on what they need to do. It is positive indeed to see our people already thinking how we will overcome this crisis and how we will be able to restart the machine fast, which shows optimism and resilience. A big thank you from me to the whole Vodafone team for putting such an amazing effort and for its willingness to stay strong against adversity!