Interview given by Ângela Santos, Board Member and responsible for Human Capital Development at Abaco, to InfoRH: https://inforh.pt/angela-santosabaco-feliz-conseguimos-fazer-uma-percentagem-elevada-do-nosso-trabalho -remotely-but-we-are-absolutely-dependent-on-the-impact-on-the-business-of-our-clients /
With 15 years in the market and with a team of 250 employees, spread across offices in Portugal – Lisbon, Porto – Brazil, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Abaco Consulting is a company that works in the implementation and maintenance of SAP information systems.
Ângela Santos, board member and responsible for the organization’s human capital development, shares with infoRH | COVID-19, the measures taken to deal with the current situation.
What was the solution found in the company?
Following the recommendations of the Portuguese General Directorate of Health and the detection of cases in Porto, Abaco Consulting sought from an early age to carry out all actions that could minimize any risk to its own and to the community. The sequence of events was as follows:
- On March 2 – Cancellation of the company’s internal Winter Kick-Off event (to be held on March 6);
- On March 4 – Recommendation to all employees to: Wash hands several times with soap and water; Avoid physical or close contact; Whenever we sneeze or cough, protect the airways with the forearm or a handkerchief. Throw it away and wash your hands afterwards; Avoid face-to-face meetings; Opt for distance communication; Opt for telecommuting. We ask all those who are able and able to do so to work remotely; avoid biometric mechanisms throughout the day. Try to keep the doors just closed: close them only at the end of the day; If we need to travel for work, do it in our own car or rental, avoid public transport; Do not put others at risk unnecessarily; Placement of hand sanitizer in all rooms.
- On March 9 – Information to all customers and partners that these measures were taken and that Abaco employees are advised not to physically participate in meetings, conferences, events, work teams, etc. All work must be done remotely, using collaborative tools.
- On March 10 – Immediate dismissal of attendance and teleworking to all employees. The exception was the guarantee of minimum services at the company’s headquarters, in Porto, in which only one worker was placed each day, among the administrative team, at the same time, on a rotating basis; Recommendation of social isolation to all employees.
- On March 13th – All on-site training developed by Abaco Academy was canceled for the months of March and April and the entire training offer was adapted to Virtual Classroom.
These measures aimed to reduce the risk of our employees and their families, our partners and the community in general. They also aimed at adapting to a new reality, which allows the continuity of services to our customers, with quality and rigor, during the time the epidemic lasts.
What impacts can low production or productivity have on the organization?
As of today, we have not yet been able to assess the impact of this crisis. Fortunately, we managed to do a high percentage of our work remotely, but we are absolutely dependent on the impact on our customers’ business (Abaco works 100% in a Business to Business market).
We know that the main sectors affected will be tourism and leisure, accommodation, clothing and footwear, automobile manufacturers and suppliers, consumer durables, retail and parcels (non-food products), games, events, transport and airlines. We have some customers in these sectors and the impact that will result from that will certainly be high.
In addition to the offices we have outside Portugal, many of our projects are also developed in other countries and, at the moment, they all have a large number of cases, so the globalization and ease of movement of goods and people that currently exists, case, played against everyone. Many companies will forcibly decrease their activity.
How are you trying to minimize that impact?
Abaco has always lived with change and flexibility and is a company that adapts quickly. We are currently changing our ways of contacting partners and customers. Remote work is already a reality for everyone (luckily, we live in an era that allows us access to technology that facilitates that), and the transition has been fast and peaceful. It is essential to create new communication channels and increase this communication with customers and partners, as it is essential that they realize that we continue to support and help them in whatever they need. It is also very important to increase communication between the teams: to find work methodologies that help in the coordination and visibility of the tasks of each one. Looking for the dematerialization of all processes in the company where possible, is another challenge that we are trying to overcome with the collaboration of our partners (100% electronic invoicing, 100% digital financial flows, 100% digitization of expenses, etc.).
Regarding Abaco Academy team, the challenge was enormous, as it meant passing the entire training offer to virtual classroom in just 3 days.
Now it is important to look for new ways to help customers, new opportunities that will certainly exist in this “new world”.
Have rules been established for teleworking?
The rules are exactly the same as when the whole team was in the office. As we rely 100% on our employees, we do not feel the need to create even more rules, not least because, taking into account the Portuguese panorama today, we believe that it could leave them more disoriented or discouraged. However, it is a fact that, since we are all at a distance, we use telephone calls or Skype meetings much more often, but that in no way hinders the normal functioning of our work. In this context, we ask our entire team to further reinforce their attention/availability for customer and partner issues that may, however, arise. For example, Consultants, who were previously clients and are now telecommuting, are ensuring, in the same way, the continuity of clients’ projects, which is our priority at the moment.
They are also increasing the collaboration and visibility of their tasks through collaborative tools to facilitate proximity and productivity in this isolation.
What are the conditions that the employer is guaranteeing to those who are teleworking?
At Abaco, all our employees are equipped with a company computer and mobile phone, so they can work from home at any time. For more specific cases, we also try to ensure that everyone is connected to the internet, so we have made available several devices that allow this connection.
On the other hand, we also use Microsoft Office tools that allow us to be in permanent contact with other colleagues, customers, suppliers and partners.
How do team meetings take place?
Team meetings are held using Microsoft tools. We seek to monitor and assist, even more closely, each of the teams, and we hold meetings on a daily basis or whenever necessary. And we maintain the routines we already had. We have always given importance to the teams’ routines, creating these habits, maintaining clear goals and agendas, and this has been maintained without interruption. These routines are revealed at the level of each project, each competence team, each work group and in the leadership and management team and are essential for us to be aligned.
Do professionals have access to all company documents they need from home? Through what tools?
Yes. As we have international offices, with projects taking place in several countries, all of our documents are in the cloud and available at any time. We always use Microsoft Office tools.
Did this teleworking organizational structure already exist pre-Covid-19, was it set up post-Covid-19, or did it already exist and was it reinforced in the face of this outbreak?
This telework format has always existed at Abaco. We believe that it is very important to have flexibility within an organization and to allow some mobility and decision-making power for our Employees. Thus, since always, for personal or professional reasons, employees have the possibility to work, occasionally or as a rule, in teleworking. However, with the exponential increase in cases, we obviously moved to the extended contingency plan, that is, we asked all employees to work from home, thus not putting their lives and those of others at risk.
How do employees keep motivated at a distance?
Motivation does not depend so much on the form of face-to-face or remote work. Motivation depends on team unity (not so much on physical presence). It depends on close, confident, transparent leadership. Proximity has always been our prerogative and this is achieved with some routines and involving people (in decisions, solutions, actions). Trust in our people has always been an integral part of our way of being. Transparency, communication, is now a greater challenge. We need to give more information, give more context, be clearer. We have some tools that will help us in this task: in addition to the work we do on social media, we have an internal weekly newspaper that will be a good link. We have a system to manage all contingency and information, as well as the situation of each employee, in this crisis of the corona virus (Safemed). We have Microsoft tools, with internal information sharing, knowledge sharing sites. We are certain that the crisis will pass and we will come out stronger, but we need to pass this tranquillity on to the team. If we maintain a cautious behaviour and do everything in our power to minimize risks, if we have the creativity to know how to read the opportunities, and we know how to continue to follow our course, our strategy, with the necessary corrections that arise from this situation , and if we know how to take advantage of the human capital we have, surely we will all leave more motivated, after overcoming this crisis.
It is equally important that between Customer and Supplier, Partner and Competitor, bonds of solidarity are established instead of each one looking for individual survival strategies. Success in overcoming this crisis can only be collective, never individual. More than ever, let us take care of each other and be attentive to the most fragile.
As Human Resources Director, how are you facing this situation in your company? Are employees concerned about the future?
We are making every effort to overcome this crisis. Of course, we are all concerned with the future, with what will come after the epidemic enters the declining phase. There are clear signs that a crisis is coming. But first, we must overcome the epidemic. We have to look after people’s well-being. To act responsibly, to avoid being a vehicle of transmission to others. And, as far as we know, there is, to date, no case of infection with the corona virus at Abaco: all employees are exemplarily following all the precautionary rules recommended by the General Health Directorate.
And because we want to act responsibly, we will make available to our customers, free of any charges, the system that we are using internally, and that we have developed – Safemed – so that they can better manage this crisis and its people.
In addition to all the “health” and social measures already listed, we are now looking for economic and financial measures that will allow us to “keep the lights on” for as long as possible. These measures will involve cost and investment restraint, but above all because they seek to develop opportunities with our customers. We have to work with them.
We want to keep everyone on the boat with us, it will be a collective effort. But, obviously, we do not control developments in the situation. What people know is that we are working hard to preserve the Abaco that everyone helped to build, with the same values as always.