Here’s what it’s like inside a Durban call centre in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19’s impact on the world is unprecedented. People everywhere are learning to live and work in new ways while adapting to changing circumstances. Governments are fighting to ensure citizens are as safe as possible, and mitigating steps are taken to contain new surges.

And at the same time, the working world must go on. A new kind of normality is resuming across South Africa, as business sectors across the board find ways to implement distributed working. Life inside a Durban call centre looks different now compared with the start of the year. But we have a plan and it’s working for us.

What is life like in a Durban call centre post-lockdown?

During lockdown when offices were closed completely, at CCI South Africa we were working to come up with a plan. In April, we launched our work readiness plans, which were developed to help our agents get back to work and stay safe.

CCI South Africa and other contact centres perform duties that often cross over into delivering essential services. Our priority is always the safety and security of our workforce, before and during COVID-19. To achieve this, we assembled a large team of people from the following departments: Operations, Learnings & Development, Risk & Compliance, Facilities and Health & Safety. We worked relentlessly to build a strong plan to get our team back to work, ensuring every single team member could work in a safe environment.

The pandemic is not just a threat to our physical health, of course. Our collective mental health is also being adversely affected. Economic concerns co-exist with fears for health and safety as people try to return to work without risk. At CCI South Africa, we knew early on that we needed to create a safe place for people to come back to work. We also knew that we needed to provide job security for our agents. Our back to work plan does all of this.

Social distancing and PPE at the CCI Durban Call Centre

Doors open at CCI South Africa to a new normal

Our Durban call centre doors reopened in mid-April 2020, but with many changes. The most obvious is there are 70% fewer people in the office. We had less than 2,500 agents working in our buildings so that we can properly manage social distancing. At the same time, we have a large team working remotely. This distributed working model is the new normal for CCI South Africa, because it adheres to the highest safety protocol and will continuously evolve.

Here’s a bit more detail on the changes we’ve made:

  1. Entering and exiting the Durban call centre buildings

Each building has one defined entrance and exit and a one way system. Everyone enters from the car park, following the clear markings on the floor to stay socially distanced. After having their temperature taken and showing ID, we ask a few questions to find out who they travelled with and how they’re feeling. This helps to determine the risks before people even enter the contact centre. If there are any risks identified at this point, they go straight to our on-site nurse in a specially quarantined area. Here they’ll be screened for any symptoms. Those who are symptom free sign in and go to work as normal. By the time they enter the building, they will have sanitised their hands three times.

  1. Working in the building

Only two people are allowed in the lift at the same time (whilst they have a capacity of up to 20 people), standing in marked areas to keep at a safe distance. When our agents reach their floor, they head to their desks. These are now work bays set up with dividers, with each bay ensuring people are facing away from each other and are properly distanced.

Every four hours we make sure everyone has their temperature checked, and if it’s higher than 37°C they go to our screening area. The entire office area is regularly sanitised throughout the day, and our canteens and sports facilities remain closed. Instead, we have a moving ‘trolley’ food facility so agents can buy food and drink at their desks and eat safely. When it’s time to go home, we all leave by one marked exit, while following appropriate social distancing.

Agents who are at risk of COVID-19

Any agents who are at risk of COVID-19 in any way go straight to our on-site nurse. Here they’re screened and depending on the kind of contact they’ve had with others during the day, we follow the appropriate guidelines using a traffic light system:

  • If they are considered to be a red – a high level risk they’re evaluated and go home and quarantine for 14 days.
  • Amber – medium risk means they also must continue to self-monitor for any emerging symptoms, but aren’t currently displaying any symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they can head to their GP or to our on-site screening area and we then follow the relevant process.
  • Green is low risk. For example people in this category will be reminded to strictly stick to hygiene practices, including wearing masks, sanitising regularly and social distancing.

Social distancing and PPE at the CCI Durban Call Centre

Incorporating home working into our distributed working model

We fully support agents that need to work from home and provide a full kit with IT support and internet connectivity. Before COVID-19, CCI South Africa had no agents working remotely and we now have 1,200. This is a real change in the way we collectively work but ensures everyone is looked after and safe. Like most other businesses, CCI South Africa is adapting to a flexible and fluid way of working.

All of these feelings are completely valid and understandable under the circumstances, and we’re doing everything we can to help. We’re really fortunate to be able for thousands of our staff in these challenging times, to ramin in employment and keep operating. So many other contact centres have been forced to close during this time, and we’re acutely aware of how important it is that we continue to adapt to changing circumstances, to stay safe, whilst staying relevant for our clients and customers.

All of our new processes are fully robust and reassuring for any of our partners or customers that were concerned about agents returning to the office. This is our new normal, and we’re constantly monitoring the situation to make sure everyone is safe to work at our Durban call centre.