Supporting employee wellness as a vital aspect of company policy has come into stark relief amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Many employees find themselves working from home, and feel the absence of those support structures usually taken for granted in the office. The effects of the change are felt across the board.

Although some relaxation in the regulations came on Saturday August 15, with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of Lockdown Level Two, the understanding is that those who can still work from home should do so.

Level Two has brought huge relief to many, yet at Boomerang SA, as with other companies, it does usher in the era of a home/office hybrid model that might become part of a new norm.

At the office, Boomerang employees thrive in an atmosphere where connecting, enthusiasm and praise for team effort are the order of the day. The daily social support previously enjoyed in the office environment is sorely missed when working from home.

Inevitably, employees’ mental and physical wellness has been compromised during this trying time. New challenges have come thick and fast, such as maintaining productivity with continual interruptions from family, creating a professional environment at home, addressing stress levels, and not falling into the trap of working overtime when one would ordinarily have called it quits at the end of the day at the office.

At Boomerang, we are committed to providing our agents with the resources they need to maintain the high morale that is key to our world-class business offering.

There are significant changes linked to the transition to working from home, and then to a home/office hybrid model. Not to mention employees having to adjust to lockdown restrictions and regulations. Therefore, our in-house life coach has stepped up to provide pointers on how to maintain wellness whilst navigating this “new normal”. These are published regularly to our Facebook page. Furthermore, we provide life-coaching services to those who require additional assistance.

Changes in the workplace are known to be a leading cause of stress, and stress has an adverse impact on health. This becomes apparent with the move to work from home.

It’s notable that a 2017 United Nations study of 15 countries found that among people who worked mostly from home, 41 percent considered themselves “highly stressed”, while this number came in at 25 percent for in-office workers.

Reducing overall stress is a priority and is best achieved by adopting a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a balance between work and personal life, setting appropriate boundaries, and not sweating the small stuff.

It’s all too easy to become sedentary at home, with a brisk walk to work and a visit to the gym no longer part of the schedule. Research has shown that doing regular aerobic exercise is a quick win when it comes to alleviating stress. Home-based workouts are the cure here, and can include anything from yoga and Pilates to skipping, or a session on the exercise bike.

For the employees who are able to return to the office, falling back into a more familiar routine can only be beneficial.

Then, when working from home, there’s the setting of boundaries and keeping work separate from restful home life is the next challenge. It’s more important to set up a dedicated work space and to resist the temptation to operate from the couch. Keep leisure spaces for relaxation, and work spaces for work.

The value of those chats around the office water cooler has also become apparent as we grapple with restrictive social distancing and a concomitant sense of isolation. Even in “normal times”, loneliness and social isolation are seen as “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity,” according to a paper published in 2015 on the Association of Psychological Science research repository.

The most effective way to maintain social connection during this time is on digital platforms. At Boomerang, we’ve leveraged online tools to ensure regular check-ins with colleagues.

With COVID still a factor, it may be many more months before we see our contact centre back to full capacity. As such, we continue to provide resources and support to our staff in their home environment, as well as the office.

Robert Joubert

Boomerang SA

Never has there been a more important time for employers to have their finger on the pulse of employee well-being than during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis and its resultant lockdown have sent stress levels soaring.

Dr. Elke Van Hoof, Professor of Health and Primary Care Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, produced a paper confirming that around 2.6 billion people around the world are in some form of lockdown. Also that arguably, we’re currently conducting the largest psychological experiment in history. The World Economic Forum published the article. Locally, a Human Science Research Council-led research consortium has also cautioned that South Africa is in a “moment of psychological crisis”.

Unemployment globally has soared. Those in employment must deal with adjustments in their daily lives; changed work environments accommodating for social distancing; as well as new environmental stressors. Those working from home must cope without the regular face-to-face social support they may regularly enjoy in the office environment.

It’s notable that the Chinese symbol for crisis comprises of two characters, signifying both danger and opportunity. The pandemic presents obvious dangers: for businesses, as well as for employees’ physical and mental well-being. It also highlights an opportunity for employers to improve policies around employee well-being, as employees are arguably the company’s most important ‘customers’.

The output-driven business process services (BPS) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors in South Africa, and those providing customer services, rely heavily on the competency of employees who have a cultural affinity with offshore clients, as well as their vital ability to connect with customers on an emotional level, to listen with understanding and empathy. With that in mind, it is obvious that overwrought customer service agents are hardly in a position to engage effectively with customers. Therefore, employers and employees need to work together to successfully navigate the pressures resulting from the pandemic, and to deliver a great customer experience.

When it comes to mental health, epidemiologists early on anticipated a surge in the incidence of mental illness as a result of the lockdown and other COVID-19 related challenges. Employers’ efforts to provide channels for employees to discuss their mental health and to point them in the right direction as far as resources are concerned, are a critical form of support for employees during this challenging time. This is most likely to secure employee commitment and loyalty far beyond the pandemic.

Boomerang SA has risen to the challenge, and is changing the way it sees and addresses employee well-being as the landscape shifts. The first step was to create channels whereby the company arranges one-on-one weekly check-ins with every employee.

Physical safety is key to mental well-being, and Boomerang has addressed this through carefully following COVID-19 guidelines for the workplace, and encouraging an ethos of protecting not only oneself, but other people too.

The company has made provision for those diagnosed with COVID-19, setting minds at ease by awarding additional paid sick leave. In addition, Boomerang has made allowance for those with identified comorbidities, prioritizing and facilitating speedy work-from-home solutions so as to decrease related risks.

Looking ahead, Boomerang has an in-house life coach on staff, and provision has been made for individual sessions for those who require it, as well as supplying a guideline for maintaining mental health while working from home.

South Africa’s BPS and BPO sectors are under no illusion about the fact that people do indeed leave managers, rather than companies. Therefore, in order to maintain symbiosis between these two sectors, every effort is made to keep a healthy, motivated and fully competent employee base, fit for service.

The country is an ideal partner for destinations that wish to outsource their core contact centre competencies, Cape Town being ideally located for this purpose, and South Africa’s BPO sector owes it to offshore and local clients to render continued service excellence. But, of equal importance is the preservation of employees’ well-being, without whom the industry would grind to a halt. This cognisance is critical to the continued success of our dynamic BPS and BPO sectors.

We will beat this COVID-19 pandemic together and realize our aspirations to create a company where employees are supported and encouraged to grow into their potential and achieve their aspirations.

Look out for interviews to be posted soon, where we chat to staff about the promises, pitfalls and occasional hilarity of working from home.

Robert Joubert

Boomerang SA

Businesses in South Africa have no choice but to comply with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement recently that further provisions of POPIA would come into effect on 1 July 2020. POPIA resembles data privacy legislation adopted in many parts of the world, including the EU (GDPR) and UK (Data Protection Act 2018). Providers are required to comply with international data privacy laws, where these are in force. The BPO sector’s highly compliant culture will stand it in good stead therefore, to also comply with POPIA as it continues to service both local and international clients.

Designed to protect the basic human right of privacy, POPIA protects personal information, especially with regard to data breaches and data theft. Personal information constitutes any information relating to a living, identifiable natural person, or an existing juristic person (like a company). The deadline for compliance with the further identified provisions of the act is 1 July 2021. Sections of the act, which have been implemented incrementally, constitute the conditions for legal processing of personal information; codes of conduct issued by the Information Regulator; procedures for dealing with complaints; provisions regulating direct marketing by means of unsolicited electronic communication and general enforcement of the act.

Data is said to have become the “new oil”, having grown considerably in its economic value to business. In fact, data privacy remains a top priority globally. And it’s businesses that are set to add significant value and, in turn, gain a substantial share in their respective markets. Some of the risks associated with non-compliance are data breaches, reputational damage, and a substantial fine (the Information Regulator is mandated to enforce fines even exceeding more than R10 million, or to pursue criminal charges).

In order to ensure compliance, businesses are encouraged to establish a POPIA task team; draft a Privacy Policy; review the processing of personal information, and the type of information processed; provide appropriate training of all relevant personnel; ensure compliance with POPIA requirements around personal information transfer outside of South Africa’s borders; confirm that all direct marketing complies with POPIA requirements; and review information security and safeguards.

South Africa’s BPO sector has a keen focus on compliance, and the progressive data privacy legislation of POPIA should bolster trust in the sector, as well as instill confidence in global source markets that South Africa is indeed open and ready to render a top-of-class global BPO business.

Furthermore, South Africa boasts second place in the recent BPO Omnibus Survey of Most Preferred Offshore Location, which holds much promise for the future of the sector. The country was also ranked 60th out of 141 countries in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2019, up from 67th in 2018. The main driver behind this improvement in overall global competitiveness was an increase in ICT adoption.

Over and above being sticklers for compliance, South Africa’s BPO and contact centre industry can also offer outsourcing clients an ideal location that compliments the time zone of the outsourcing country, for optimal around-the-clock service delivery; a sizable talent pool; niche domain skills; solid infrastructure; cultural affinity; fluency in English; and the ability to connect with customers on an empathetic level.

South Africa and Boomerang SA, with its headquarters in Cape Town (also affectionately known as the “Mother City”), is ready to partner meaningfully with offshore and domestic outsourcing clients. Boomerang SA has the technical, security and operational processes in place to meet ISO9001, ISO27001 and regulated financial services standards. So, let’s start a conversation.

Success In Progress

The Corona virus has come in like a wrecking ball, demolishing almost everything in its path. From personal lives to the business world, nothing and nobody across the globe has been able to dodge its swing. It has devastated the already fragile economy, and has forced business owners to make very tough decisions, specifically regarding closing their doors or integrating to a remote working environment solution.

To the benefit of some, the government has begun implementing lockdown levels in an attempt to phase the re-opening of the economy while simultaneously trying to stop the spread; but the reality remains that the virus is still present and will be for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it begs the question: “Is it not more beneficial to embrace the new future of the remote working business world?”

By now, business owners have managed to weigh up the pros and cons, consider all variables, and make educated guesses to ease their decision-making. Although there are many teething issues that accompany the implementation of remote working, and despite it being a learn-as-you-go process, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Contrary to our initial doubts and concerns, our efforts have been (and still are) paying off. Not only do we have a massively impressive success story of our current international campaign soaring beyond expectations and producing excellent results, but the real success lies with the people. Everybody within the business has come on board and are committed to ensuring that we continue to produce top quality service as usual, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

It is an on-going process to fully perfect all aspects of successful home working, but having such a dedicated and effective team pulling together is a breath of fresh air. There is no easy quick fix, especially if remote working would never have been a consideration in “normal life”, but closing our doors will never be an option.

Part of adapting to the “new” world of business, specifically for those businesses who do not have the means or resources to continue work as usual from home, is seeing the benefits in outsourcing services to a third party organization. During these unprecedented circumstances, and because of all the uncertainty, it would make sense to form a collaborative with a company who already has a rising success rate, specifically regarding remote working; thus benefiting both parties, and ensuring the continuation of productivity on both sides.

Our challenges are by no means over. We are still learning and adapting, finding what works and what doesn’t; but our commitment, dedication, quality of service and success rate (past and present, local and international) is a clear indication of our capabilities and is not an opportunity to be missed by companies looking to outsource.

Embrace the change. Stop the spread.