Merchants assists South Africans with Work-From-Home challenges through Ekhaya project
As remote working has evolved from an option to a necessity for most businesses in the last few months, Merchants South Africa is tackling some of the local challenges to the trend through the launch of its ‘office-in-a-box’ solution – Ekhaya.
Meaning ‘home’, the Ekhaya solution contains all the necessary tools and technology to transform any home into a full-functioning contact centre – including:
- an uninterruptable power supply (UPS)
- fibre connectivity
- home office furniture
- security and real time collaboration tools, such as a smartphone and visual display unit
This work from home (WFH) solution, currently being utilised by Merchants in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, can be implemented by local businesses across verticals and sectors.
“Remote work has been an option for contact centres for many years, but its utilisation has been sporadic at best, with actual penetration having never broken single figure percentages. The pandemic forced businesses to ask ‘why?’ and address the challenges that have been inherent to the deployment of WFH strategies for decades,” explains Mathew Conn, Group CRO, Merchants. Thus far, Merchants has deployed the Ekhaya office-in-a-box to agents across many of its delivery regions and continues to see promising results in terms of productivity and job satisfaction.
Local WFH challenges
“In South Africa specifically, remote workers face technical challenges like load shedding, cyber security and the quality of connectivity. The Ekhaya solution looks to solve these challenges for employees across the country, while reinforcing belonging within the organisation and enhancing connectedness with the team and customers – which can sometimes lack when employees work remotely. The inevitable result is a better agent experience and an overall improved customer experience for our clients’ consumers.”
A 21st Century report, released in the second half of 2020, found that the possibility of remote working is being considered as a more permanent possibility by employers, in roles where it has proved successful. The report found that 70% of organisations now had WFH options as a temporary offering for employees, while around 18% of organisations offered it as a permanent solution.
WFH as a strategy
Conn explains that in the past, WFH strategies have often been implemented by businesses as a disaster recovery tactic. “COVID-19 should not be seen as another event where disaster recovery tactics are necessary. Instead, businesses have a unique opportunity to adopt a new strategic approach to remote working. For contact centres specifically, this means implementing operating models that are focused on the future by spreading risk while ensuring the same quality service.”
“Once the right technology and tools have been deployed, a successful WFH strategy is built around preserving the culture of the business in question and providing the right support for employees. In our experience, well-functioning WFH set-ups can enable happier, more productive teams. Training, mentorship, security and wellness services must be prioritised.”
Tapping into talent
Implementing future-ready WFH strategies not only allows for better business continuity but presents some unique benefits for organisations across the board – such as access to a wider, more diverse talent pool. This is important in South Africa, where the skills gap continues to widen.
According to the latest trends report by Xero, 67% of local small businesses struggle to find the right talent when it comes to new technologies. “While having the right technology is an important part of a successful WFH strategy for any business, the most important part is the people. WFH strategies allow the available talent pool to include those with disabilities, visually impaired individuals, return-to-work parents, and unemployed graduates without transport, for example,” says Conn.
Additionally, Merchants research shows that up to 30% of agent salaries are spent on transport; allowing WFH models to have a positive impact on their disposable income. For many businesses, a successful WFH strategy will also result in cost reductions.
“Essentially, successful WFH strategies need to be centred on a business’ people. Our Ekhaya solution allows our business to be prepared for change at all times, while ensuring our people are happy, productive and supported. This is the future of work,” concludes Conn.