Inside a Durban call centre in the age of COVID-19 | Mark Chana

Mark Chana
3 min readSep 14, 2020

We’re all finding our way in a COVID-19 world. And for businesses, there is the ongoing challenge to continue working while keeping employees safe. At our Durban Call Centre we’re doing just that. Here’s what life is like right now for our agents.

A new business normality is slowly emerging from lockdown in South Africa. As a major employer, we’re acutely aware of the importance of securing people’s jobs, and keeping them safe. This is a difficult balance for a contact centre that employs thousands of people. Which is why during the height of lockdown we worked out a robust back to work plan for our agents.

Making sure it’s safe for contact centre agents to return to work

Our priority is always the safety of our agents. A cross-departmental team of experts worked together to devise the plan, including from Risk & Compliance, Health & Safety, Operations and Learnings & Development. We’re constantly monitoring the new systems and way of working to ensure we’re flexibly meeting any changing needs.

We realised early on during the pandemic that CCI South Africa has a duty to help our employees with any concerns they have. Creating a safe place to work is key to this. The Durban call centre opened for business again in mid-April, but with a very different operational structure compared with before the pandemic. The most immediately obvious difference is the number of people physically working in the buildings.

Less than 2,500 agents are in a building, which is just under 30% of the workforce. This allows for the proper social distancing measures to be easily followed without impinging too much on the agent’s working day. We also have a large team of agents working from home. This distributed work model is our new normal.

Other changes made and procedures implemented include the following:

· Agents enter the building through a one-way system, directly from the car park. Markings clearly show the distance needed between people.

· After showing their ID their temperature is taken and a short questionnaire on their health is filled in.

· Any risks identified at this early stage means they go straight to our on-site nursing station. This is quarantined and equipped to screen for symptoms.

· If no symptoms are present, the agent signs in and starts work.

· During this entrance process, agents will have santised their hands three times.

· Only two people are allowed in the lift at a time, appropriately socially distanced.

· Desks have large dividers separating individual work bays in to pods, divided from each other.

· Temperatures are checked every four hours, with results over 38°C sending them straight to screening.

· The office area is regularly sanitised throughout the day.

· Canteens and sporting facilities are closed and agents can buy food and drink from a roving ‘trolley’ food facility instead.

· Exiting means a reverse of the entry procedure, all while following social distancing.

What about agents who are at risk?

Any agents who are at risk because of people they have been in contact with go straight to our screening area. Depending on the contact they’ve had with others, the nurse triages into 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.

CCI South Africa also has 1,200 agents working from home, and we fully support people who need to do this. We supply everything the need to do their jobs, including IT support and internet connectivity. This flexible mix of remote and on-site working is the new normal for us and for many other businesses.

Many smaller call centres have had to close completely, and I feel fortunate that we can keep our workforce employed and safe during this most challenging of times.

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Mark Chana
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I’m Mark Chana, Group COO of CCI Global and former Managing Director of CCI South Africa — www.markchana.com/mark-chana