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This is an English courtesy translation of the original article prepared in Italian language. Link to the original article, Corriere della Sera – Corriere.it: Coronavirus, nelle zone arancioni il call center risponde da casa: il caso Comdata, here.

"How is the Coronavirus affecting the people in our Contact Centres? Many of our employees are working from home, we've covered the costs for remotely connecting with more than 1000 of our team members, half of those who work in the orange zones".

This is how Comdata, the Italian giant of BPO and outsourced contact centre services for telephone, energy and financial services companies, has deployed contingency measures with 10,500 employees in Italy and as many as two thousand in five locations in affected orange zones: Corsico (Milan), Parma, Pesaro, Asti and Padua. A global company that relies on the provision of such a significant workforce, and at the same time provides essential services for its 700+ clients, Comdata had to face an emergency that could overwhelm any organization.

Instead, says the group's CEO Alessandro Zunino,"I must thank and congratulate all of our people. Today we had expected a rise in absenteeism, but instead we had a rate practically equal to that of any other time, including the five locations affected by the ‘lockdown’ decree. And many of our employees are currently on holiday, especially people who have children at home. They have shown a great sense of responsibility and willingness to resist anxiety and fear".

Corriere della Sera: But how have you organized yourselves to handle all of your employees from one day to the next?

Alessandro Zunino: By Sunday we issued an internal company wide communication that implemented the decree in time for people to know what to do. We advised all those involved in administration and finance, those in vital managerial areas in Milan, that we would be deploying ‘smart working’ solutions. We have launched from today a more complex plan for our people to work remotely, so that we can also carry out the activities of all our BPO and contact centre operations from home. From tomorrow (Tuesday 10th March) employees that work in the five offices in the orange zones will start to work from home out of a total of our 23 sites in Italy. Within 10-12 days about half of our people in these five locations will be smart working. This will have the consequence of reducing the number of people travelling to and working in our offices which will make them even safer.

Corriere della Sera: Will are your people have access to technology to enable then to do their jobs?

Alessandro Zunino: Our technical teams are liaising with all our employees to assess the suitability of their home PC’s and laptops. Those who do not have the adequate technology at home will be provided with Comdata approved laptops. We are also checking broadband availability and speeds, and those who don't have it will be provided with a high-speed mobile connection and have the necessary software to connect to our platforms and tools. We are financing all of this activity ourselves so our people are not burdened with any costs. Of course, our customers - who are telecom, energy, banks clients – are being engaged in our planning and discussions on compliance, data protection and operational standards. Some of our specialist services cannot be done from home, but we are ensuring that our telephone exchanges can route incoming calls, emails and messages to smartphones or tablets.

Corriere della Sera: Is this costing Comdata a lot of money?

Alessandro Zunino: To be able to react so fast, and deploy solutions in such a short time, we must necessarily leverage the available equipment and technology that employees have at home. We are paying our smart working people an additional 30 euros per month to cover any additional broadband and energy bills. Where necessary we are installing new connections with the business covering the costs. However, we are planning to complete the requirements with a limited financial commitment since about 35% of our people already have a fast internet connection at home.

Corriere della Sera: How many of your operational employees were physically at work today?

Alessandro Zunino: This morning we had an absenteeism rate compared to the norm of about 3 percent. We were actually expecting this rate to be higher, but it shows the dedication of our people. And most of the absenteeism today was actually down to booked holidays, not illness. It's probably related to the fact that the schools are closed and the need to look after children at home. We have further intensified the frequency of sanitation in the five sites in the orange zones and in each of these sites there is a strong regime of handwashing, restricting contact with other people, recognizing the symptoms of colleagues and using disinfectant liquid.

Corriere della Sera: And how are you managing self-certifications?

Alessandro Zunino: We have provided a form and HR support for those who live outside the site, declaring that their workplace is inside the orange zone and that the activity cannot be carried out outside. All employees are being fully supported on an individual ‘case-by-case’ basis but it’s important to remember that we’ve never found ourselves in this situation before, so like so many companies we are putting our resources, experience, knowledge and expertise to the test.

Corriere della Sera: You are a multinational corporation, your main shareholder is the American fund Carlyle. How are you doing in the other countries where you are present?

Alessandro Zunino: Our headquarters are in Milan, then we have an important company in France where we are the third largest operator and several activities in other countries such as Spain, Turkey, Morocco. We are being very considerate that we may need to transfer and replicate what we are doing in Italy in other countries. At Comdata we are incredibly collaborative so one country helps the other. It’s an important part of our culture and values and is the keystone of our success as a multinational company.

Source: Corriere della Sera – Corriere.it, March 9th 2020, article by Fabrizio Massaro