While the world is still adjusting to what has been coined as the “new normal”, a quick look around is enough to confirm that the way we work and do business have definitely changed. Work From Home has become a reality for many across the globe and Mauritius is no exception.
Prior to the pandemic, most companies did not have an existing Work From Home policy and therefore had to quickly set up new protocols. At MCB, it became a matter of business continuity - Work From Home became a necessary evolution. “We dropped from 3,000 onsite to 250 employees within a week, which meant that we had to rely on technology but also on our capacity to organise ourselves to be able to achieve that", said Alain Law Min, CEO of MCB Ltd, during this year’s e-Africa Forward Together (AFT) conference.
Mauritius was under lockdown from mid-March to May this year. However, as banks offer essential services to the population, they had to find ways to operate smoothly in tricky circumstances. "The Regulator asked us to open a number of branches and keep others closed,” MCB Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Pierre-Guy Noël recounted. These instructions would change regularly throughout the confinement period and the bank had to remain extremely agile and flexible in its handling of human resources, logistics and operations, while keeping, as topmost priority the safety of customers and staff.
To Alain Law Min, this new reality imposed by the COVID pandemic has above all demonstrated that MCB was able to adapt very rapidly and efficiently to changing and unexpected circumstances. He believes that “a crisis gives a sense of urgency, purpose and focus”. This operational resilience has been made possible, he says, thanks to three key factors: “agility, people, and technology - with the latter being the common denominator, enabling (the bank) to have 90% of employees Work From Home”. He goes so far to say that based on operations over the last few months, Work From Home can even become an “enabler of productivity”.
Technology and training are however sine qua non for this success
Jean-Michel Felix, CEO of MCB Consulting, who also participated in this year’s edition of AFT, is adamant that Work From Home cannot work without the appropriate technology. “Some companies invested heavily in technology because of the lockdown. Some more proactive companies had done so well before that. We need to ask ourselves: why would we not give a laptop to an admin staff? By providing a laptop to everyone, you enable Work From Home”. Although this may sound like a simplistic logic, it also underlines the fact that we need to look at the choice and use of technology from a strategic point of view and with the newly established paradigms in mind.
If financial institutions are to tackle crises and evolve, they need to choose the right technology, to equip their people adequately, and train them. Technology, however powerful, cannot work properly without training.
That being said, training is more likely to suffer now that companies are cutting costs. To Jean-Michel Felix, this is a strategic mistake. Along with other costs such as marketing, training remains a strategic and farsighted investment. “Now is the time to invest in our people and to reskill them and make them ready for the future. The pace of change is going to be fast and sometimes furious”.
If this is true, and fast change remains the only constant, Work From Home might just be here to stay on a large-scale basis. The next step is to define how this new mode of work will function in the long run. This will clearly not imply having 100% of staff working 100% off-site. “Human contact and team work are essential to be able to promote values and culture and to promote synergies among our teams”, reminds Alain Law Min. So, the upcoming challenge is to find the right balance and strike it.