Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a flurry of articles written regarding the impacts of the pandemic and what a post-pandemic future looks like for various industries. As a professional solution delivery and outsource development services partner to a range of global clients, our outsourcing teams at Saratoga have been delivering quality work remotely to international clients since well before the pandemic forced many organisations to make the move to remote.
With this article we would like to share insights from our experience of moving to a mainly remote team and highlight some of the positive effects these changes have brought to our organisation and staff.
Creating an office at home
While some of our teams were already working remotely with UK and international clients from our head offices in Cape Town, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock-down saw these teams and the rest of Saratoga move to fully remote work-from-home as of April 2020.
In this initial phase, it was crucial to make sure our staff were well supported through the technical and logistical challenges of working from home. For instance, we had to ensure all our staff had the correct infrastructure and set up to deliver the same quality of work while working remotely. This included the challenges brought on by loadshedding, which were addressed by providing our staff with alternate power supplies to keep them connected.
We have since adopted a mixed model where offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town are available for staff to work from if they so choose, but most of our teams continue to work remotely.
Staying connected as a team
With home-office setup completed, efforts were made to ensure staff check-ins were conducted on a more regular basis. At the start of the lockdown, weekly communications were shared with staff and regular company-wide information sessions were hosted virtually to provide information to staff and to strengthen the feedback loop. Added care was taken to ensure that our staff were monitored for signs of stress and fatigue given the mental and emotional impacts working remotely could have.
“At the start of the pandemic and the lock-down we faced a lot of uncertainty around the scale and extent of the pandemic and the affects this would have on Saratoga and our staff. To support our staff during this time it was important to make sure they had all the information they needed about COVID-19 precautions, lock-down regulations as well as important information related to Saratoga” Charlotte Keuris, Marketing and Communications Manager at Saratoga.
Remote work should only refer to where we work from, and not how we work. Regular communications, tech talks, virtual company sessions and socials as well as in-person social events which adhere to social distancing are key in maintaining a connected Saratoga team.
Benefits of working remotely
For our staff, based mainly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, one significant benefit was spending much less time in traffic travelling to and from clients or our offices. Essentially regaining this time, energy and costs have provided our teams with further flexibility and better enables the work-life balance we value as an organisation.
The flexibility enabled by remote work has also contributed to the increased rates of productivity from our teams and reductions in our sick leave rate for example.
“First and foremost, let me start by saying that, the advantages of remote working will be subjective and specific to each individual. There will always be pros and cons on both sides of the argument. However, with the advance of technology today remote working, when configured correctly, does sure have its upsides. Personally, for me, my experience has been a positive one. I’m happy to work alone quietly allowing me to dig in without disturbances – while knowing I’m supported by my team and Saratoga. The use of Microsoft Teams and Azure DevOps has made interactive screen sharing and code collaboration with team members a seamless task, resulting in clear communication and a productive use of time” Richard Calf, Developer at Saratoga.
Increased importance of Information Security
For Saratoga and our clients, one aspect of remote working that is of high importance is maintaining stringent information security measures outside the office. The reliance on office based firewalls and end point protection needs to be replaced with alternatives readily available for home office work to maintain best practice security measures. Further emphasis has also been placed on maintaining awareness around cybersecurity measures and information security across Saratoga, by regularly providing tips and best practice guidelines to our teams.
“At Saratoga our employees understand the importance of information security and working remotely this level of understanding has stepped up a notch or two. The weakest link around information security can usually be traced back to the human factor, therefore it’s important that employees are aware of the potential threats and are able to work remotely in as a secure as possible manner” – Shabier Cassim, Operations Manager of Outsourcing Services.
Client relationships and remote work partnerships
With a global client base ranging from Financial Services and Insurance to Media, Retail and Supply Chain Management we understood our clients’ organisations would each be impacted differently by the pandemic.
Thanks to the established relationships we have with our clients, we could work with them to navigate the short-term changes and risks while still delivering professional solution delivery and outsource development services.
“It has been essential to keep the communication pipeline open and understand the needs and challenges faced by our clients during this period. Maintaining our quality and service delivery through-out the transition from working at the office to working remotely has strengthened trust with our clients and has showcased the level of flexibility and resilience at Saratoga,” explains Cassim.
As we engage with new clients, we have found that the international shift to working remotely has opened the doors for client organisations and technology and development partners to collaborate across the globe.
Enabled by this new operating model for Saratoga, the benefits our staff have experienced in the shift to remote work is mirrored in the numerous benefits passed on to our clients. From more productive consultants, to enabling partnerships which connect clients with leading technology professionals across the globe – remote working has opened the door to valuable connections and opportunities for both Saratoga and our clients.
Ultimately, on our journey to adopting remote work as our preferred way of work we have had to be agile and open to continual learning and self-improvement as an organisation and a team. Building company-wide resilience by ensuring our key asset – our staff’s wellbeing and safety – remains central to our strategy.