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Many businesses and government agencies have responded to the need for social distancing by shifting to telework, but it is not always as easy as it might look.

I manage a service desk with about 35 agents based in two CGI U.S. Delivery Centers—Belton, Texas and Lafayette, Louisiana. For many of our level-one agents—the level that requires the least amount of technical acumen—this often is their first job after college. As a result, we managers provide as much hands-on collaboration, guidance and supervision as possible.

We had always assumed that our teams needed a face-to-face collaborative environment to be successful. Prior to the pandemic, no team member had ever teleworked. Our thinking was that remote working could lead to lower engagement, poorer communication and flagging morale.

To the contrary, when “stay at home” orders required the teams to work from home, they quickly adapted to the new circumstances, and did so more easily than we expected. I had not worried about whether our team was capable. I knew they all were. However, I did worry about how such a major change to what they know and their daily operations might affect their performance.

It has been doubly gratifying to observe their success because, not only did they shift to remote work, but they did so while handling a dramatic increase in the volume of requests as our client also had to change its ways of operating. A help desk has to be a well-oiled machine, optimized for a certain number of calls and contacts per month. When we quickly went over our request threshold by 3,000 or 4,000, no one buckled or complained. They remained energetic and engaged.

The team’s excellent performance isn’t just my opinion. Service desks are eminently measurable entities, as one can determine the quality of service with easily compiled reports. Since shifting to remote working, we have maintained high ratings in our customer satisfaction surveys, even in the face of the higher demand.

Learning from experience

In the hope that our experience might be helpful to others if a future situation requires a similar transition, I would offer these observations and lessons learned:

  1. Trial telework proactively. Do not wait until it becomes mandatory. If you get started early, you can take the time to make sure everyone has the technologies and equipment they need at home — e.g., computers, reliable fast internet connections, headsets, etc.
  2. Expect to provide additional equipment to a few of your employees. We discovered that our technicians living in rural Texas were the most likely to need wireless access points to boost their connections. We were able to deliver the equipment to them in a matter of days and get them up and running.
  3. Communicate frequently. Our managers provide frequent reinforcement and guidance via chat. We want to see how people are doing, and in due course, show them the tangible results of their success and impact. In addition, since our client’s offices are closed every other Friday, we use that opportunity to have a virtual conference with our whole team.

Shifting to remote work is not something CGI does just for its own teams; we also help our clients do this on a large scale. I was heartened to read this account of our operations in Canada helping a client transition 4,000 employees to remote work using Microsoft Teams in about two weeks’ time.

While organizations often prefer to have employees working onsite, the pandemic has forced many to support telework on a large scale, even if temporarily. It’s good to be ready to flex to remote work models when necessary. 

 Coming back when ready

 Eventually, we will be able to bring people back to the office. We will take our time with that to protect employees and with the understanding that team members will still be coping with other challenges, such as home schooling or spouses’ schedules. The success we have had with remote work means there is no need to rush everyone back in.

You can learn more about our U.S. Delivery Centers here.

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About this author

Joseph Cuminale

Joseph Cuminale

Director, Consulting Delivery

Joseph Cuminale leads the Service Center, IT Operation Command Center and Release Change Management for a client in CGI Federal’s Regulatory Agency Programs business unit. His career has spanned several industries, including manufacturing, health care and defense. In these roles, he has provided a passion ...

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