“You have to be a lighthouse” – honest communication, solidarity and empathy during the coronavirus outbreak

How can you help hundreds of sales agents hold on during the coronavirus outbreak when they have to serve customers in shops on a daily basis to keep business running? Please read a subjective script about challenges, management support, motivation and solidarity from the front-line with  Gábor Oláh, Director of B2C Department.

“The safety of my colleagues was a key priority also before the coronavirus outbreak, but now it is even more so. Messages, phone calls, video conferences – you have something happening in every hour of the day and sometimes we have to respond to changes having a fundamental impact on the operation of Telenor shops and the everyday lives and safety of people working there. During my 20 years as a sales manager, I’ve seen lots of things and resolved many issues with my team, but this period has brought about unprecedented changes. 

Telenor’s HQ was evacuated already in the middle of March and home office was ordered for everybody whose job allowed them to work remotely. This is a great solution, but is clearly not an option for the heroes working in our shops which are now open until 3:00 p.m., in line with the effective regulations. It may seem like less work, but due to the virus situation it is a lot more stressful for everybody including my sales team and our customers. Although colleagues spend less hours at work, they get their full salary with unanimous support from the management in this period of solidarity and collaboration.
We encourage our customers to use online or phone-based platforms in the first place. Still, a lot of people need personal assistance and can resolve issues with more confidence if they are face-to-face with customer service staff. And our colleagues in the retail network hold on in the front line, having direct contact with at least 30 to 40 customers a day. 

We’ve taken some targeted measures to improve the safety of both colleagues and customers. Basic precautions were implemented very early including a 2-week volunteer self-isolation for those returning from a high-risk country and paid leave for colleagues with a chronic condition or sharing a household with a vulnerable person. Colleagues were provided with masks and hand sanitizer dispensers and customers were also asked to comply with some safety rules e.g. a cap on the number of people allowed inside a shop and an obligation to cover their face while talking to agents. Most customers behave responsibly but we have to be ready to step in if someone endangers the health of others by not following safety precautions.

To be able to hold on, you need extra motivation other than money! Besides taking specific precautions, first I wanted to reassure colleagues. We have an ongoing daily dialogue on several platforms that has now been thematized to serve our common goal: safety. We communicate honestly, openly and with empathy. I’ve always focused on these values in building my relationship with the team. In the current situation, however, you have to provide even more care, use a human voice and pay extra attention in a more frequent and interactive way. This way, I always know what they are concerned or sensitive about, what makes them reassured, and they are also aware that they can contact me either on our common platform or through private channels. In the current situation, empathy, small gestures and listening to each other are of special importance. And solidarity, of course, which is demonstrated by our colleagues in home office preparing practical and funny patterned face masks for shop staff to complement the official healthcare supplies distributed. 

“In peacetime,” you can boost the performance of your team with one or two carefully scheduled motivation talks or the joint celebration of successes. But now, in an emergency situation, you have to focus more on the human side. And although it is not my main motive, but I’m also encouraged by the many messages of appreciation coming from my team and also by messages in which they ask for reassurance. Receiving such messages from them means that they trust me and their trust makes me stronger. 

“I don’t want to let the team down. Do you think I can stay home?” 
“My son was so happy that I can stay home with him!” 

In such uncertain times, when the situation changes daily and a lot of people start panicking, it is especially important to have a safe point in your life. And in a team running a retail network, the head of sales needs to be such a safe point. In a crisis situation, the leader has to be a lighthouse for colleagues, the safe point they can always see and rely on. As a leader and as an employer you are responsible for providing colleagues with the safest working environment, guaranteeing their income and livelihood, challenging them professionally and giving them personal support. Even a tough leader has to dare to be human when needed”, said Gábor Oláh, Director of B2C Department.