Coronavirus has radically changed the way we work and collaborate with colleagues. As the year draws to a close and teleworking has become a fact of life, we would like to show you how Belnet has been able to adapt over the last few months to meet its many challenges and guarantee maximum service continuity despite the pandemic and the many safety measures. To this end, we asked various colleagues to tell us about their experience of the new way of working imposed by the health situation in recent months.
Karen Vets, you are HR Coordinator. Overall, can it be said that all the staff have been able to adapt easily to the new working conditions?
Working at Belnet is working in an environment where flexibility and work-life-balance come first. Homeworking has also been part of our way of working for quite some time now, so the transition to 100% homeworking went very smoothly.
In addition, it was certainly a help to use our unified communication tool, Circuit. The rate at which this tool was implemented was greatly accelerated at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis and it has certainly already proved useful. On the one hand, Circuit is the platform with which we organise virtual meetings with colleagues and external parties, on the other hand, we can use Circuit Events to organise an online version of our monthly internal communication meeting. As such, colleagues remain up to date with life at Belnet.
“Working at Belnet is working in an environment where flexibility and work-life-balance come first.”
Karen Vets - HR Coordinator
Also, individual departments have taken initiatives to communicate in a different, or more intensive manner, for example, by increasing the frequency of the team meetings.
What do you think are the most important measures you have taken to ensure the well-being of your colleagues during this period of intensive teleworking?
As a communication tool, Circuit also allows colleagues to stay connected. For example, there are communities in which the daily news, photos or music can be posted according to a particular theme. Meanwhile, the months of November and December are dedicated to the topics of “be aware or self-care”. This is an internal communication campaign, in which weekly tips and tricks are given to focus attention on matters relating to both ergonomics and mental well-being.
Also, in a monthly “team stories” in our internal newsletter “Belnet fl@sh”, we highlight one department and show how they successfully manage to keep everything going thanks to their team spirit, and despite the coronavirus situation.
Have you continued to hire staff despite the crisis? How have they adjusted?
As far as the recruitment and selection procedures are concerned, we made the relevant modifications to make it possible to continue the recruitment process: we held virtual interviews or made sure that all the appropriate measures were respected in the office.
Also during the coronavirus crisis, we were fortunate enough to be able to welcome new employees to Belnet. Most of them started off working from home. When their contract began, they were invited to the office for one day, in order to meet the HR department and coordinator. Among other things, they received input about the reception brochure, how to use Circuit and the intranet, and their material was installed and transferred by ICT, allowing them to work from home efficiently.
Of course, all this is done with respect for the hygiene measures in force. In addition, an info session is scheduled for each new employee with the coordinator of each department, allowing them to learn about how this department operates within the organisation. This is now all done digitally, of course.
Because it is a challenge to make them feel at home when working remotely, and in order to help them get to know our culture, we will introduce the Belnet Buddy system in 2021. The buddy is an existing employee at Belnet, who will take care of a particular new colleague: and be there to offer advice, answer questions and have a digital chat.
We have a tradition at Belnet of celebrating Christmas with colleagues; have you planned a Christmas event?
Indeed, every year we organise an informal moment, when all employees get together and celebrate the end of the year. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 measures make it impossible to get together physically this year. However, as we would still like to do something nice to end the year, we have organised a digital event, whereby we all get together online for a team-building activity, and finish off with a digital drink.
This is a moment to recognise different accomplishments, new colleagues, employees celebrating 10 years of service and even those beginning their retirement. As such, we hope that everyone will still sense the commitment and solidarity.
Sandra Castaño, in the Marcom team, you are responsible for organising Belnet events and workshops. Despite the postponement of some networking events, how many events have been retained and organised by Belnet since the start of lockdown?
From mid-March to the end of the year, we will have held seven events: four information sessions (on Belnet Advanced Mail Security and eduVPN), two networking events (one with PoP managers at our clients' sites and another for BNIX participants) and one strategic event with the CIOs of Belgian universities.
What technical means have been used to compensate for the impossibility of organising face-to-face events?
If face-to-face is not possible, the only alternative is virtual. While we intended to organise online events in the future, we had to adapt faster than expected: find the platform that met our criteria, check the GDPR aspects, think about the set-up and the provision of videos, etc.
“the higher than usual registration and participation rates show that the initiative has been positively received.”
Sandra Castaño - Responsible for organising Belnet events
How have the participants reacted?
Although some have expressed a preference for face-to-face events as soon as these can be resumed, the higher than usual registration and participation rates show that the initiative has been positively received.
Given the context of uncertainty and resources that are not from our offices (I am thinking in particular of the connectivity quality we have at Belnet), I believe that this mission has been a success. There's obviously still room for improvement, but we're working on it.
Pieter Hanssens, you are the coordinator of the Networks team, is the team morale good?
Psychologically, everything is good both for the team and individually. It is the responsibility of all of us to ask each other if everything is 'really' okay. The coronavirus crisis has impacted all of us as well as the way we work and we will survive this situation.
Despite these new conditions, what changes have you made to maintain momentum within the team?
After a short period of adjustment to our new working conditions, we have had to be more disciplined so we did not spread ourselves too thin, especially when there were a lot of us taking part in an online meeting. We quickly set up a Kanban board within our team to improve the follow-up of each person's processes, projects and action points.
“We quickly set up a Kanban board within our team to improve the follow-up of each person's processes, projects and action points.”
Pieter Hanssens - Networks Coordinator
We also introduced some small fun activities to boost team spirit despite lockdown. At the beginning of lockdown, we organised virtual drinks, but this concept quickly ran out of steam. Now, following Jonathan Van Overmeir's suggestion, we try to schedule a short meeting every two weeks to play Among Us as a team. This streaming strategy game is perfect for stimulating team spirit and our feeling of togetherness during lockdown.
How did you manage the maintenance of critical customers, as conditions did not allow staff to be present in the field?
To get around the curfew, we had dispensations so we could go into the field at night in the event of a power cut or for other reasons. We also had repeated requests from more critical customers for whom we made a maximum number of changes with a minimum of risk over a given period. This was the case, for example, with the BIPT (Belgian Federal Telecom Regulator) which asked us for a Network Freeze during the digital exam periods, times during which we are ultra vigilant.
Niels Deriemaecker, as Account Manager in Belnet, do you think you have intensified your contacts with your customers since the start of the health crisis?
That's a difficult question to analyse. We certainly assume that audio and video calls have become very important. We try to reach the customers as much as possible via these channels, although it can be challenging. The reason for this is also very obvious: personal contact by mail is almost non-existent. In the past, we combined phone calls with site visits.
During the lockdown, video calls have replaced these site visits, but you do notice that people, including customers, are not entirely used to this method of communication. Yet, I am still convinced that everyone in the CR team is doing their utmost to reach customers as transparently as possible.
Could we say that the situation has affected the quality of your customer contacts?
Yes, I believe so. Despite being able to have contact with the customer via more channels, you do notice that the quality of these channels does not always improve. Mostly because customers can feel awkward when using video calls. We noticed this most at the beginning of the first lockdown. For example, the participants don't switch on their camera (you can't force them to do so), which means you are never quite sure whether your message has been properly received. This is certainly the case for meetings involving more than 2 people.
"Interpreting body language is and remains really important for an account manager."
Niels Deriemaecker - Account Manager
Interpreting body language is and remains really important for an account manager. Also, in such a virtual discussion, you are less able to control when the discussion ends. If the customer wants to end the conversation, he can literally click on the red telephone, which is impossible in a face-to-face discussion.
Do you like these new working conditions? Is Circuit adequate as a working tool?
I certainly appreciate them, because video calls will remain a bonus, even when we are able to return to visiting the customers. The more we apply this at work and in society as a whole, the closer we will come to the customer once site visits are the norm again. Then we can respond to the smaller matters or questions, e.g. via Circuit, and continue to deal with bigger issues, questions or annual evaluation meetings on site.
In my opinion, the existing tools are very complementary to the tools that were the norm prior to the lockdown.
Circuit, for example, is a very handy tool, given the fact you can use it not only for video calls, but now also as a telephone. The only thing I have noticed is that some customers have difficulty logging into video calls. Sometimes their microphone or audio fails to work, but if their PC is not working, they can simply place the call using the telephone. This makes it a conference call instead.