What I’ve Learnt: Sabby Gill

May 1, 2020

Newcastle-headquartered Sage is a multinational supplier of business management software and services to small and medium-sized firms. Formed in 1981, it employs thousands of people who support millions of customers. Here, Sabby Gill, UK and Ireland managing director, outlines the company’s response to the coronavirus outbreak

This pandemic has really brought to light how amazing our customers and colleagues are; loyal to our values, adaptable, empathetic and passionate about business. It has also reiterated that we are very agile and can react quickly, which was essential for customers who required immediate clarity and support. We needed to ensure our colleagues were equipped to manage our customers’ complex needs, all from home. I’m pleased and proud to say that within 48 hours we got 3000 colleagues homeworking safely and equipped to support the millions of people that need our services in the UK.

We are customer-centric, which allows us to deploy tools quickly, while drawing on insight from our wide networks of support. This has involved working with the Government, trade bodies and other businesses to work through the challenges small and medium-sized businesses are facing together. We have launched a Coronahub full of straightforward advice and support and had more than 8000 businesses watching our webinars on a range of subjects including the Job Retention Scheme. We also designed and launched a support tool that allows businesses to better understand what Government funding is available to them.

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted I need routine more than I realised – I miss the ‘norm’. I think we have all found working from home comes with its own challenges and there’s no doubt been some tough days for many of us. It has also highlighted how my connections are so important – we are all social beings after all. For instance, I really miss meeting customers and partners face-to-face.

I have been able to draw on previous experience to help navigate the outbreak. This has enabled me to develop key principles that I and the organisation in the UK and Ireland live by. They are:

• Ask ‘will what I’m doing help our customers?’ – if the answer is no, then our guidance is that we shouldn’t be doing it right now.

• Maintain regular hours and create routines.

• Set ground rules with the people that share your space – I print my calendar at the start of the week and share with my family, so they know when I am at ‘work’ and ‘home’.

• Schedule breaks – it is so easy to overwork yourself when working from home. Ideally, get some exercise too.

• Communicate and stay connected – in these situations I really don’t think you can over- communicate.

• Be positive and don’t be too hard on yourself – don’t apologise for kids interrupting your conference calls, or the need to have a break, or the fact you may not be available to attend a meeting as you have to look after your children.

We live by four key values at Sage that focus on doing the right thing, always starting with the customer, working together and innovating. I can honestly say that at the heart of all our activities – whether this is to support our 3000 UK and Ireland colleagues, partners or customers – have been those key values.

The current climate has highlighted that no matter the size of your business, what sector you work in, or how many employees you have, without the right plan your business can halt overnight. Every business needs to have resilience planning built into its operations; whether this is something as simple as ‘if my HR lead is away from work indefinitely who will do that work?’ I think it has brought to the fore the importance of technology too; from family Friday night quizzes on Microsoft Teams, to collaborating remotely with your customers and employees, without technology this pandemic would be a lot more difficult to adapt to. It is keeping many businesses alive, many customers engaged and many families united.

I now fully appreciate the importance of a ‘wellbeing action plan’ for myself and we have given colleagues free access to the Headspace wellbeing tool to support their mindfulness. Additionally, just having a business continuity plan isn’t enough; this must be regularly maintained and have simulation sessions.

For our contact centre teams, Contact Centre as a Cloud Service is a key tool as it allows us to have no service disruption while maintaining voice and chat communications with customers while colleagues work from home. We have always operated a remote working policy with most of our colleagues. But the full functionality of some technology has naturally come to light with more colleagues using it. Microsoft Teams is a great secure tool with its chat messenger functionality and live broadcasts. It’s great for collaboration, especially with our customers.

From the outset, we wanted to make sure we navigated our teams through the change as comfortably as possible. This has meant communicating clearly and regularly and making sure colleagues are listened to and feel connected to the business. We issue daily news updates summarising the latest coronavirus news, sharing helpful working from home guides, IT insights and positive and powerful customer success stories. We have team ‘gatherings’, such as Monday morning remote coffee breaks and Friday afternoon virtual drinks sessions, and also issue regular manager’s briefing packs.

We talk to our customers all the time to understand how this is affecting them and how we can help. We are also carrying out a weekly sentiment tracker with 500 businesses to understand what they are thinking and how they are feeling. This insight is helping us adapt our support and enabling us to partner with governments, trade bodies and other businesses to work through the challenges SMEs are facing and co-ordinate our response. We also reach out regularly to our business networks.

Working life will never be the same again for most businesses. I will appreciate the office environment more for sure; the interaction, the buzz, the insight you get from seeing customers regularly. Personally, I will appreciate those small moments when you are able to see your family and friends face-to-face and hug them. You don’t realise the importance of those small moments, and how big they really are, until they are taken away.

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