A new challenger in Eastern Europe?
Following on from my previous article exploring Eastern Europe’s rising popularity as an outsourcing destination of choice, I thought it would be prudent to explore both the known and lesser known countries of the region and lift the lid on what they bring to the outsourcing community. So this time, we explore Kosovo.
Walking in the streets of Pristina, you may be greeted by one of the locals saying “Më vjen mirë që u takuam” – which is “pleased to meet you” in Albanian. If you didn’t know, Albanian is the national language of Kosovo, this is due to 1.8 million Albanians speakers living in Kosovo currently (92.93% of the entire population). However, since the war ended in June 1999, Kosovo has seen the return of many citizens who had fled the country. In turn this has seen the introduction of many Western European languages now spoken in the country, making Kosovo a prime destination for multi-lingual contact centres.
This includes (but is not limited to):
English (especially spoken by the youth of Kosovo)
German (widely spoken throughout the country)
What also makes Kosovo an attractive outsourcing destination is the age of the population, with more than 50% of the population below the age of 25. The improved education system within Kosovo produces thousands of graduates each year, thus providing an adequate resource to power the outsourcing industry. Furthermore, the young population are hungry for employment, with contact centres seen as a stable and prosperous career path.
As we look at our watches, Kosovo is located in the UTC +1 Central European Time Zone, 1 hour ahead of UK time. Whilst this is perfect alignment to UK/European business operating hours, it also means you can access the country in less than 3 hours flight time from London, and less than 2 hours from Berlin. It’s not only the time zone that complements UK/European businesses, but the cultural alignment is clear to see which helps businesses reduce some of the problems from working with companies with different cultural backgrounds.
Final point, attractive pricing. Eastern Europe has become popular not only for its ability to deliver the same quality of service but for half the price in most cases – and this is the same (sometimes better) with Kosovo. As mentioned earlier, this is not cost over quality, due to the availability of a highly educated workforce.
We think you will be hearing more about Kosovo over the next couple of years, with the country looking to rival its neighbours such as Albania and Romania in providing high quality but cost-effective multi-lingual outsourcing solutions - Kosovo might be the next destination for you.
Looking to outsource in Eastern Europe? Get in touch with Contact Centre Panel, we can help you source your next partner free of charge!
Did the tide turn on TUPE?
I have a belief that most things in life or business are what I would call “situational”. Your view and approach will depend on the situation that you are in, there is no single answer for a question, the right one will be based on the situation in each moment.
I’ve been in outsourcing situations where TUPE has been seen as:
A risky or cost: to be taken if a contract moves a group of people with their roles and terms, which impacts the pricing of an opportunity for a client
A defensive advantage: as an incumbent if the contract places the liability on the other bidders
An opportunity: bringing the people who want to transfer across and reducing speed to competence
A challenge: if we win it and bring in the people, we will need a new site… how are we going to manage that and what is it going to cost?
I’m not an HR specialist and whenever I was in discussions regarding TUPE, I was always minded of what those conversations would mean to individuals, with worlds being turned upside down when an announcement of work moving was made. I can still recall as a younger manager in operations, when we had to announce the closure of a unit and one of the agents cried throughout the briefing. Moments like that stay with you. Outsourcing is tough, we know that, and changes impact our people hard.
So back to the question - is TUPE being turned on its head post-pandemic, as we face challenges in the recruitment and retention of quality people? Has remote working changed the impact of TUPE in the contact centre industry if agents are working from home? Does it matter where you are transferring them from?
Onboarding agents remotely, we can say is tough and in an ideal world, I would always prefer induction to be on site, creating the opportunity to form relationships that will ensure agents can support each other with challenging customers. If you TUPE a whole team into your organisation, relationships as a group have already been built and established. Remote working makes that sort of collective transfer a lot easier. However, integrating these individuals into your organisation as an outsourcer can be a challenge when you have to contend with different cultures and working styles.
Bringing people into your business with existing terms and conditions will mean that differences in rates between outsource providers will narrow. However, with living wage and inflation considerations, the hourly rate offers less opportunity to create the cost savings today than it did 20 years ago. Having people on varying contracts will create headaches for your HR team for sure, but could these be lesser than those that recruitment and training are facing with churn of staff currently?
In summary, TUPE provides much more of an opportunity today, than it did for organisations at the start of 2020. Yet, TUPE needs robust processes to ensure that people are properly onboarded and integrated within a business, especially if as an outsourcer you have made commitments to deliver improvements and efficiencies through your culture and methodologies. For organisations outsourcing activity for the first time, there is an increased potential that you could retain more of your existing in-house team through TUPE than you would have 2 years ago, if this looks probable then keep in mind our previous article on insourcing.
As stated in the Queen’s Speech earlier this summer, the Government’s new Data Reform Bill promises to “…boost British business, protect consumers and seize the benefits of Brexit”, which all sounds wonderful. However, if you work in contact centres and you were around from 2017 to 2018 when the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the last Data Protection Act went live, you may be less excited about the prospect of more change!
Following the previous Bill, millions of working days were spent trying to figure out what it all meant in practical terms; changing processes and procedures; ditching databases; confusing consumers with millions of ‘would you still like to hear from us’? emails; and preparing for a tsunami of data rights request contacts which never really happened.
Well, the good news is that the recently proposed Bill looks a lot more like a sensible tidying up of the rules (and the slightly vague promise of less data protection bureaucracy and admin), rather than a radical overhaul. The fundamentals will remain the same. The post-Brexit UK version of the GDPR will remain in place, alongside the 2018 Data Protection Act. For a business this is doubly reassuring, not only does it suggest fewer revisions and re-work to existing policies and processes, but it also means that it’s less likely that the UK’s rules will deviate so far from the EU’s that we lose our prized 'adequacy' status, which allows UK firms to process and transfer personal data with the EU with little friction.
There are many areas covered by the proposed Bill, but for most of us the key elements are:
Fines for PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations) infringements will increase from a maximum of £500,000 to the GDPR level of up to £17.5m or 4% of global turnover. PECR fines tend to cover contact centres calling without TPS screening their call lists and the sending of ‘spam’ texts and emails without permission.
Charities and political parties will get a boost to their fundraising capabilities by being granted the same license to use the 'soft opt-in' to send emails and texts messages as private sector firms.
The cookie rules will be adjusted so that the need to get consent for the placement of certain non-essential cookies will be waived. This should mean a lot fewer Cookie pop-up banners in future.
The government says it will cut the admin burden of the current rules by reducing the need for Data Protection Officers (DPOs), Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) and Records of Processing Activities. Instead, firms will be required to conduct Privacy Management Programmes. It's not clear what all this means, but it may offer relief to some firms and contact centres.
If you have been inundated by tricky or unreasonable data rights requests there may be a glimmer of good news. The new Bill will change the basis on which you can decline to action a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR) from “manifestly unfounded or excessive” to the slightly less demanding “vexatious or excessive”.
If you’d like to discuss these forthcoming changes and review your current approach to ensuring data protection and privacy, please drop us a line.
By John Greenwood, Head of Technology & PCI Compliance
It’s perhaps an understatement to say that we live in changing times. Adjusting to a post-Covid work and consumer environment, as well as being mindful of increased costs and the changes that brings to how we prioritise our decision making. Whether at work or home, the decisions we make over these summer months are going to significantly influence how we cope as nights draw in and the cold sets in.
One of the most significant benefits of my role in Contact Centre Panel is lifting the bonnet on so many contact centre tech’ organisations, allowing me to engage with both gifted engineers and committed business leaders. That insight gives me hope and a huge amount of reassurance that whatever efficiency or cost challenges we face, there is a team of people out there with a technology solution that we can build a business case around. As a result, I think that the problem we should be trying to solve is one of faith and belief that in the context of work, there is a technology solution out there that will make our lives easier, more efficient, more rewarding and more profitable.
The limiting factor of course is always time and reshuffling our priorities to find that time. That’s hard when our roles require us to support people, tasks and stakeholders. It’s often the case that when we are most stressed, we find it hard to reach out for help, to take the time to take a breath and consider the alternative. When I think of my own experiences as a full-time sportsman (many, many years ago) I was exposed to specialists, scientists mostly, that helped my decision making, especially under stress. Whilst my stresses today may not be entirely sports related (although I do my best to try), the lessons learnt from those times were always about narrowing the focus and trusting our own decision making.
That said, there was always one caveat. Be strong enough to know that help was there and trust that no one would think badly of us if we ask for help.
The process of getting signed off sick may be about to get easier for employees
Under new legislation introduced on 1 July, a wider range of healthcare professionals (HCPs) – including nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists – now have the power to certify fit notes (aka sick notes).
The intention is that where the fit note is certified, such as a hospital or GP surgery, will remain the same – but who can do this will be expanded to relieve the administrative burden on doctors and GPs, as they aim to tackle the COVID backlog and deliver an extra 50 million appointments by 2024.
The changes – which apply across England, Scotland and Wales – follow the rollout of digital fit notes back in April and are intended to further simplify the process of certifying sickness-related absences.
What are fit notes and how do they work?
Employees can usually self-certify for the first seven days of illness. Beyond that, they will normally need what’s known as a fit note.
The fit note is a healthcare professional’s assessment of a patient’s fitness for work. It may say one of two things: either the employee is not fit to work, or they may be fit to work subject to certain adjustments. It is not open to GPs or other medical professionals to confirm that the employee is fit for the job they do. Employers seeking such confirmation would have to involve the services of Occupational Health to get further guidance. If following assessment, the patient is considered fit for work, they don’t need a fit note, even if it is asked for.
Once a fit note runs out, if no further fit note is sought/provided, the employer can take it as read that the employee is fit to return. At this stage, a return to work meeting should help the employer uncover if there are any risks of allowing the employee back to work or if temporary measures are required. Of note, the advice in the fit note pertains to an employee’s fitness for work in general, and not specifically their current job role. This gives employers maximum flexibility to discuss possible changes to help the employee return to work, which may include changing their duties for a while.Using the fit note to its full potential helps employers to reduce sickness absence costs – for example, in relation to sick pay, staff cover and lost productivity – and minimises the disruption caused by employees being off sick unnecessarily.
How might the new rules impact employers?
For employers, there are concerns that easier access to fit notes could lead to more people being signed off sick, resulting in higher levels of absence. Indeed, employees who may have previously put off going to their GP for a fit note due to difficulties in getting an appointment may now be inclined to take the easier route of going to a pharmacist or other healthcare professional, increasing the likelihood that they will take time off work. That said, it won’t be as simple as walking into your nearest pharmacy to get a fit note. The idea is that the HCP certifying the fit note can only do so if they are integral to the patient’s health management. They may be doing this in combination with other HCPs and it might be that there is a combined approach to the individual’s care, whereby they see multiple HCPs.
The government guidance is clear that fit notes should only be certified following a full assessment of an individual’s fitness for work, and therefore should be provided by a clinician with a holistic oversight of the individual’s condition. This will hopefully lessen any disruption to employers. In fact, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith MP, suggests the changes will be positive for both employees and their employers.
“The extension of fit note certification is fantastic news for patients, making it easier for them to get the support and advice they need from the right place, ensuring where possible that they can remain in work”, she said.
Another potential positive for employers is that by alleviating the practical difficulties in getting a fit note, employees should have less of a reason not to submit them. Sometimes, employees will use the excuse that they can’t provide a fit note because they are unable to get an appointment with their GP to get a fit note, and/or they don’t realise that fit notes are needed once SSP has stopped.
If an employee is past the stage of SSP, i.e. has been off work for longer than 28 weeks, employers will generally be in the realms of a capability process, but this does not mitigate the need for a fit note to evidence the genuineness of the employee’s continued sickness absence. The changes are a timely reminder that employers must continue to actively manage sickness absence, and gathering appropriate evidence plays a key part in that.
Ultimately, at this early stage, we can only speculate as to the impact of relaxed fit note rules. However, given ongoing staffing shortages and the numerous challenges businesses are currently experiencing around unexpected absences – due to factors such as COVID-19, flight delays, fuel costs and transport strikes – understandably employers may be concerned.
What should employers do now?
Going forward, the changes mean employers need to be aware that fit notes authorised by other healthcare professionals, not just doctors and GPs, will be accepted as evidence of incapacity. Organisations will need to update their absence policies to reflect this.
Additionally, employers must be aware that fit notes no longer need to be physically signed. They must, however, contain the name of the healthcare professional who has made the certification and their professional title, otherwise, they won’t be legally valid.
6 things to do when provided with a fit note:
For advice on managing workplace sickness contact WorkNest at CCP@worknest.com