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Majorel Executive Interview

Fara Haron, CEO of North America, Majorel

Working from home has become a new global standard, whether we were ready for it or not. CrmXchange Managing Partner Sheri Greenhaus interviewed Fara Haron, CEO of North America, Ireland, and Southeast Asia at Majorel, to discuss a recent success story. This interview details the challenges of a forward thinking organization carries out flexible and accessible methods of work-from-home, all without sacrificing the quality of their service.

Starting off the interview, Haron reviewed a short history of the company. Majorel started as Arvato, which was owned by Bertelsmann, a media focused organization. Two years ago, Bertelsmann recognized that their contact center services were expanding rapidly, taking up half of the 100,000 employees. They decided to divert those workers into what is known now as Majorel. Which is, “100% focused on BPO space.” Haron notes. The company has also joined with Saham in Morocco, securing Majorel further into a global scene. Despite their media-centric roots, Bertelsmann is able to laser focus on BPO market segment.

All bolded quotes are those of Sheri Greenhaus.

“What is your background, Fara?

“I’ve been with Majorel for over ten years, but started in consulting with Accenture. With little experience outside of consulting; I joined Arvato – which is now Majorel in 2005 to gain operational and account management experience. I returned to consulting before rejoining Majorel for business development and strategy. I am now regionally responsible for NA, Ireland, and SE Asia operations as well as running half of their global clients.”

“You’ve got quite a lot of territory! Where are you located, and where are your NA offices?” 

“I’m currently located in Toronto, Canada. We have offices outside of Toronto in the Waterloo area, near top tech universities, Weaverville NC, Chandler AZ, Valencia CA, and much more recently, Greenville SC, and also an office in Monterrey, a city in Mexico.”

“Are you having agents come into the center?” 

“No, we are providing some employees the option to show up in places where it is legally permissible to gather with current social distancing regulations. Whomever shows up is there because they want to be there. The entire workforce is fully enabled to work from home. We still have new training, with some training held at centers if possible. Staying virtual has been a priority for Majorel.”

“If you are doing training at the centers, are you also hiring from the local geographical area? Or do you find that since people are working from home, they can be from anywhere?” 

“The intent is that we would return back to the office at some point in time, whether it's now or in 12 months from now,” says Haron. “Therefore, the majority of the people are still being recruited with the condition that they will be willing to come to the office when possible. There are some programs that are going to be 100% work from home, so nation-wide hires are still happening for those programs. What is really changing is that people are reevaluating the start of work-from-home, with some work being at home, and some on location. Much of this skepticism comes from clients who are in banking, where work-for-home poses potential security issues, but results so far have been very positive. Initially, work-from-home was thought to be short lived, but many clients are seeing it now as a more long-standing change. Thus, the more anemic solutions that were proposed for work-from-home by companies worldwide needed to change to be more sustainable. The Philippines, as an example, is a country struggling to make changes due to strict lockdown and less infrastructure.  For security and compliance purposes, the majority of clients’ workforce use desktops that Majorel purchases and configures.  Using those personal desktops or equipment from home was unacceptable so getting enough equipment out to those employees was critical, as now every single agent there needed one. It wasn’t an easy task for Majorel, but it wasn’t an insurmountable one."

“I’m assuming you still had all these contracts with your customers throughout this, which still needed to be fulfilled, so I can’t even think of the sleepless nights you must’ve had!” 

”I literally didn’t sleep for four weeks!”

“Did you find that you had to change all your various systems to being cloud based?”

“Connectivity to the VPN caused many restrictions. Not everything is cloud-based yet. Thankfully the technology has passed the need for physical tokens in regards to VPNs. Phone and computer apps can access them. However, getting licenses for these services was an arduous process, as demand for online security had never been higher. Fortunately, there was enough to go around to assist the first wave of clients. This option was a boon for clients who wanted things done faster with the best available security.”

“I would assume that anything Healthcare or Finance related had the most security.”

“Exactly”, said Haron in agreement. “They were the last ones moved into work-from-home. Since they had the highest priority for security, licenses had to be temporarily reallocated to meet it. Lots of movement was needed, but it went much better than expected.”

“Legally, since you’re working across many countries, what are the types of things you need to look out for?”

“A good thing about being a global company, is that there is a certain level of compliance already in place. Operating at a high level of security was already the standard for Majorel. My biggest perceived challenge, was the home environment that people were living in. Living conditions across the world vary wildly; some houses have multiple generations, and it can be difficult to secure a consistent place to work. Since there was a large demand for general customer service type of work, it covered the workers who lacked that consistency. I appreciated the fact that when compared to other industries, the demand for their services had increased as a whole.  I’m proud to say that we did not have to let go of any employees, which in my eyes was the ‘biggest win’.”

“So the agents, how did they take everything? Everyone was a bit shocked initially, what was your approach with them?” 

“We said, ‘grab a machine, go home, and we’ll figure it out from there’”, Haron said with a chuckle. “We were impressed with the willingness of people to take a machine home with them. From there, we did a lot of surveys to assess connectivity and infrastructure capabilities of each household, documenting the validity of the setups. The main concern was how people reacted to working-from-home. Starting out, choices from workers varied wildly. Most people were very excited to continue working, but paid attention to the fact that in places where one could receive government assistance, many opted to rely on that. For those that have stayed, we stayed as a team. Many virtual events are held to keep staff connected and keep camaraderie high. Instead of a sporting event, it’s more gaming events and other creative events offered by employees. We’ve actually launched a sort of a global TV show across different countries. While it pertains to work, it’s more about getting to know each other, with about 1000 people joining in from around the world. With countries that are opening up, I see that more people are wanting to go back to the office. There is a sense of people wanting to escape the house I guess a little bit. I believe that constantly adapting to the wants of employees is quite important.”

“How do you monitor things like kids and spouses in the background when people are working from home?” 

Agents’ working environment is documented, and we require upkeep of security measures, especially for a banking client. Nobody can come into the room, lest policy be broken. We’re very strict with circumstances of this nature. There will be occasions where despite the secure room, noises from the background may still be heard. Thankfully, customers seem to be much more understanding of these instances. Strict policy will still be maintained regardless.”

“How do you keep motivation and performance up despite the lack of a physical supervisor or not being in the same space?” 

“The quality of monitoring remotely has increased,” says Haron. What is most important is still having the supervisor be heavily involved and engaged with their teams. Unfortunately, meeting fatigue can be an issue. Supervisors have to spend the same amount of time with each individual, irrespective of performance. Technology alleviates this a little, due to being well supported. With a virtual conference call, only one person can really speak at a time, whereas in person, multiple people are conversing at the same moment. I think listening skills are maybe improving a bit”, she jokes. “These activities and interactions are used as incentives for people who want to continue working remotely. If we show that performance continues to be good or even better, clients are more willing to continue in this type of environment.”

“You mentioned you’re starting training classes, so I assume it's more challenging if you’re doing some at home, and some on premise. Are you breaking those training classes up?” 

“Yes! We won’t do a class of ten people on site and ten people virtually at the same time. Having a hybrid situation doesn’t work. Before Covid, we would have meetings where some were hybrid, and those never went as smoothly fully one way or the other.”

“You'll have a brand new class in the office, and brand new class at home and then you can join them later so everyone is going at the same pace?”

“Yes, yes absolutely.”

“Earlier you also mentioned recruiting, do you find that it’s a different type of person that wants to work from home rather than an office? What qualities are you looking for while recruiting?”

“Right now, unless it is one of the 100% work from home jobs, we specify that they do have to be on site. Flexibility being an important aspect, of course.”

“In terms of lockdown, here it has been very state by state. Let’s say that in one state everything is closed, and in another, everything is open. These ordinances are quite volatile, so how do you manage new hires suddenly not being able to come in?” 

“After we enabled every single agent to work from home, we continued to follow this policy as the primary mode of operation. Having agents constantly swapping locations is extremely disruptive to workflow, and instilling a sense of stability makes a big difference in their lives.”

“So you want them local for when they can come back?”


“Let's say starting in January you can start coming back and should something were to happen, they’re flexible enough to work from home again because they know the drill.” 

“Yes, exactly. I think that with social distancing too, everybody knows that it's not going to be 100% return to work that quickly, we just don't physically have enough space.”

“When we do employee engagement surveys, we see who wants to go back sooner, and they get those agents ready first. When circumstances would allow for their return, they are the first to go back, preventing Majorel from disrupting those who truly need more time. Accommodation and flexibility is key.”

“As we start to wrap up, was there anything that you found that were lessons learned or ‘watch out for this’?”

“Before all this, the leadership team was very apprehensive about working from home. Everyone had a lot of doubts concerning motivation and productivity. The results have been extremely positive. Understanding that people are much more adaptive and flexible more than one may realize was a big learning moment,” says Haron. “However, one definitely has to know the best ways to communicate with employees. There were challenges where, due to certain restrictions, employees did not have work emails, or would be unable to have their phone with them for security requirements. I would say that finding ways to communicate effectively with your employees is definitely a big one. That caused a lot of challenges. We almost had to have a little call center for employees in some ways.”

“Which is probably not a bad idea in any case! Having something to always support the employees.” 


“There are probably going to be a few things to come out of this that we never thought about before Covid, that now are ‘Wow, that's a good idea! Let's keep doing this!’ Is there anything else that you can think of?”  

“You just have to be adaptable to whatever challenges. I think you have to work very closely with your clients and your employees. One thing that I did realize, because our clients don’t really know what's happening in every single location in the world, and of course there's very different policies everywhere, so setting expectations on what's really possible and not possible is key.”

“Communication. Always key.”

“Managing channels of communication and prioritizing what needs to go to voice and what can be handled via chat and email is crucial. The time-to-resolution has a large effect on customer satisfaction, and has to be optimized accordingly.”