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30 Aug 2021

Building and Managing O2C teams, in times of Covid-19: From face-to-face to virtual

On a compelling exchange hosted by Forums International on the 22nd of June 2021, Order to Cash (O2C) challenges in a remote team environment were discussed by a prominent Panel consisting of:

Gail Armstrong: Head of invoice cash at Siemens Plc.

Sue Chapel: CEO of the Chartered Institute of Credit Management

Madalina Filipoiu Senior Director, Credit, Collections & Cash Application – EMEA, Oracle Finance

Peter Kovacs: Head of Credit, Collection, Cash & Banking, BP

Gary Steadman: Head of SharedServices, Associated British Ports

John Swan: Ex Head of Credit Services, Hachette / Director Credit Management Solutions

The discussion was moderated by Klara Boor, Founder of Klass Academy and Martyn Brooke Consultant Partner at Forums International.

The key outcomes of the exchange, which are expanded below, were:

  • Cash Flow improved during Covid19
  • Smart Technology is inevitable
  • Talking to customers with empathy is essential
  • Adopting Novel Ways to communicate is expected
  • Wellbeing is Above All
  • Inner Motivation contributes to results
  • Upskilling is a must
  • The Future is Hybrid

Cash Flow improved during Covid19

In response to Covid, companies have rapidly created virtual teams. Overall, these teams have effectively managed risks and proved that it is possible to collect cash from home. Many have even reduced their past due receivables during the lock down.  

Gaps however do exist; Integrating people into the culture; monitoring individual wellbeing; providing standard office equipment; communicating effectively and motivating people required attention from management.

Creating new habits, Communication and Motivation were the three concepts all the experts have built on, to conquer the challenge of the disrupted workplace.      

Smart Technology is Inevitable

“The most dangerous words in the English Language are – we have always done it that way. Last year showed the importance of adaptability. People who have done it the same way, were not as successful as those who adapted to new ways.” – said Gary.

Automation was a key element for moving forward. Investment into a bespoke cash collection tool gave us a great return during the lockdown. ”- agreed Gail.

Building on custom designed credit systems, companies had full visibility about what their employees and customers were doing. Visibility created trust within the remote teams.

“Using virtual dashboards combined with daily 15 minute stand up meetings allowed us to see specific issues and quickly resolve them, as a team.” – added Gary.

Creation of focused operational excellence teams and streamlining the process was a key element of productivity. “We have reduced invoicing steps from 42 to 4.” Gary gave as an example.

Technology allowed companies to send reminders, tag availability of clients, produced reports within seconds and permitted collection agents to focus on relationship building calls with customers.

Talking to Customers with Empathy is Essential

Human interactions were key in succeeding in the virtual environment. Collection agents listened to the personal issues of customers’ first; then they asked about the payments, second.

Understanding the client’s situation with humanity, working on personal relationships and creating covid support deals created a stronger customer bond.

We are not robots”; we are human beings who love to talk, love to hug and to be together…don’t lose that human element in cash collection.” – emphasized Gail.

“Be smart and kind” added Madalina.

“Know your customers” complemented Sue.

Panellists agreed that empathy was key in achieving outstanding cash collection results.  

Adopting Novel Ways in Communication is Expected

Communication has greatly changed during the lock down. Calls and virtual meetings have intensified.

Communication; senior leadership to employees has changed in scope. “Our CEO sent casual weekly emails to employees to bring virtual teams together.” Mentioned Peter.

Web-based platforms Teams and Zoom prevailed. Companies, in general, benefitted from these tools as meeting productivity has increased. Yet, many felt overwhelmed by the intensity of virtual interactions and by being available all the time.

“How to communicate effectively from a distance, when 80% of communication is body language?” – challenged the new reality Klara.

Panellists admitted that focused listening, attention to individual contributors and one to one discussions were crucial within the virtual environment.

“Not speaking up – does not mean that a person does not have something to say.” – said Madalina explaining that they trained managers on how to get the most out of virtual calls.

To compensate the “Zoom” fatigue companies have shortened their calls, often to 15 or 30 minutes. This worked well for operational discussions, less well for project calls.  Some have introduced “without zoom days” and “focus” times. Declining meetings was also more accepted.

Wellbeing is Above All

The care leaders showed for the wellbeing of their people was important in overcoming the “Covid shock”.  

Some employees, for example, those living apart from their families, struggled in the lockdown. Each member of staff was different. Some talked about their difficulties, some didn’t. Zoom with cameras worked well for some, but not so well for others. Senior people, with more autonomous work routines; worked fine within the isolation, while less experienced recruits missed interactions with senior colleagues.

Managers have genuinely invested time into those people who seemed to have issues.

“Regular Staff wellness checks – voluntary filling of questionnaires about work and life conditions helped us to understand how people felt” – highlighted John.

“Campaigns offering counselling  – admitting that being not OK is OK – brought a new aspect into employee care. “ – completed Gary

 “Open questions, active listening and being very present in the conversation enabled leaders to realise issues.” – added Madalina.

Early morning café talks, virtual wine tasting and employees individually talking to each other helped to maintain a good bond within the teams

“Life is too short not to enjoy every minute of it. I do my best to create a workplace which is a good place to be. The work started well before Covid.” emphasised Peter.

Inner Motivation contributes to Results

“Uncertainty was the largest challenge. My approach to this was viewing uncertainty as an opportunity to shape the future.” – said Peter, who had to deal with the hit on the oil and gas sector in addition to the implications of the pandemic.  

Motivation starts at hiring. Hiring the right people is paramount important. Then the inner factor comes to the picture. The best motivation is to create the right infrastructure for people to flourish! “ – emphasized Madalina.

According to Sue, most people have been trying to grow in the same direction, this year. Trying to find some balance in their personal and professional space and time. The flexibility of letting people decide their work schedules proved to help with motivation. The flexibility allowed people to have family time and a better work-life balance – key in maintaining mental health, during the unprecedented situation.

“Offering flexible working conditions, the choice between home, real or hybrid office became important” – added Gail consolidating that this flexibility might be an important element in retaining talent in the future.

However, John said that in his experience, people get motivated by the idea of a return to a normal working life and space’. Some people who feel more comfortable in a social environment prefer to differentiate between personal and professional life and want to return to the office. Others prefer home working because of their personal situations or their personality.

In the specific field of Credit and Cash management, the human touch, the face-to-face meetings and projects are fundamental. – agreed Sue.

Positive team experience, opportunity for growth and satisfaction at work – are vital a element of motivation within a virtual workplace ” concluded Klara.

Upskilling is a Must

For organizational resilience, teams should continually learn, the panellists agreed. Enhancing technical and soft skills is fundamental to sustained growth.

Upskilling – with the emphasis on digital is clearly the way of going forward.” – adjusted Gail.

“Being personal, helping them (your team) to balance their personal life and at the same time, encouraging them to achieve their professional goals, is important”- exposed Madalina.

“Productivity is the result of workplace happiness, good technical knowledge and continuous learning.” – agreed Klara.

The Future is Hybrid

Going forward, it was generally felt that the traditional 9-5 would not be seen as the new normal without more flexibility expected from employees. It was felt that a workable mix of time at the office and working from home for those who want to work that way, is likely to become an option in large traditionally office-based businesses.

How hybrid office will exactly work is still to be explored and the questions are many.

It is clear, however, that embracing new habits, yet remaining focused on the “human touch”,  are conditions to continued success of O2C teams.  

Klara BoorMartyn Brooke

Forums International connects O2C professionals via networking and best practices sharing

Klass Academy provides digital virtuallive training for O2C professionals