Clarity sought from Capita over post-Covid working plan

Telecoms & Financial Services

Close tabs are being kept on Capita intentions with regards to widely reported company suggestions that “new ways of working” could transform its traditional call centre based model as the pandemic recedes and we enter  into a ‘new normal’.

A flurry of media stories over the last week have centred on predictions that up to 35,000 Capita employees may never fully  return to their old workplaces as Covid restrictions are eased, with some newspaper reports implying that many of those who’ve worked at home throughout the pandemic will become ‘permanent’ homeworkers.

The articles refer to statements made to the Press Association by Capita CEO Jon Lewis in which he said: “Call centres are, to some extent, a historic capability today; there’s no reason why you need to put 2,000 people in a warehouse in the UK. Those people can work from home.”

While stressing that the traditional call centre approach isn’t “dead” the CEO continued: “There’s certainly going to be a lot less of them. There may be some financial services activities where, for reasons of security, people have to be in a secure facility, but for many of the things we do, they don’t have to be in such a facility.”

Just prior to the ensuing media coverage, some early indications of Capita’s thinking on the issue were shared with the CWU in the form of a company presentation on possible ‘hybrid’ ways of working.

While neither site-specific proposals nor timescales were tabled, the broad outline of a new ‘flexible’ approach was outlined in which it was suggested that staff could be presented with a variety of options ranging from normal office attendance, a mixture of home and office, homeworking and field-based working for those whose work is mobile.

Assistant secretary Brendan O’Brien – who represents Capita members working in the Telefonica O2 & Tesco Mobile partnerships – explains: “To date we’ve received nothing more than some very broad brushstroke suggestions that the company is moving towards offering employees genuine choice over working arrangements that suit them. Although that sounds potentially positive in principle, much more information is obviously needed.

“While the CWU is aware that many members have welcomed the opportunity to work from home during the pandemic, we also know that homeworking does not suit everyone. Many members like the office environment, and for some there is simply no alternative for a variety of reasons.

“We need to understand how such individuals would be accommodated. Clearly it would be utterly unacceptable to the CWU if vulnerable sections of the workforce who do not live in domestic situations that lend themselves to homeworking were effectively left stranded as a result of a change of company policy which, even during the pandemic, has not applied to everyone.”

Brendan added that  amongst the many questions the union will be tabling,  once formal proposals are brought forward by the company, will be areas of difficulty experienced by some members working from home during the current lockdown – including instances where individuals ability to work has been affected by technical issues or broadband failures entirely beyond their control.

“We’ve had members who’ve been asked to take days of annual leave or work back time because of technical outages – and clearly we cannot allow a situation to develop under which such risks, which undisputedly lie with the employer in the office environment, are shifted to individuals simply because they are working from home,” he stresses.

In the absence, to date, of formal company proposals, however, Brendan insists that concerns over the future of particular sites are premature and that members will be kept fully informed just as soon as more detail emerges.

“Some members have already expressed concern over whether their call centre building is one for closure – but while you can ‘never say never’ it must be remembered that this is a Capita Group announcement and there are hundreds of buildings and small offices across the UK within Capita Group,” he stressed in a briefing issued to Capita members across the Telecoms & Financial Services constituency on Friday.

Pointing out that  the CWU has no reason to believe that call centres won’t remain a key feature of Capita’s operations for many years to come, Brendan concluded “The CWU will fight to ensure that they are not just ‘warehouses’, as judged by the CEO. With members’ help we will fight to ensure that they remain great places to work.”