04 May 2020
by Lewis Pitcher
It’s been eight weeks since COVID-19 first hit our shores. It’s been weeks of surreal and unprecedented changes forced onto the Maltese community. Amidst the flurry of activity, some businesses have completely overhauled their operations to set up for remote working, investing hundreds and thousands of euros of unplanned resources to adjust to this new reality. Other businesses have had to close their doors, and with that, many have lost their livelihoods, whilst others have taken some time out to rethink their future. Families have taken on a whole new juggling act, quickly and often shifting between working from home, parenting, home schooling and getting the next meal on the table. Others have had to move out of the family home to ensure the ones they love remain safe and healthy. We have all been impacted in one way or another but one thing we keep seeing and feeling is how important it is for us all to stay connected.
As people have been pushed into isolation, technology has been the one driving force that has kept the whole community connected. People are working from home, some businesses have moved online, schools have gone from physical to virtual classrooms, and video chats have swiftly replaced social meetings and gatherings. This notwithstanding, many service providers, including telecommunication companies are considered as essential, and therefore are required to continue offering services, many times with customer facing employees still very active in the community.
‘At GO we have been preparing for this new reality before the first case was recorded in Malta. As a company, we are privileged to have such a critical role in society, especially during such difficult times. Our services allow people to remain connected to the people they care for, to continue to enjoy countless hours of entertainment from the safety of their homes, whilst having all the necessary means to face the current challenges as comfortably, and sustainably as possible. Our services have allowed many businesses to be agile enough to set up remotely and continue with their operations with as minimal disruption as possible,’ said Nikhil Patil, CEO at GO plc.
‘GO was one of the very first companies that started detailed contingency planning well before the pandemic reached Malta. This allowed us to act fast in line with recommendations from health authorities and Government. We have a huge responsibility to our employees and their families, to customers and to the community in general – a responsibility we take incredibly seriously. We cannot serve our customers and ensure service continuity unless our workforce is well protected,’ continued Nikhil.
Employee safety and wellbeing took top priority from the get go. GO ensured that any member of its workforce that could work remotely, had the necessary means to do so. The call centre was mobilised and is now operating from all corners of the island. Within days, most of the organisation was working efficiently from home. Frontline employees were equipped with all the necessary safety gear and training required for them to carry out their duties safely and responsibly and processes were adapted accordingly. Retail outlets were decked with perspex screens and are deep cleansed and fumigated weekly. As the situation evolved, GO also offered alternative accommodation and extended subsidies for those front line employees who live with vulnerable individuals, and whom are also critical for service continuity.
‘As a company, we have done everything we possibly can to keep our employees safe, protected and connected with each other, through regular check ins, online mental and physical wellbeing initiatives and others aimed at connecting them on matters beyond business,’ explained Sarah Camilleri, Head of HR. ‘One cannot underestimate the complexities that a large company like GO faces. However we have stood up to the challenge, kept employees updated with everything that we have been doing and continue to do in the fight against COVID-19. I really feel that GO has clearly demonstrated that connectivity can surpass most boundaries,’ she continued.
Fighting this pandemic is a collective effort. It is only by doing our individual parts that one can minimise the spread as much as possible and overcome the challenges that it brought about. In an organisation like GO, where personal interaction is the order of the day, practicing social distancing is a challenge in itself.
‘We feel the pain and understand the challenges just like everyone else. We understand how disruptive the pandemic has been to businesses because we have lived it ourselves. This allowed us to develop bespoke solutions for our many business customers in a bid to assist them face these challenging times. We also appreciate that social distancing does not mean emotional or psychological distancing. The very nature of our business helps us, and others, manage this situation by overcoming the physical barriers through communications technology,’ said Nikhil.
‘We have gone above and beyond to help the community stay connected. It is in times like these that our purpose and values are put to the test. Over the years, GO has been in the drivers’ seat in ensuring a truly digital Malta and the past few weeks have been a real showcase of what we do best – keeping Malta connected and leaving no one behind in the process,’ continued Nikhil.
In an effort to encourage people to stay home, GO opened up its premium channels to all its customers, offering thousands of hours of rich TV content from movies to series on its GO Stars channel or through its On-Demand platform. It also offered free access to its TV app to everyone, even those that are not GO customers. To date, close to 6000 non-GO customers are enjoying live TV, movies and series on demand, over this app. This offer is still open. Individuals simply apply for the credentials for the app through GO’s website.
For those individuals whose lives have been completely disrupted by COVID-19, who are at the very front line fighting this fight and are at most risk of contracting the virus, GO extended 1000 free minutes and 10GB of mobile data so that they can stay connected to family and friends. These include doctors and nurses and other medical staff at the very front line, as well as those in the civil protection department, including the police force, armed forces and firefighters. This offer is ongoing until the worst of the pandemic is over. GO also ensured that those customers stranded in travel banned countries had sufficient means of keeping in touch with family with peace of mind by additional credit or discounts on their respective bills.
‘In these difficult circumstances, we all have a collective responsibility towards the country and to each other. We have done all that is reasonably possible to ensure that no one is left behind during this crisis, which is impacting businesses in all sectors, including ours. This means that we have to allocate our resources responsibly and efficiently, especially in view of the lack of visibility as to how long this crisis will last,’ explained Nikhil.
In addition to ensuring that its employees, customers and community remained safe and connected, GO also had to ensure the resiliency of its networks and infrastructure in view of increased traffic. In the past month, GO has experienced an all-time record high of traffic on all its networks, with traffic on its mobile network increasing by more than 50%, whilst that on its fixed telephony network has more than doubled.
‘We have invested over 240 million Euros in our network over the past 10 years to ensure it is resilient enough to cope for such demand. We have committed a further 100 million to the roll-out of TrueFibre technology to every household in the next four years. This is when the real investment we have made in our infrastructure will start to pay off. It would be naïve of me to say that these circumstances are not a test on our infrastructure or our products because they are. We have indeed noticed record traffic levels over the past few weeks. However, despite the measures we had to implement in relatively short order, the fact that we had to continue to service our customers with a reduced workforce whilst maintaining service quality, and at the same time, shifting many of our services online, we have not experienced marked degradation in actual service,’ said Nikhil.
GO can confirm that it has remained vigilant in its efforts to ensure that the network continues to operate well. In fact, it has increased capacity in areas such as Mater Dei and Boffa Hospitals and other high usage areas to relieve potential congestion.
The outbreak of COVID-19 also meant revisiting some of GO’s processes in order to cater for emerging requirements as the situation evolved. As it shifted many of its business processes online, GO also strengthened its online and digital teams to complement its call centre services.
‘Customers can connect with our agents, purchase new products, upgrade or top up their services, pay bills and make use of a host of other services from the comfort and safety of their homes. We have invested heavily in our online and digital platforms over the past few months and we strongly encourage people to use them, especially during these times when we collectively need to respect social distancing rules,’ he explained. ‘We understand and appreciate that not everyone may be equally digitally savvy but our agents are there to help with whatever our customers need’.
COVID-19 has taken everyone by storm and will undoubtedly leave a mark on everyone’s life.
‘I am always proud of GO and what we do, but it is in moments like these that I am reminded of how incredibly privileged we are to have such an important role in Maltese society – of how our work keeps people connected, of how we do everything in our power so that no one is left behind. Do we do everything perfectly? Definitely not. Are we fully prepared for what lies ahead? Possibly. But one thing I can confidently agree to, is our commitment to do better and to do right by our customers,’ concluded Nikhil.