Bob was disturbed. The same thing again, each day for a week now! It’s 18:30. He hears steps approaching, someone opens the door, enters the flat, and sneaks into the toilet. Then he hears strange noises coming from the bathroom. And a minute later the toilet door closes and Bianca steps into the kitchen…
Bianca felt strange. She couldn’t even explain it to herself. She saw her mother sometimes taking home smaller things from her work place like brand new scissors or piles of printing papers, and she always felt deeply embarrassed by it. It was a common practice under the shortage economy of socialism that people appropriated state-owned tools and materials from their company for their individual use at home. Such open practices of stealing from the state developed as a survival strategy during the socialist era, hence was generally accepted by the public. However, for Bianca’s generation it represented one of those shameful remnants of the former system that post-socialist societies are still struggling to get rid of.
Bob was first startled but then started to laugh. – Oh, it is toilet paper?! – he asked, pulling out two rolls from Bianca’s bag. She was red in the face and launched into a chaotic explanation…
* * *
Explanation 1 – Bianca’s first day in Chodov
…9 a.m. A non-stop flow of people streamed from the underground, making their way into the big glass office park at the edge of Prague. People in suits, with business bags rushing to their open space offices housed in the large glass cubicles, where hundreds of others were already sitting in front of their computers. Bianca felt nauseous. She was swept along with the mass, it was her first day at her new job, as HR assistant for an outsourcing company. She felt awkward, it wasn’t her place. After the numerous years spent in the safe closed world of academia, she felt vulnerable and overwhelmed. She wanted to turn back and go home.
The office park in Chodov, one of the outer districts of Prague, was developed in several phases since 2003 and now stands as a clear representative of a relatively new tendency in the region. While India, Malaysia or China have been traditionally the top locations for offshoring IT and business services from Western companies, in the last few years multinationals are increasingly turning to Eastern Europe, outsourcing business processes such as customer care, finance, accounting or IT services to the larger cities of the region. Prague is considered one of the most preferable targets by Western companies for its strategic geographic location, the relatively cheap but highly qualified and skilled labour, the generous investment incentive programme and the good infrastructure.
At the moment, the park houses about 30 companies, such as IBM, Honeywell, Dell, DHL and Accenture. With the run-down socialist paneloks on one side and the busy motorway on the other, Chodov Office Park has a life of its own. Nothing can disturb the ready-made business atmosphere created by fountains, artificially grown olive trees and the flying birds stuck on the windows. Only the real leaves blown from real trees need to be vacuum-cleaned every now and again…
Bianca felt the urgent need to DO SOMETHING. It didn’t matter what. Just something…
* * *
Explanation 2 – The Lessons of the first weeks
During the first week at work Bianca along with her 50 new colleagues learned all about the know-and-hows of the Western professional business life readily imported to Prague.
Lesson 1 – You must provide quality service delivery. First of all, the new employees need to learn that their Western customers are accustomed to a higher quality of customer service, hence it is of foremost importance to forget about the good old ways they are used to being treated in shops, state offices or restaurants in the East.
Bianca and her new colleagues are listening carefully to Nathan, a 22 year old dude, who dropped by for a day from the London office to train the Eastern colleagues. – You should always smile. Believe it or not the customer can tell if you smile, even through the phone. And it makes a crucial difference. Even if you cannot satisfy all needs of the customer, if you do it with a smile, they will put down the phone satisfied. BUT if you provide them with the best service, but do it without a smile, no matter how good your service was, they will never come back. And please, the most important, never ever say no. A British client would turn crazy if you say ‘Sorry I can’t help you. It is not my responsibility’. Here I know it’s something normal. But for a British client that’s a phrase that would just drive them mad – Nathan is a professional HR trainee with 5 years of professional experience the least. So who wouldn’t believe him?!
Lesson 2 – Plan Your Personal Development. Secondly, it doesn’t matter what tasks your position (of level H salary, with “no higher education and no former experience required”) will involve, but employees must be aware of the great prospects of fast carrier advancement in the business sphere; the personal development plans, and personal specific trainings dependent on their career plans.
As Bianca and her company are enlightened at the introduction training: – In 2-3 years, who knows, you might even be a project leaders managing 50 people or more. Or you can shift parallel and try several of the many locations of the company around the world, if you like. And of course, the frequent salary rise is taken for granted, if you are a responsible work force.
Lesson 3 – You are all owners of the company! – The third important thing for new employees to understand is that they are not working for the shareholders bank accounts but for themselves and each other.
No less than the director of the Prague branch explains to Bianca and her colleagues: – Every one of you counts here. The personal work of every one of you is important, you are all responsible for the success and results of the company. You, as an HR assistant, can make a difference. But let me tell you, the performance of each of you has a huge influence on the entire company. You should all feel you are owners of the company. In order to support our employees to take ownership of the job they perform, we offer several benefits such as best idea rewards and best practice sharing. So you are encouraged to submit your ideas for improving our processes, and it might happen that it is exactly your idea that will make a big difference to our yearly success in the competitive business sphere.
Final (most important and unofficial) lesson – The yearly leaving rate of these outsourcing multinationals is as high as 50%. Most people end up doing these low-level administrational jobs only as temporary work, for quick financial advancement or to save up money, and many leave the company within a year or two. Carrier advancement from low level positions is not so easy, requires further education and often ends with advancements in name only, which is not reflected in increased responsibilities or better work. The constant monitoring of your daily productivity in terms of numbers of e-mails answered, processes completed, cases closed, mistakes made under your login name hardly serve to evaluate the immediate impact of your work.
* * *
If Bianca thought she wasted six months of her life working at the company, for sure she did learn one or two things in the end. She learnt how to smile through the phone, how to answer 70 emails a day all with high urgency, how to work on two computer screens and on 10 different applications at a time, how to avoid answering the customers’ question by never saying NO, and how to internalise the processes so well to even perform leaving procedures, new hires or resignation procedures with 100% efficiency in her dreams.
BUT above all she learnt one important thing:
STEALING TOILET PAPER FROM A BIG COMPANY IS NOT A CRIME. After all you are just one of the hundreds of employees coming and leaving the company every day. And you just need to do something!
Outsourcing: when internal processes are performed by an external company, mainly for the reason of saving costs and optimising the efficiency of performing particular processes such as IT, accounting or HR.