Coming together in a crisis
How Accenture combined technology and people to manage unprecedented change.
In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. People around the world faced uncertainty, fear and a lack of information. Seemingly overnight, businesses and schools were closing, cities were locking down and personal protective equipment and necessities were in short supply. No one knew what the next day would bring or how this global crisis would impact all of us—physically, emotionally, or financially.
Here is our story of what Accenture did to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on our people, clients, partners, shareholders, and communities, how we navigated its challenges, and how we are planning to return to work together, greater than ever.
Fortunately, by early March 2020, Accenture had already taken action to make sure our people were safe, which—as always—is our top priority. Our global security team had established a pandemic task force in China and surrounding areas in January, using emergency and crisis management structures already in place. At the same time, cross-function teams were working to secure business resiliency and establish health and safety protocols to keep our people safe.
We were also able to respond quickly to the needs of our clients at this moment in history, because we had the technology, the infrastructure and the collaborative culture we needed in place. Every area of our business—from our people and how we work to the services we offer our clients across 120 countries—came together to set the tone for the months to come:
Our success in reaching these milestones was the result of our unified approach, working together as one team. We communicated early and often with our people. And we made sure we all stayed connected and supported through our campaign known as #MoreTogetherNow—an all-inclusive website that continues to advise on the who, what, where, why and how of working through the pandemic.
Working remotely: a seismic shift in short order
Before COVID-19, Accenture people worked from a variety of locations—from client sites to hotels, Accenture offices or airports. Today, the vast majority of our more than 500,000 people are set up to securely work remotely in every country where Accenture operates. Around 96% of offices moved to work from home, including people at more than 50 Accenture Advanced Technology and Intelligent Operations centers. We quickly enabled remote working for our people working in procurement, payables, and other critical shared services. While this might sound like a small feat, imagine what would have happened if our 300 colleagues who process more than 1.4M invoices a year were unable to work from home.
We sent out more than 80,000 desktop computers to our people within a week. We purchased more than 33,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and enabled more than 230,000 concurrent connections using a Virtual Private Networking (VPN) solution. In India alone, we distributed tens of thousands of laptops and computers in less than a week—in addition to Wi-Fi hotspots and uninterrupted power sources. In addition, our local technology services enabled remote access services for 85,000 VPN users and provided 60,000 dongles to improve connectivity. Our team managed hundreds of one-to-one follow-ups and used our remote website, training and videos to support the shift.
One of our “go-to” solutions has been Microsoft Teams. We are the largest corporate user of Teams, and at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 we saw a massive increase in its usage—as a 257% increase in audio usage and a 642% increase in video usage in one month as remote working demand grew. Teams also offers a global 24/7 chat response for our leaders and a Microsoft Teams Rapid Resource Center, which provides how-to instructions, leading practices and additional resources to help people stay connected.
In Geographic Services, we built a team of 40 people offering global workflow support. We used 11 COVID-19 dashboards to develop reports and tools and answered 990 e-mails over a 24-hour service level agreement. We handled thousands of calls diverted from the Accenture Security Operations Center.
Our security, workplace services, communications and other teams joined forces to create a comprehensive and flexible plan to return to our offices—and our clients’ offices—where permissible. Our plan balanced people’s safety and the needs of our clients in guiding a phased transition back to the office. We had personal protection equipment in 100% of our offices. We established “100 Return to Office Workplace Protocols,” introducing enhanced health and safety protocols, global checklists for office preparation and readiness, communication templates, access to digital health and safety guides, videos and more.
Guiding clients and communities: the Now and the Next
As always, continuing to work closely with our clients was a top priority for everyone at Accenture. We offered advice and support with thought leadership to help our clients emerge stronger from the crisis. Our Marketing teams worked closely with our business thought leaders to publish more than 60 individual pieces of content between March and July 2020 across 19 industries and six functional groups. We also released more than 800 client stories during this time.
Jill Kramer, chief marketing & communications officer at Accenture says, “We produced a collection of robust research-based recommendations that focused on what our clients needed to know to handle the reality of NOW but also what may come NEXT. We saw clients engage with the content at record levels, but our main goal was to help them act swiftly and confidently based on robust data and insights.”
But we also worked together to solve unprecedented challenges facing our communities and industries. For instance, we collaborated with Avanade and Rolls Royce to design, manage and operate a supply chain for hospital ventilators. We organized the purchase and shipment of 3.4 million parts from more than 100 suppliers to three manufacturing locations. The government of the United Kingdom alone ordered 5,000 ventilators via this supply chain.
We worked with Avanade and Microsoft to connect 57 health system procurement departments with a network of vendors. Launching a new service known as Critical Supply Connect, we connected 638 hospitals and 110 suppliers with more than 300 unique products—all in just eight days.
As many businesses stalled and entire industries were unable to operate, unemployment became a pressing societal concern. The chief human resources officers of Accenture, Lincoln Financial Group, Procore and Verizon joined forces to create People + Work Connect, a free employer-to-employer initiative that brings together companies reducing their workforces with companies in urgent need of workers. Over just 14 days in April 2020, People + Work Connect moved from idea to launch, and in the next year more than 270 companies from 94 countries uploaded more than 380,000 roles to the platform.
COVID-19 didn’t stop our efforts in the non-profit sector, either. Accenture Development Partnerships works with leading international development organizations to address the world’s social, economic and environmental issues. We provided pro bono support to Dimagi Inc., a social enterprise that provides open-source software technology for underserved communities, to validate and improve training materials and user guides for COVID-19-related apps deployed on the frontlines. We donated laptops to schools in the Middle East to support eLearning, provided plastic cover pages from binders for assembling protective visors for medical staff in France and purchased 55,000 face coverings from a North America-owned business that donated 100% of profits to its healthcare system.
"The investments we made in IT technologies, infrastructure and a collaborative culture positioned us to support Accenture’s rapid move to work from home when we needed it most."
“Our technology skills came into their own for ourselves and others. For example, the Education Department in the United Kingdom is using our digital skills toolkit for millions of furloughed workers—it helped more than 50,000 new learners in June alone.”
– PAUL DAUGHERTY, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer, Accenture
Driving business resilience
We relied on technology to increase the tempo of communications, delivering more than 1,100 messages across 53 countries to our people and our clients within the first few weeks of March. Our dedicated COVID-19 app team developed and rolled out more than 25 apps covering business resilience, asset management, health attestation, donation tracking and social distance monitoring.
Crises such as the pandemic focus attention on the need for cash to keep the wheels of business turning, so our finance team needed to act swiftly to keep a daily pulse on our financial health, payment processes and procedures for our clients and our people. We enabled off-system new businesses and people, supporting 42 deals with 7,000 people in 32 countries with crisis response.
We provided timely data and analysis to our organization’s leaders to aid critical decision making. These and other measures strengthened our financial position and meant we could perform business critical functions—including closing our books and submitting our 10Q on time and executing 22 acquisitions in the first six months of the pandemic.
Supporting health and well-being—in all its forms
At Accenture, we strive to support our people’s health, safety and well-being, every day. But in these extraordinary times, it’s even more important to make sure that people stay happy and healthy, feel safe and connected and know they are financially secure.
By April 2020, the Geographic Services’ Mobility team had offered support to every assignee, traveler or individual on holiday. We contacted 12,000 assignees, booked 8,000 flights and helped more than 3,000 people who became stranded due to new travel restrictions. We created daily status updates to track ongoing changes to country travel restrictions, employee locations and tax implications, resulting in more than 500 reports in six months. In two weekends, we managed the rapid escalation of 20 country shutdowns. The Mobility team also secured thousands of hotel rooms and corporate apartments, including 1,000 hotel rooms in the Philippines alone.
We completed more than 6,000 COVID-19 Tax Accrual Impact Assessments for taxable travelers in 69 countries. Mobility coordinated with travel suppliers to cancel 6,000 flights in three weeks and, in just one week, they formed a team of 15 people to create a COVID-19 approval process and a tool to manage business-essential travel requests.
Mobility’s Meeting and Events team collaborated with Marketing and Communications and Accenture Productions to successfully convert a major in-person event to a virtual experience in just seven days. The virtual event for 300 people featured 12 hours of live content, videos, polls and feedback, played across 14 time zones and 26 countries. More importantly, Accenture avoided 766.05 tons of CO2 emissions from air travel. Throughout the pandemic, this shift to virtual events has enabled our people to remain connected, while Accenture-approved technology continues to help them get the most from meetings, despite travel and in-person event restrictions.
We deployed new capabilities to enable local government benefits and to reimburse people for additional expenses incurred when working from home. We developed analytics and data insights with key metrics to measure and manage the business and financial impact of the pandemic and to ensure people’s safety and security. We further served our talented teams by issuing 652,000 pay checks during March in 56 countries and also made early payments and reimbursements where needed, such as in India, Russia and Peru.
In addition, our HR Case Management team stayed in touch with people who were unwell and used contact tracing to maintain safety standards by making sure that anyone exposed to the virus avoided returning to the office. The team issued regular, accurate information to assist leadership decision making and inform our people. We selected and trained 600 HR professionals to serve as single points of contact for every Accenture person impacted by the pandemic. The case managers provided 24x7 telephone support for queries and concerns. Trained client response teams kept in touch with clients, vendors and landlords of our real estate, while employee relations professionals supported employees and their families who found themselves handling difficult situations.
Returning to office: safety first
The next phase of our response to COVID-19 centers on our return to the workplace. We have created a comprehensive plan that focuses on the specific needs of our clients and our people. The plan includes globally organized, locally implemented evaluation and pre-approval processes and protocols that vary based on the type of space and emphasizes constant, compassionate communications with our people.
To ensure a safe return, we’re focusing on the fundamentals, such as space and access management, social distancing guidelines, enhanced cleaning and the provision of safety supplies. We’ve teamed with Salesforce to implement a secure health cloud to support our return to work, which includes case management, contact tracing, shift management and a Workplace Command Center.
The way forward
We’ve all learned a lot over the past year, but perhaps the most important lesson is that change is a constant, for all of us. No matter what may come, Accenture believes three key actions will help your organization embrace change:
Invest in the journey and your priorities ongoing. Accenture had already made moves to support our workforce in an agile way when faced with difficult decisions about how to run our business. We always want to serve our clients "on our best day," but we also aim to keep our people safe and healthy. With the need to work remotely, we had to find a balance between these two priorities—and we were ready to do so because of the investments we had made, coupled with the support of strong, empathetic leaders.
Understand where you are, then fill the gaps. As part of our analysis into how to create an elastic digital workforce, we created a diagnostic with a series of questions about readiness that we completed ourselves and also made available to clients. Based on a score of one to three, where three was the ideal score, Accenture scored three for the majority of answers. By contrast, most of our clients found they scored ones across the board. Your organization can benefit in seeing where your own gaps lie and work to address them.
Communicate freely and frequently as a way of life. A strong and regular communications strategy that includes employees, clients, suppliers and partners is essential to being transparent and staying aligned. Ongoing, daily updates help cut through the noise. By moving entirely to virtual operations, our video production team has helped connect our people working remotely—for example, producing Accenture’s biggest and most complex all-employee broadcast ever, featuring our CEO, Julie Sweet—and is still handling internal events and client events, such as virtual workshops.
By investing in the journey, filling in the gaps, and keeping lines of communication wide open, Accenture continues to create value for people, clients, partners, shareholders and communities and help them thrive in a changing world.
“Our work to ensure the well-being of Accenture people is more important than ever. We continue to implement and evolve our comprehensive plan to return to offices where permissible, with our people’s safety and the needs of our clients guiding the way.”