Redesigning the fishing pole – a call-centre in Singapore

A few months ago I was lucky enough to visit Eureka Call Centre Systems in Singapore. They’re a call centre that some years ago decided to include disabled people. Faced with staff regularly leaving, they “needed to innovate”. The innovation they chose was to include people with visual impairments. Fast-forward a few years and they are a flourishing organisation that are experts on inclusion of disabled people. Supported by the Singaporean government they run a Centre for Training and Integration for persons with disabilities to be integrated more widely in the call centre industry.

“Risk is a part of business” their Director tells me. The first step in inclusion was making the decision to take this risk. Having decided to hire people with visual impairments they went about learning and making changes. It wasn’t a question of teaching people how to fish but rather, as they put it, “redesigning the fishing pole”. After doing the research, working with visually impaired people and making changes to the IT-systems the work-flow was simplified for all operators and made accessible for people with low-vision or who can’t see at all.

Redesigning the fishing pole — redesigning jobs — is one part of what Eureka have done. Alongside this they’re made modifications for accessibility of the premises and developed special emergency plans. Working with welfare organisations of disabled people was a way to get knowledge on disabilty and also disabled people referred to them.

But one more thing that Eureka does is “agility”. This is the word Sam, the IT-manager used when I asked about how they adapted, and other businesses could adapt, to persons with disabilities. Eureka is “agile” in identifying and responding to people’s needs, whether it’s in the technology they use, the way they are working, or whether someone needs a hand to open their lunch. The managers are watching and responding. Sam commented that after they’ve trained people and placed them in other companies then the companies will need to be active in guiding and adapting – so that the person has a full chance to work.

The results of taking the risk of including disabled people are both increased productivity and a beautiful working environment. Disabled people are proving to be more efficient employees and staying longer than others. The average number of dials-per-day is now 500, compared to 300 dials-per-day before this project. 30-40% of the staff used to move on each year; staff “attrition” is now reduced to 2%. Perhaps its because of their impairments that they’re better at shutting out distractions and concentrating. But it’s also key that Eureka has got access to part of the Singaporean population that hadn’t been included in the workforce and now is.

As for the working environment, I think some of that comes across in their video. People are laughing, joking, staying for social events after work and comparing it to a family. And crucially, when you ask people about their work, they talk about their jobs as jobs with the need to perform and their relationship with their bosses. People are able to focus on their work and not their disability.

Thanks to all those at Eureka for welcoming me on my visit. Special appreciation to Charis and Sam for presenting the work to me, showing me around and introducing me to their lovely colleagues.

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