Operating a Telco Giant in the Time of COVID-19


The Budapest Business Journal talks with Judit Endrei-Kiss, chief HR officer at Telenor Hungary, about the extraordinary measures taken to help employees and keep the company – and business in general – running during the coronavirus pandemic.

Judit Endrei-Kiss, chief HR officer at Telenor Hungary.

BBJ: How is Telenor solving situations around meetings and personal contact?

Judit Endrei-Kiss: We were among the employers first to make home office compulsory on the Hungarian market. This affected all jobs, including the customer service ones, as we have closed down our Törökbálint HQ. Remote work is an integral part of our work culture, and depending on one’s position it is usually possible.

To make home office suitable for everyone, our tech colleagues have implemented the necessary capacity expansions, making VPN available to all colleagues who may not have had it on their computer before. Telenor is lucky in this respect, as many companies do not have a system to support home office; however, there are now a number of open access, remote connectivity solutions that only require a laptop and internet connection.

While personal meetings are hard to replace, we can keep in touch with each other, thanks to technology. Our colleagues can take care of communications with the help of creativity and planning. We support their work with tech tips, a webinar sharing good practices, and online learning opportunities.

In the current situation, we are facing new challenges every day, we have to react quickly, and in my experience, many people work more because of this than during a regular work schedule.

We encourage businesses and their leaders to follow our example, as the most important thing is slowing down the spread of the epidemic and protecting people.

BBJ: What about your store employees?

JE-K: We are very proud of our colleagues working in our stores, as their position does not make home office possible, and they have to stand their ground on the frontlines. One of our most important tasks is protecting them and our customers.

We have sent our pregnant and chronically ill colleagues home. Naturally, the others receive personal protective equipment. From March 17, and continuing until the government revokes such measures, our stores are open until 3 p.m. Every employee is mandated to wear masks and we have placed easily visible guides for customers regarding precautions. In the meantime, we are also calling for our clients to stay at home if possible, and use digital channels for purchases and services, such as our website, the My Telenor app and online platform, and our call center.

BBJ: Are you distributing unused equipment among colleagues?

JE-K: On the one hand, we have made unused laptops available for colleagues previously working on desktop PCs, and it is now possible to use monitors in the office at home, if necessary. But the exemplary cooperation experienced during the crisis is even more important. From the moment compulsory home office was ordered, colleagues started organizing self-help groups for each other, which we have helped coordinate.

This is fantastic because helpers and those who need help have found each other. Many found themselves in a difficult situation after school closures and did not have tools for studying at home. Anyone who had a dispensable tablet or laptop offered it to someone who needed it.

BBJ: How does Telenor help the families of colleagues working from home?

JE-K: The first phase of crisis management was about protection; from now on, our priority is retaining jobs. We have committed to sending no one away, including colleagues working in the store network. To this end, we need collaboration; for example, we have decreased allowances at the management level.

Protecting the families of our colleagues is just as important as protecting the colleagues themselves. The company’s management unequivocally agreed not to resort to unpaid vacations, regular vacations, absences, downtime, and sick leave, but rather decided to introduce home office. As an emergency measure, we have decided to support those who have seriously ill family members who require care.

While we have closed our HQ, our kitchen is still operating, meaning that those who work there have not lost their jobs, and we can also offer food delivery options to colleagues and their families in need. The current special situation requires a lot of patience and caution, and we had to instate changes overnight. Tension and uncertainty is unavoidable. Hence we are offering a consultation opportunity with voluntary coaches and psychologists.

BBJ: What kind of discounts are you offering customers?

J-EK: In the state of emergency, problem-free internet access has become more important. In view of the situation, we gifted 100 gigabytes of data to all our business and retail, postpaid and prepaid customers until March 31. Based on the feedback, this has been a huge help to many. From April 1 to May 31, instead of one gigabyte, we are offering 100 gigabytes of Hipernet at a very discounted price of HUF 1,000.

With the professional help of the Hungarian Red Cross, we have launched a wide-ranging public information campaign to inform about basic precautions, facts and misconceptions about the coronavirus.

With our HiperSuli digital education team and educators we published a package of suggestions to parents and educators within 24 hours of the school closures being announced. New suggestions and professional articles for educators and parents are constantly posted on the HiperSuli website, so it is worth visiting from time to time.

The TelenorMyTV service now allows clients to view public service programming from the last three days. In addition, visiting websites recommended by the education authority is not included in the data consumption on our network.

BBJ: How much has data usage increased since the virus’ appearance in Hungary?

J-EK: It is worth noting that traffic also depends on the exact solutions and platforms our subscribers use for mobile education and work. Our network traffic has increased in the recent period, customers make many more and far longer calls than normal, and the total daily data usage is on average approximately 30% higher, especially during working hours. For example, video calls may be one of the underlying causes. The increased usage starts in the morning and is apparent in both uploads and downloads.

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