Carsales.com CIO on handling the corners through COVID-19

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Australian online vehicle trader, Carsales.com saw its inventory rise when COVID-19 hit three months ago as uncertain customers put the brakes on buying motor vehicles.

The SMH reported that between March 10 and April 21, enquiries about vehicles on the site dropped by 25 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Around that time, the company temporarily stood down 250 staff and cut executive pay to help it deal with the pandemic. Carsales’ managing director, Ajay Bhatia, told CIO Australia on Monday that the vast majority of the impacted staff will be back working five days a week from July 1.

In an interview with CIO, Jason Blackman, chief information officer at Carsales said when the crisis first hit, the company wasn’t seeing the numbers of cars being sold that it would expect on a month-to-month basis. But the situation has reversed somewhat with inventory counts dropping again as people look to buy used vehicles.

“Now that people are working from home, their transportation needs have changed,” he said.

Internally, Carsales’ transition to a hybrid work environment has been fairly seamless, with people spending 2.5 million minutes online, conducting 75,000 virtual meetings and more than 60 webcasts.

Carsales was prepared for workforce changes that would result from a pandemic event like COVID-19 by adopting a ‘cloud-first’ strategy around five years ago, which becames ‘cloud-only’ in 2018. All technology services and applications were moved off the premises and into the cloud.

“We had a situation where we were already setting ourselves up for a workforce that was asking for flexibility,” said Blackman.

“They wanted to work from home on a regular basis anyway so they were actually setting up the business in order to operate at all levels, not just tech... but also our normal back office, people and culture, finance, our sales teams. COVID-19 hit and they weren’t able to go and visit dealers but the use of video conferencing enabled them to still interact and participate in that function within the business.

“For the better part of the last five years, we’ve been preparing for this moment.”

Some Carsales staff have started to come back to the office in states where it is permitted but most people are still working from home, including dealer and customer support teams, and they “have loved it,” Blackman said.

This is made easier given that for the past three years, all Carsales’ staff have been given laptops for remote working.

“This was driven largely by the flexibility that staff wanted to work remotely at that point in time. That preparedness and willingness to offer that to staff has paid dividends because we flick a switch and we are all working from a remote location,” he said.

Carsales has historically used Skype for Business for video communication, but staff weren’t overly fond of the platform, Blackman said.

Instead, Zoom is the standard platform for video conferencing between staff and customers in Australia and at its overseas locations in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and South Korea. The company also uses Slack for instant messaging between staff at all locations.

“This was the only [technology] change we made in the last three months. So technology-wise we are in a good space. Everything is in the cloud, our back office, CRM, ERP, all of our development tools...so we can operate anywhere.

“This is great because that gives us opportunities from a global point of view both in the acquisition of talent and also in operating a business,” he said.

Return to work

Carsales has a large number of people who enjoy working from home and want to continue to do so, Blackman said.

“We’ve also got a large contingent who are asking to come back into the office for one or two days per week. So they know that they get two hours a day - they have an hour each way for a commute - but for three days a week, they get that time back. But they also like that human interaction,” he said.

Blackman added that one of the challenges the organisation will face is making sure that remote workers are not forgotten when a contingent of staff come back into the office.

“If you’ve got four or five people that are in a location and three or four remotes, you’ve got to make sure you are putting in the effort to engage those remote workers so they form part of a cohesive team,” he said.

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