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Re-inventing our ways of working during the epidemic
November 5, 2020

The rapid expansion of the coronavirus generated a devastating impact on countries’ economies. As social distancing was implemented, the way companies function shifted: They were required to adapt their ways of working. The lockdown gave a further push towards the digitization of work as many employees were forced to stay at home. The adoption of work from home (WFH) ensured business continuity for many firms.

Covid-19 forced the retail sector to quickly adapt to this new and unprecedented situation.  The new challenges that emerged required both quicker decisions based on solid data-driven evidence as well as a stronger visibility over processes and the supply chain. The former was true for both Carrefour Spain and Carrefour Italy, which had to re-invent their ways of working during the epidemic.

Carrefour Spain focused on two main lines of work: guaranteeing the shopping experience for our customers (online and in-store) and setting up new measures to ensure the safety of our employees and customers. In June, Carrefour was the first retailer in Spain to obtain the Aenor certificate for this last point.

As for Carrefour Italy, we had to adjust our stores’ supply in almost real time to meet the changing demands of our customers: one day we needed masks, the next day we were facing a huge demand for milk!

This context forced us to perform a profound shift in the way we operated. And it was good! This demanding situation brought many positive spillovers. In this article, we wanted to share how the lockdown and post-lockdown phases triggered positive change, in many cases enabled by technology.

The lockdown: Answering to shifts in customer’s behaviours with digital customer experiences

During the first wave of Covid-19, we observed three main trends that profoundly changed the habits, wants and needs of Carrefour’s customers: 

  • Less in-store visits, larger carts. In Italy, in-store visits decreased, while the average receipt increased . Even the number of products in a cart doubled! The change was not only quantitative but also qualitative thanks to a general increase in home cooking (+ 50%). 
  • e-Commerce adoption. From a consumer point of view, the cultural barriers of using the online shopping channel fell as consumers had to turn to e-shopping. In Spain, the daily e-commerce visits during the lockdown were multiplied by four in YoY.
  • Higher expectations in service flexibility. Competitiveness shifted from store size to service level. In other words, the consumers demanded a high level of service rather than looking for low prices, as shown by the fast development of e-commerce and convenience stores. For example, the quick adoption of telephone orders in our proximity stores was among the most successful initiatives in Carrefour Italy. In Carrefour Spain we prioritized home deliveries for the people most affected by the pandemic, including our elders.

In this context, retailers rapidly sought to provide customers with a seamless mobile and desktop shopping experience. It was also crucial to embrace an omnichannel strategy in terms of distribution, promotions and pricing, enabled by the consistency of back-end information and processes. The excellency of the customer experience (speed, personalization, clarty…) also became central. In Carrefour we were already mobile, omnichannel -through physical formats and e-commerce in all our geographies- and striving to be better every day in demonstrating our profound love for our customers. We tried to strengthen this offering even further. Our goal as an operator of essential services, was to ensure access to quality food to everyone during the lockdown. We had to bear a great weight on our shoulders. In these circumstances, technology could only be an accelerator!

In Carrefour Spain, as the government prohibited the sale of several non-food categories of products, we set up a new channel for our clients. Indeed, they were able to order their non-food products directly on WhatsApp, on the number of the store of their choosing.

A second example of a concrete action taken during the lockdown is the launch of Les Essentiels, not only in France but also in Italy (Gli Essenziali), a home delivery service with a fixed day to dispatch food bundles based on your location, for less than 5€/day/person. Thanks to the amazing work of a bunch of passionate Carrefourians, and the way we adapted our ways of working during the epidemic, we managed to launch the service in a very short time!

The post-lockdown phase: A smarter digital workplace

Once the lockdown was over, we were all wondering what our new life would look like. Customers had to adapt whether it was wearing the mask to enter stores or even respecting distances when walking in the street.

Companies also needed to respect new regulations and reorganize themselves. Once the rush of the (first) lockdown passed, both Carrefour Italy and Carrefour Spain realized that changing was really important to offer the best working environment possible for their employees. We saw two types of evolutions on internal ways of working: An acceleration of digital readiness and a greater adoption of social responsibility principles.

The current pandemic has been an acceleration catalyst for both digital readiness and CSR. It accelerated the digital transformation with the need to enable remote working and make workflows better. The Covid-19 also offered a wide range of opportunities regarding CSR, whether it was turned to customers, employees or the society.

Let’s focus on our two Carrefour countries, and put a few figures and facts behind the previous ideas:

  • During the lockdown all faxes and automatic HQ printouts (e.g., spool deposits for fresh products) were converted to e-mail at Carrefour Italy. After the lockdown, this measure was maintained and we were able to reduce the number of printers from 50 to 20!

    In Carrefour Spain we obtained a reduction of printing consumption on its HQ of ~78% between March and September. 
  • The decrease of daily commuting led to reducing fuel emissions with effective benefits for the environment. Carrefour Spain implemented WFH for office personnel after the lockdown. This, in turn, led to an improvement in the quality of life of our employees. 

Carrefour Italy and Carrefour Spain are currently designing the path towards “the new normal” scenario with the Smart Working initiative.

Here are some of the feedbacks of Carrefour employees when questioned on the initiative:


Smart Working is a collaboration method that goes beyond one’s physical location and leads to a better work-life balance, being able to better manage one’s agenda by moving from a ‘time-based’ approach to an ‘objective-based’ approach.


“I have found multiple benefits in Smart Working: No lost time for commuting, better respect of timing during meetings, better organization, being close to our families during lockdown… On the other hand, no direct contact may also lead to less team building, and a risk of misalignments between colleagues or neverending working days.”

Miguel Angel:

“Remote work has become the great catalyst (also the biggest challenge) for our organizational change:
1.- Trust your employees. aka. give them autonomy!!!
2.- Goal-oriented work. aka. give them purpose!!!
3.- Empathy. aka. support them!!!”

José Luis:

“Teleworking has been a great help to reconcile my professional and family life. It provides some flexibility but also requires organizational abilities to be capable of managing both environments. Teleworking has provided me with a way to continue my day to day, giving me tranquility and security in these troubled times.”

Our “Smart Working” initiative is grounded on three pillars: Mobility, Smart infra and Flexibility. Let us guide you through each pillar:

1/ Mobility

Empowering employees so they can perform their job from anywhere.

  • Workplace booking app: In line with the WFH policy, Carrefour Spain reduced its headquarters office space by 25% over the summer. New business centers were created at the HQ and also in every hypermarket in Madrid. In Italy, the HQ has been reduced by 30% and the desks’ distribution was rationalized to ensure maximum health and safety.

Mandatory rules of social distancing in the office have led Carrefour Italy and Carrefour Spain to implement a modern and digital solution to organize the utilization of office space. Both countries set up a new app which enables employees to book both their office desk and parking slot while guaranteeing safe accesses and to avoid logistic inefficiency through the measurement of the capacity of each location.

  • Remote collaboration tools: Carrefour’s decision to move its Digital Workplace to the cloud with G-suite proved to pay off during this crisis. Employees can read their emails with Gmail, chat with Hangouts or do a Meet vidéoconference using their mobile devices. Calendars, TO-DOs and office documents, be it Slides, Docs or Sheets, are available from home with no need to rely on complex sync mechanisms or connection through VPN. Specific e-learning paths with short training modules were proposed to employees so they can make the most of G-Suite tools.

Remote work and fewer in person meetings may also lead to intricate professional relationships. Collaboration tools also support employees to better manage their own time and tasks and execute cross-functional projects with success. 

  • Mobile user equipment: This crisis pushed both Carrefour Spain and Italy to modernize the technological equipment of our employees, such as laptops, headsets and smartphones, in particular aiming those that were not well equipped. Besides the equipment itself, special attention was paid to making the work of the “remote” IT support possible. As an example, in Carrefour Spain, this included remote working for the first time for our entire call center. This allowed us to provide a continuous service to our customers. Another example is the rise of employees with laptops at Madrid HQ: from 50% to 90%!

2/ Smart infra

Modern tech foundations is a change accelerator.

  • VDI solution: Carrefour’s Spain’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) delivers a full user environment over the network to a (light) endpoint device. The Citrix VDI allows users to interact with apps as if they were installed into the local machine, hence they can perform their usual job.

    The result is a modern user experience, increased security, lower costs of management and maintenance of workstations and more better adoption of cloud solutions. VDI proved to be a reliable support for Carrefour’s in-store employees during the crisis, requiring for instance less on-site support when compared to standard PCs. When it was impossible to buy a new laptop, we could offer our employees a secure way to work from home.
  • Process automation: One of the issues raised in Carrefour Italy concerned processes and flow management. Steps and validations were highly manual, leading to significant time invested in administrative tasks and errors. in a Covid-19 context, the lack of human contact made this situation even worse… To make automation possible, Italy will implement a business management process (BPM) tool in the near future.
  • Digital signature: Forced by more strict social contact policies, business processes requiring handwritten signatures are shifting very quickly to a digital validation in Carrefour Italy. This enables teams to save precious time while greatly reducing paper waste and speeding up our exchanges.

3/ Employee flexibility and empowerment

The right balance of flexibility and direction has a direct impact on employee productivity.

  • Autonomy: How to adapt the leadership style when managing remote teams? This is a very important issue for us, as we witnessed during the Covid-19 period that some employees had difficulties developing emotional attachment with the company and other team members.

Both Carrefour Italy and Carrefour Spain are deploying a new working philosophy. It is in fact closer to how a digital start-up operates, where trust is at the center. We are combining autonomy to our employees together with daily “catch-up” sessions to ensure a good level of sync and remove impediments.

  • Goal orientation: Leading remote teams effectively also means moving towards a results-oriented organization approach in which data becomes key, not only to make better and faster decisions in a moment when accuracy and speed are at the essence, but also to have performance indicators to track the performance of employees.

Sparked by Covid-19, Carrefour Spain set up a webinar with our executive committee. Every month we have the opportunity to better understand the goals of the company, highlighting the outstanding work of some employees and giving the opportunity to interact with a Q&A session.

In synthesis, the Smart Working initiative triggered a path of profound cultural changes for Carrefour Italy and Carrefour Spain.

Technology plays a major role in the improvement of the customer and employee experience. For Carrefour, this was really visible during Covid-19. The digital transformation of the user experience and the workplace are major pillars within our tech and retail digital transformation, connecting people, virtual spaces and tools to day-to-day business processes.

Check our other tech projects on Horizons.

About the Author

Digital Process Analyst at Carrefour Italy Marco takes care of business & IT relations for marketing and communication. Passionate engineer, he is always interested in new technologies. Head of Digital Production and Ciso at Carrefour Spain Esther has 19 years of experience in retail and IT. Her favorite catchphrase is: "The difficult is done, the impossible is tried."

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