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Scaling up while locking down

How Kolonial.no rose to meet the pandemic challenge

When Lars Due-Sørensen signed on to become Kolonial.no’s new People Business Partner in December 2019, he couldn’t imagine that by his first day of work in April 2020, he’d be tackling some of the biggest and most unexpected challenges the company had ever seen.

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The challenges to businesses caused by the coronavirus pandemic are not unique to Kolonial.no, of course. As Norway and much of Europe locked down in mid-March 2020, almost all businesses were affected in some way: the sudden shift to remote work, loss of direct customer contact, and in some cases, downsizings and closures. But while many other companies grappled with an unexpected downturn, Kolonial.no was met with an immediate and unprecedented demand for their services.

People need to eat

When Kolonial.no opened its virtual doors for the first time in 2013, they were already fighting a long tradition of near-daily, as-needs shopping habits. And, even though online grocery shopping has steadily gained traction in recent years, there have still been many who have held back from making the change.

“It’s something about the Norwegian culture; we need to do things ourselves,” says Due-Sørensen. “But I think the corona situation has pushed more people to embrace online grocery shopping as a concept. That’s been eye-opening for some, realising how much time you free up, especially if you have children or a very busy life.”

While Kolonial.no usually has the goal of making life easier and giving time back to busy customers, for the first time during lockdown, they fully appreciated the essential nature of their business.

Although grocery stores remained open, many were unwilling or, in the case of being quarantined, unable to take the risk of shopping in person. Instead, they turned to Kolonial.no, and before the first days of lockdown were over, every delivery slot was booked days and even weeks ahead.

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Scaling up while locking down

During those early days, Kolonial.no experienced at least double the usual demand on their services. The only way they could possibly satisfy their customers, existing and new, was to scale up.

“Kolonial.no was founded on a spirit of entrepreneurship and a sort of ‘try, then try again’ mentality,” says Due-Sørensen. “That’s the backbone of our company, this ability to see a need in the market and just go for it. We never let fear of failing stop us from trying.”

And try they did. Mid-pandemic, in just 48 hours, Kolonial.no created and launched a whole new site offering cartons of pre-selected goods that could be delivered to customers without needing to wait for a delivery slot.

In the meantime, knowing the job market was flooding with people wanting to work, Kolonial.no scaled up. Fast. By the end of March, they had 200 new staff members ready to get to work, all while following strict health and safety guidelines to prevent spread of the virus.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the digital systems Kolonial.no has been putting in place over the past eighteen months. Corona aside, Kolonial.no has always had growth in their business roadmap, believing the key to successfully scaling up is having good processes in place – automated wherever possible. With a cloud-based HR system from CatalystOne Solutions managing their employee data, the shift to digital recruitment, onboarding and people management was already well underway before the pandemic hit.

“In this phase, we need to build as we go, so we needed a system that is customisable, that would grow with us, and that would suit the kind of people we employ,” says Due-Sørensen. “On the one side, we have tech employees who are used to working digitally, and on the other we have those who have a more operational workday in the warehouse. All those people have managers who need to use the system all the time. That’s one of the strengths of this system; it’s easy and intuitive for everyone.”

Socially distant recruitment, signing and onboarding

With 200 new staff recruited in March alone, there was a wealth of information to input. Even though some staff were signed to temporary contracts through agencies, which simplified the process somewhat, the system still needed to record personal data, role and agency information, start dates, and so on.

One of these new employees, Anna Kvernplassen, was recruited remotely while finishing up a period living in Greece. She signed her contract on a Friday and beginning work the following Monday morning. Onboarded using digital tools and processes, she used the HR system to find her way around her new company.

“I got an email with my login details, and from there, I could find what I needed in the system. I logged on and saw I had a list of tasks already waiting for me,” says Kvernplassen. “I could look at the organisational chart to find out who I needed to ‘meet’, add my personal information and bank details, get my access card code, and there was a workplace safety and security course I could do online.”

These automated processes are complemented by video calls and text chat via Slack. But both Kvernplassen and Due-Sørensen agree that this period has shown there is further need to expand on the processes they have in place today. The goal being that the HR system would become a “one-stop-shop” for all employee data, from training to performance management to time tracking, for which Kolonial.no has integrated Quinyx into the CatalystOne system.

“We were pretty well prepared when corona hit,” says Due-Sørensen, “but we’ve realised we can automate even more in the future. The nature of our business means we have many hourly paid employees and it’s a huge logistical undertaking to manage everything, so we’re in the process of setting up an even stronger integration between CatalystOne and Quinyx that will go live after the summer. Then I think the biggest demands on having a single source of truth for our data will be met.”

Digitalisation is the key to the future

Kolonial.no has the goal of holding onto its entrepreneurial spirit and start-up energy even though it is well into the scale-up phase. But alongside this goal, they are building on a solid foundation of good processes for this growth period and moving on toward their goal of being a true powerhouse in their industry.

This is one of the reasons, according to Due Sørensen, CatalystOne and Kolonial.no are a good culture match. Kolonial.no’s goal is to create flow and free up time in people’s lives by simplifying and automating the repetitive but necessary task of grocery shopping. CatalystOne’s system has the same goal for businesses, namely to free up time spent on administrative tasks and create flow in the workday.

“For both HR and our leaders, having one system, where we can set up and change workflows ourselves as we go, makes the day so much easier. The managers appreciate the flexibility to be able to tell HR when something isn’t working, and we can change and adapt it just like we do with our own products. Freedom is the word I’d use when I think about what it’s given us, and that’s exactly what we aim to pay forward to our customers.”

 

Zoë Harris

Zoë Harris, 29 October 2020

Zoë Harris is a content marketing specialist who has worked with companies across the Nordics and the world since moving from Australia in 2006. With a background in communication strategy, UX writing, creative writing, and copywriting/editing, she's inspired by the human stories that make each business or organisation unique.