Business continuity planning accounts for worst-case scenarios. What would happen in an unforeseen economic situation? What would happen, for instance, in a pandemic? For global digital outsourcing company TaskUs, the team discovered their plans would need to extend to cover another unlikely scenario — an unprecedented snowstorm in Texas that threatened the safety of their more than 2,500 employees in the area.
“A lot of our employees, our teammates, had lost power and didn’t have food or water. No one saw this coming, so there were a lot of challenges from a local logistics standpoint that came up,” says TaskUs Senior Vice President of Operations Hemi Sehgal. “Once we realized the magnitude of the situation, we knew we had to communicate somehow with our people.”
With Internet connectivity unavailable almost everywhere locally, and electricity down in many locations, the TaskUs team went to work living their value of “people over profits,” using Twilio Messaging to not only reach TaskUs employees throughout Texas, but also direct them to warm TaskUs-provided shelters and necessary aid.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the TaskUs team had already been adapting team communications and logistics infrastructure to support employees however needed. For example, says Sehgal, TaskUs employees were able to vote safely at some of the company’s sites. With the onset of the storms, TaskUs made its buildings available as warm shelters where employees and their families could spend the night, shower, find a meal — whatever was needed. The company also maintained strong relationships with wholesalers who could provide basic food necessities like milk.
But with all of these options available, how could they let their employees know where to find help — or simply that the TaskUs team was available for questions or support — without Internet or power?
For Sehgal and Senior Vice President of Digital Manish Pandya, the clear answer lay in text messaging and their existing communications app, which Sehgal had occasionally used to communicate with employees during more mundane times. Knowing they needed to reach employees quickly, Pandya and his team sprang into action.
“It was a matter of two days or less,” Pandya says, before they had the app working to send emergency communications to the thousands of TaskUs employees in Texas. “The whole team was sending out messages while iterating and building more robust applications.”
The team had already been working on making its communication app more robust when the snowstorms hit. This event accelerated development. Pandya says his team knew they had to pivot swiftly, shifting from a single phone number to a pool, for instance, and other adaptations behind the scenes. Says Pandya: “That’s where the flexibility of Twilio came into the picture. We could change things on the fly. And Twilio’s platform is all built for developers. We could do things like generate API keys and secure numbers on the fly, so it was really easy for our developers to use.”
Working closely with the Twilio team and with Twilio documentation, Pandya and his team were able to ensure deliverability at scale and remove any throughput volume constraints during the critical disaster response period. With the MVP ready to go in less than two days, the TaskUs team was able to use the app for seven days straight, communicating constantly with employees throughout the disastrous Texas storm and aftermath.
By the time the state began to emerge from the storm, the TaskUs team had reached their more than 2,500 employees numerous times through more than 15,000 text messages. Says Sehgal, the impact was immediate and heartening.
“When we sent out our first test to make sure everyone was receiving, the responses we got were very appreciative: ‘Now we have hope. Thank you for being there for us,’” he says. “People were glad to get a message when they were disconnected from the world.”
After those initial test messages, the team was quickly able to reach out to employees to help them get necessary equipment and supplies, get connected to local relief efforts, learn which TaskUs buildings were available as warm shelters, and more.
“We were able to outline a plan in those messages, and be very specific about dates, addresses, when food would be available, at what sites, the steps to follow, etc.,” says Sehgal. “We wanted to communicate, give people hope, and let them know we are there for them.”
For both Sehgal and Pandya, the use of Twilio in disaster relief underlined the importance of their application for business continuity efforts. While the TaskUs team works very closely with its frontline agents and team members at all times, the normal means of communication include video meetings, email, and other typically easily accessible global channels. But for business continuity, it’s critical to think of the unimaginable.
“Who would think in the U.S. you could have somewhere with no electricity or water for four days? It’s hard to imagine that,” says Sehgal. “But with this technology Twilio has built, we can support a channel that’s powered through cell phone networks, right? And it’s important to plan for the basics too.”
When we sent out our first test to make sure everyone was receiving, the responses we got were very appreciative: ‘Now we have hope. Thank you for being there for us.' People were glad to get a message when they were disconnected from the world.
Pandya and Sehgal are excited for what’s to come for the TaskUs communication app, including new channels and new use cases.
Says Pandya, “We now have a self-service solution for our business continuity teams, as well as for our HR teams so they can communicate with two-way messages. We have the ability to ensure messages get delivered, see how many are received, understand things like how many landlines there are — we can harvest that data and iterate.”
The team is looking into channel expansion, including Twilio for WhatsApp, which is more commonly used globally, especially in India. “That gives you an idea about how Twilio is one API to do pretty much everything,” Pandya adds.
Across TaskUs, the pandemic and then the snowstorm have reinforced the company’s commitment to the “people over profits” motto and the desire to use technology as a means to connect. For Sehgal, the ability to communicate with this team and TaskUs employees during an extremely difficult time drives home that perspective.
“We weren’t trying to build something that showed off technology. We were trying to get to our people; that was the most important thing,” he says. “The world is moving more toward tools and technology every day, especially those that enable us to get better at communicating. But it’s important to keep in mind why we do business in the first place.”
That’s where the flexibility of Twilio came into the picture. We could change things on the fly. And Twilio’s platform is all built for developers. We could do things like generate API keys and secure numbers on the fly, so it was really easy for our developers to use.