Recent contact center industry trends indicate significant growth in the number of remote employees. While some companies already had an existing work-from-home model in place, a substantial number of companies quickly transitioned to work-from-home models after being forced to do so by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, strategically designing your long-term remote workforce model is imperative to position your contact center for success in the years to come. Although business objectives differ, most organizations are finding significant benefits to a remote workforce such as decreased real estate, increases in productivity, employee satisfaction and staff retention. Industry professionals continue to report positive results in terms of both employee satisfaction and business productivity, which tells us remote work is not going away. As you consider your long-term company policy, three of the most predominant work location models to consider are All in Office, Work from Anywhere and Hub and Spoke.
The “All in Office” Model
In this model, all workers must report to their office location for work. Until recently, most contact centers operated in this fashion.
Despite this model typically resulting in lower employee satisfaction than more flexible models, working “all in office” has historically been popular because engagement is easy to see and execute.
Advantages of in-person work:
- Culture and engagement are maintained using traditional communication methods
- In-person activities can be planned for training and team building
Disadvantages of in-person work:
- Requires office space and maintenance
- Loss of competitive edge in employee recruitment, constrained by the current market conditions, such as wage rate
- Lack of business resiliency during weather or technical events
- Employee satisfaction and attrition impacts given competitive options available
The “Work from Anywhere” Model
As the name suggests, this model allows employees to work from anywhere 100% of the time, with no requirement to report on-site for any reason.
Benefits of this approach include:
- Potential for new recruiting demographics and/or markets (such as lower labor markets)
- Opportunity to reduce office space
- Business resiliency from localized technical or weather issues
Challenges to consider:
- Solutions for ongoing training when meeting in person is not possible
- Need for creativity in culture and engagement
- Potential loss of productivity during an individual’s technical outage (such as power or ISP)
- Need for additional collaboration tools and communication for performance monitoring
The “Hub and Spoke” Model
With the Hub and Spoke model, employees primarily work at home but are required to be near a physical office location. This allows employees the flexibility to work remotely while maintaining the ability to have an on-site presence for training and engagement efforts when necessary. This model and the “Work Anywhere Model” also allow for non-traditional schedules to be introduced to improve the efficiency of the business and provide creative options to meet the needs of employees.
This approach has advantages such as:
- New recruiting demographics
- Office availability during outages
- Opportunity to plan and participate in in-person activities or training
- Some business resiliency benefits
- Could support a hybrid model, working some days in the office and some days remotely
Challenges to this model include:
- Requires office space and maintenance, although likely reduced footprint
- Requires culture and engagement creativity and collaboration tools
- No additional markets for recruiting/constricted by the current wage rate
- Requires additional performance monitoring
Evolution of Leadership and Training for Remote Workers
Operational leaders and training staff are foundational for a successful remote work program, whether that program is hybrid or fully remote. Additional training on leadership models, communication approaches and tool usage is required to provide Managers and Trainers with the incremental skills necessary to lead remote teams. Remote operational leaders need to be more structured and organized to ensure the appropriate employee engagement activities occur vs. just walking down the aisle to connect with their teams. In addition, monitoring performance, conducting blind call monitoring, remote side-by-sides and regular 1 on 1s are critical to continue the on-going development of each team. Remote managers should think through how they interact with an in-person team and try to match those interactions as closely as possible remotely using tools like instant messenger (IM), email and video calls.
Any staff who will be training new employees must stay current on technology and utilize tools like web sharing, whiteboards and polls/quizzes to assess engagement, drive participation, and gauge whether the people they are training require things like basic technical tutorials upfront. Training collateral must also be assessed so it can be transitioned into digital content with the greatest flexibility and absorption.
The Post-COVID World
When working remotely is no longer a requirement due to the pandemic, many companies will have to decide what their new normal will be. While it may be tempting to simply revert back to pre-COVID policies, it is truly an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the potential success and marketability of a new or revised work from home program. Start by answering a few simple questions to determine what the risks and rewards would be. How has remote work affected productivity, if at all? Can the organization afford to increase the size of their work from home population? What benefits might there be for real estate needs if more workers remain remote? Do employees expect remote work to be permanent, and what would the impact be to employee satisfaction if it were to go away? How will the recruiting market change now that more companies are implementing permanent work from home programs? Contact centers that do not have a robust remote work program will almost certainly struggle to attract and retain employees given the new prevalence and expected longevity of work from home opportunities for agents.
Consider this approach as an emerging trend:
- Existing employees meeting expectations – Allow them to choose if they will remain at home or return to the office
- Existing employees not meeting expectations – Provide a timeline for them to return to the office, keeping in mind that ample lead time should be provided to coordinate transportation, daycare, etc.
- New hires – Outline a hybrid learning plan and tenure/performance thresholds in which permanent work from home would be permitted
Whether your employees are All in Office, Working from Anywhere, or Hub and Spoke, there are several challenges to consider, from technology to training to employee engagement. While the shift to remote work may have occurred in an unorthodox way, this is undoubtedly a transformational time for contact centers. To learn more about our Workforce Management solutions, contact us.
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