Work-from-home to be part of the new normal for over 50 per cent of UK contact centres

Work-from-home could be the post Covid-19 lockdown norm for the majority of contact centre workers according to a new online poll.

The poll, conducted in April and May 2020 amongst a total of 156 UK contact centre professionals, set out to discover the state of contact centre homeworking during the Covid-19 crisis.

86 per cent of poll respondents revealed that they had introduced homeworking in response to the Coronavirus crisis – with 53 per cent of these seeing it as a short term measure, and 47 per cent a long term strategy.  12 per cent already had homeworkers, and 2 per cent either had no plans to introduce homeworking, or hadn’t yet implemented homeworking plans.

When asked about their biggest homeworking challenge, 23 per cent said Pastoral Care (i.e. isolation/mental health), 22 per cent Motivation/Productivity, 17 per cent Telephony/Technology Services, 14 per cent Communication with Remote Workers, and 12 per cent Staff Management.  Training, IT Security, and Recruitment were also identified.  Only 2 per cent of respondents thought that they ‘had homeworking nailed’.

“Contact centre homeworking has been around for over 20 years but only recently, and under the most difficult conditions, has it become a reality for the majority of contact centre workers” said Mark Walton, CEO of Sensée.  “What our poll shows is that it not only provides an effective short term business continuity solution but is increasingly being seen as a lot more.  Over 50 per cent of UK contact centres are now looking at homeworking as part of their longer term strategy.”       

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Homeworking: A New World of Work

(This feature, written by Sensée’s Group CEO Steve Mosser, was originally published on and is republished with permission)

So, amidst the chaos aSteve Mossernd panic launched by the Covid-19 crisis, you’ve managed to get your staff to continue working by enabling them to do their duties from home? Good.

As a fervent advocate of homeworking for the last 20 years, we feel the first part of our mission is finally hitting home (pun intended): homeworking is not a nice to have, it’s a must have for any business serious about Continuity.

However, as most businesses are now realising, the challenge wasn’t really in getting someone able to login and work remotely. The real business challenge is how to you resolve visibility, control and security, and critically, how do you keep your people engaged and thriving.

How do you know what’s expected of your management in this new world of work? A simplistic and improvised “9 to 5” approach won’t cut it.

Homeworking can certainly be virtuous on many fronts: studies show people are generally more productive when working temporarily from home. Homeworking also often leads @home workers to lose sense of boundaries between private (home) and work life. In time, this leads to staff over-working, and eventually putting themselves under too much pressure and spells dangers of burnout. I mean: how do you know what’s expected of your management in this new world of work? A simplistic and improvised “9 to 5” approach won’t cut it. Particularly, in households with children, the need for their care and the opportunities for disruption are now at an all-time high at all times of the day.

This raises the challenge of sustainability of working from home. A sustainable homeworking system has to take all the realities of making home the workplace into account and have solutions at the ready.

A Scheduling Service Fit for Homeworking

As a 100% virtual enterprise with over 800 employees working entirely from home – whatever their function – Sensée has had to create solutions to ensure that people are productive, secure and most importantly, happy. At the heart of our ecosystem is TeamTonic, a scheduling service which enables our 800+ employees to self-roster (aka self-schedule) their work time against their private lives. This means that they are empowered to decide when they are working and manage their household accordingly. In essence, it enables our people to build work around their lives, rather than vice versa. Not only does this create stability, it is essential to @home employee well-being, and their own sustainability of working from home.

Without staff in line of sight, you need a systematic solution that is “cheat-proof” and drives positive behaviours without establishing a Big Brother state.

For our enterprise clients, it means they are clear when work starts and stops for each employee, and the TeamTonic tracking system means that if/when there are interruptions in work, this is automagically updated into their performance management and payroll systems. Kids streaming 4k content on YouTube chokes and kills the VPN used for work? TeamTonic automatically updates downtime and productivity loss. Trying to do so manually may work for a handful of individuals, but anything beyond will create management and HR chaos. If ignored by (over) trusting, it could lead to abuse. We all know that in contact centres, the opportunities for work avoidance are high, and unfortunately, are often attempted and successful. Without staff in line of sight, you need a systematic solution that is “cheat-proof” and drives positive behaviours without establishing a Big Brother state. TeamTonic strikes a balance between privacy and work monitoring through automation.

Security and BYOD

Which leads us to the final, and perhaps most critical piece: Security. In this time of business improvisation in mass deploying staff at home, the opportunities for data leaks, loss and theft are at an all-time high. It’s a hacker feast right now. Whether it’s equipment you’ve provided or not, the risks to your customer data are real.

We’ve long promoted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) architecture as it removes the burden of supplying and supporting equipment (as well as the liability of it failing and having to continue paying your staff until it’s fixed).

Our solutions add up a complete technology ecosystem …….  that today not only manages complex operations for over 800 Sensée HomeAgents but also thousands of client staff in well-known UK organisations.

However any Infosec person will tell you it’s not for the fainthearted and it creates a realm of IS nightmares: how do you ensure the machine is clean, free of viruses, spyware, malware etc? Our SafeOS solution enables you to turn any Windows machine into a secure thin client with 2 Factor Authentication, Schedule Access and encrypted connections. It’s not only the best security money can buy, it’s actually more secure (and scalable) than providing your own equipment to your staff.

Together, our solutions add up a complete technology ecosystem that’s purpose built for homeworking. An ecosystem that today not only manages complex operations for over 800 Sensée HomeAgents but also thousands of client staff in well-known UK organisations.

So, the dawn of homeworking is finally here. Perhaps forcibly so, but we should now take this opportunity to identify and address its implications on management, security and employee-wellbeing. A world-class homeworking solution is one that raises the bar across these three areas so that everybody but the hackers thrive. We call this Homeworking 2.0.

Will home working be the new normal in 2021?

In a recent LinkedIn post, CX specialist Peter Massey looks forward to What’s After Covid?

He asks what lessons organisations have learnt during lockdown, and what the ‘new normal’ will be when everything returns to business-as-usual.

“Now is the time to redesign your future state with the best of your breakthroughs” he advises “and don’t just take it for granted you’ll go straight back. Ask your staff what they think of homeworking – you might be missing a trick if you don’t!”

Bill Price, a US-based colleague of Peter, also offered his thoughts on home working within the post. They include:

“More than 50% of contact centres will not re-appear (after lockdown) but be replaced by work-from-home and better digital self service.”

“Work-from-home will remain a much bigger part of contact centre operating models.”

“(Organisations) will break free from workforce management (WFM) tools with standard time shifts…. the new normal will have far more options that suit agent needs.”

“Knowledge bases and communities need to be properly resourced in real time to provide up-to-date information or be replaced by simple tools for knowledge sharing.”

“The shift to cloud technology was well underway… but will accelerate even more.”

If Bill’s prediction that over 50% of US contact centres are shortly to be replaced by work-from-home and digital self-service is correct, then the industry is in for its biggest transformation since the first call centres appeared on the scene back in the 1970s.

The reality for the UK industry may be somewhat less dramatic.  In an April 2020 poll conducted as part of a homeworking webinar, we asked ‘have you introduced contact centre home working in response to Coronavirus?’. The responses were:

No. We already had work-at-home agents -10%
No. We are planning to, but not started yet – 1%
No. We have no plans – 2%
Yes. As a short term measure – 46%
Yes. As a longer term strategy – 41%

112 contact centre professionals responded to the poll.

While, many poll respondents saw work-at-home as a short term crisis measure, over 40% saw it as a longer term strategy. That is clearly a huge step forward for home working advocates, as well as for pioneers such as Sensée that has been operating a 100% home-based model for over 15 years.

With 97% of contact centres in the poll operating work-at-home agents during the Covid-19 crisis, few can question its suitability as an emergency response mechanism. But what about for business-as-usual?

In this regard, Bill’s points about organisations urgently needing to adapt operating models and technologies for WFM, communications, and real-time knowledge sharing are spot on – and mirror our own experiences. You can’t just take a contact centre team out of a bricks and mortar set-up, send people home with a phone and a computer and expect the team to operate the same way as it did in the office.

To successfully operate a home working operation calls for a different mindset. A ‘virtual mindset’ that extends from how your centre recruits the right people to how you onboard, train, communicate, monitor, manage and schedule them. Sometimes in-house tools and methodologies can be adapted for remote working, sometimes new solutions will be required. And that’s particularly true when it comes to creating flexible/split shifts for home agents, and enabling support and communications in a live ‘real time’ environment.

But be in no doubt, contact centre home working is here to stay.