Work-from-home can be more effective and productive than office-based working

As we emerge from lockdown, it’s the perfect time for company boards to review their homeworking experiences and ask ‘What part will it play in the workplace of the future?’

No-one is claiming that homeworking is a panacea and it’s not for everyone. However, for many organisations with long term homeworking strategies, it’s delivered huge cost and productivity benefits, as well as massive employee benefits – such as the removal of travel-to-work costs and a better work-life-balance*.

So now is the time to have a practical debate about homeworking…. and it should start by assessing what form of homeworking, and what operating model, is best suited to your requirements. It’s not always just a choice between working 100% from home or 100% from the office.

Below are a number of recent market survey results that support this view of the efficacy of homeworking:

  • 66% of all employed U.S. workers say they can be effective when working remotely, according to the LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index survey**. The same survey found that 85% of HR professionals say they can be effective with work from home (WFH).
  • The 2020 UK HomeAgent Study*, the UK’s largest ever study into long term contact centre homeworking, revealed that more and more UK centres are turning to homeworking as they discover its financial and productivity benefits. When comparing work-at-home with office-based contact centres, 75 per cent of organisations responding to the survey said that Attrition is lower, 61 per cent said Productivity is better, and 54 per cent said Absenteeism is better. As well as delivering significant advantages to businesses, homeworking is also delivering huge benefits to contact centre ‘HomeAgents’. 74 per cent said that they have a better work-life-balance, 86 per cent that they have no travel-to-work costs, and 81 per cent that they have removed the time wasted travelling to work.
  • A Glassdoor study*** showed that 60% of people feel they can perform effectively no matter how long they have to WFH. 50% say they are as, or more, productive remote working.
  • An online poll of contact centre professionals**** revealed that 47 per cent of organisations that introduced homeworking in response to the Coronavirus crisis now see it as a long term strategy.

References:

* The 2020 UK HomeAgent Survey was conducted between November 2019 and the middle of March 2020, prior to the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK. It was managed/published by the UK Contact Centre Forum (UKCCF) and sponsored by Content Guru, Sensée and SYKES. 300 Managers/Directors and HomeAgents took part in the study

** June 2020. LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index is based on a quantitative online survey that is distributed to members via email every two weeks. Roughly 5,000+ U.S.-based members respond to each wave

*** COVID-19 & Employee Sentiment on Changing Workforce, March 2020

**** The poll was conducted by Sensée in conjunction with the UKCCF, South West Contact Centre Forum and Call North West in April, May and June 2020 amongst a total of 203 UK contact centre professionals

 

The Post Pandemic Contact Centre Will Never be the Same

Covid-19sign1-990000079e04513cOne of the most challenging things in customer experience delivery today is the ever-shifting commercial environment. The industry has weathered many storms over the past two decades, but these can appear tempests in teapots relative to the past 10 weeks.

Let no one be fooled. Contact centres will not go back to the way they were at the start of 2020. At least not for a very long time. Rather, businesses must take a more virtual approach to delivery, one that favours remote working that is compliant and seamless.

Yes, this is a sea change, and experience tells us that few people like any type of transformation. But, in this case, embracing the work-at-home shift will mean the difference between contact centre viability and obsolescence.

By 2018, industry analyst ContactBabel estimated that 26 per cent of UK contact centres were deploying home-based advisors.

Over the past 20 years,contact centres have made it through some murky waters. Consider the uncertainty surrounding the global financial crisis in 2008 / 2009, and the concern about whether consumer activity would dry up, thus sinking the need for large scale customer experience operations.
Or, what of the various societal upheavals, natural disasters or disruptions to infrastructure that have pressured customer experience business continuity? While these tested the mettle of contact centre professionals in their own way, each pales into insignificance in comparison to what our industry has faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The work-at-home contact centre model is actually far from new. The AA, for example, operated home-based contact centres in the UK since the 1990s and Sensée, the UK’s first contact centre employer of 100% home-based, fully-employed HomeAgents, was established in 2004. By 2018, industry analyst ContactBabel estimated that 26 per cent of UK contact centres were deploying home-based advisors.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March, however, the scale of the agent shift from bricks-and-mortar to work-at-home contact centres has been unprecedented. By April 2020, ContactBabel estimates that a massive 84 per cent of UK contact centres were mainly operating on a work-from-home basis.

The shift of agents to supporting consumers from their homes may have been taken as a short term measure, but its impact now looks like it will be long lasting.

Why is this?

Well, there are a number of compelling reasons. Take for one agent performance. Something that comes up time and again with contact centres that have moved their workforce home is that team members become more productive, and provide better results than those previously achieved in bricks and mortar facilities. This counts a lot in an era where cementing the loyalty of end-users is more important than ever.

Moving even a portion of the workforce home on a semi-permanent basis should not be underestimated, both in terms of effort and expertise.

Another reason is agent satisfaction. While it is important to recognise that home working is not for everyone, and that some people will perform better in an office environment than at-home, for others it is a perfect fit.

Across the UK contact centre space, more and more agents are stating a preference to work from their homes, even if it is for just part of their working week. Why? For some, it is down to the work-life-balance benefits that homeworking offers, for others it is because homeworking removes the hassle and expense of commuting. For a significant proportion, however, it is because they cannot (or cannot easily) access the traditional workplace. In the case of Sensée, 18 per cent of our employees are living with a disability, 8 per cent are carers to people with special needs, and 32% come from rural disaffected areas.

That said, moving even a portion of the workforce home on a semi-permanent basis should not be underestimated, both in terms of effort and expertise. Ideally, enterprises should work with specialist homeworking partners that understand the homeworking dynamic and can take a strategic view of their business model. This is no time for learning on the job. Enterprises across industries will face massive workforce management challenges alongside those related to securing consumer loyalty in a digitally-secure fashion. Homeworking has the potential to address both these elements, but can only succeed with the right expertise.

How Will Your Contact Centre Teams Cope With The Festive Season Retail Peak?

(Reprinted courtesy of Internet Retailing magazine)

Scaling up operations to meet seasonal retail peak is always a tricky task but especially so this year. When it comes to planning for Black Friday and the 2020 Festive Season, not only will retailers have to increase capacity to cope with greater online activity but also comply with social distancing regulations in-store as traffic volumes grow.

Ensuring people’s safety while securing much-needed sales growth will be a difficult balancing act, and not just for retail store owners. It’s going to be a major problem for retail contact centres too.

In the online space in particular, increased sales will necessitate extra support personnel who are experienced and trained in understanding the end-to-end customer journey. Their role in using digital customer experience tools to support customers and avoid abandoned online shopping baskets will be vital.  

Ensuring people’s safety while securing much-needed sales growth will be a difficult balancing act, and not just for retail store owners. It’s going to be a major problem for retail contact centres too.

The challenge for contact centre managers is how to acquire these additional heads. Because of the need for social distancing and staggered rotas, it won’t be possible to fit more people into existing retail contact centres. A different approach will be required.

In previous years, retailers often turned to third party ‘bricks and mortar’ service outsourcers to make up the numbers. For this Festive Season peak, however, even that could be tricky. Traditional outsourced contact centre operators are subject to the same social distancing regulations as retailers themselves, so rapidly scaling up numbers will be difficult.

The only realistic answer to this unprecedented customer service dilemma will be for retailers to hire homeworkers.    

Work-from-Home 

Work-from-home (or WFH) has become the new normal for customer service operators over the past few months with a massive 84% of contact centres mainly operating on a WFH basis according to industry research from ContactBabel/Channel Doctors in April 2020.

The switch from bricks and mortar to virtual has not, however, been without its issues. When 156 UK contact centre professionals were asked about their biggest homeworking challenges in an April/May/June 2020 poll, 23 per cent said Pastoral Care (i.e. isolation/mental health), 23 per cent Motivation/Productivity, 20 per cent Telephony/Technology Services, 11 per cent Staff Management, and 10 per cent Communication with Remote Workers.  Training, IT Security, and Recruitment challenges were also identified.  Only 2 per cent of respondents thought that they Had Homeworking Nailed.  Despite these challenges, over 50 per cent of UK contact centres said that they were now looking at homeworking as part of their longer term strategy.      

So while homeworking is now a necessity it must be approached cautiously and managed effectively.  

For many people, switching to WFH during lockdown simply meant leaving the office with a computer and a phone and setting up from home.  Not so running a highly process-driven and team-oriented customer service operation.  To achieve excellence in running a WFH customer service team calls for a very different mindset that starts with learning how to recruit the right homeworkers and extends to creating a virtual mindset across everything from training, planning, managing and reporting…… within a technology ecosystem that is secure, robust and flexible enough to scale up and down with your business needs.

The pressure to find a practical service solution for the Festive Season retail peak is greater than ever.  Yet the skills required to effectively manage WFH teams can’t be learnt overnight.  The skills, advice and people resources of a professional and experienced WFH customer service operator may just be what is required.