Planning For Hybrid Homeworking: 6 Things to Consider

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Planning ahead when the future is as uncertain as it is today is difficult. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So how about with a list of objectives, and a list of ‘highly probable’ circumstances and conditions under which you are likely to operate in 2021?

When it comes to running customer contact operations, your objectives for 2021 may well look similar to those this year. For example, to deliver excellent customer experiences and create positive outcomes. To improve customer satisfaction & loyalty. To keep your people engaged, motivated and happy, while looking after their mental health & well being. To cut costs…. and so on.

The problem comes when trying to define the circumstances and conditions that will prevail next year. For the truth is we simply don’t know. Social distancing and staggered rotas look set to remain, and with a strong possibility of future Covid-19 spikes, no-one can confidently base their planning on the likelihood of having open and fully populated offices. We also don’t know what effect a subsequent Covid-19 spike would have on the nature and volume of customer contacts, people’s ability to travel, or on employees’ mental health & well being.

So where does that leave contact centre planning? Well we know (if you believe the research) that the majority of businesses are planning to open their bricks and mortar (B&M) contact centres in 2021. Indeed when asked ‘What Will Your Working Environment Mainly Look Like in 2021?’ 57% of UK contact centre leaders interviewed as part of the Call North West/SWCCF/Talkdesk Post Lockdown survey said that they expected it to most closely resemble a Socially Distanced B&M Centre, with 35% expecting it to look like a Work-from-Home centre, and only 7% a Normal Contact Centre. And if that’s the case then the vast majority of contact centres are highly likely to be operating hybrid models in 2021 (i.e. part B&M centre working and part homeworking).

If you are considering a hybrid model, here are six things to consider:

  1. Homeworking isn’t for everyone: The public debate around homeworking during lockdown has often focused on whether homeworking is a good idea or whether office workers are more productive. But is that the right question? I would say that it’s more important to ask ‘When would homeworking work effectively for us?’ and ‘Who would make an ideal homeworker?’ If you’re operating a hybrid model, prioritise those who WANT to work from home as full or part time homeworkers, not those who don’t want to or those who are less productive working-from-home.
  2. Flexible scheduling is key: Almost three-quarters of contact centre homeworkers choose to work-from-home to have a better work-life-balance (WLB) according to the 2020 UK HomeAgent survey, with 44% saying that they can self-select their working hours. Flexible hours is a key benefit of homeworking especially if it means people can fit work in around their other daily priorities. So consider flexible scheduling as an incentive to encourage people to homework, including the use of split shifts. 49% of Employers responding to the 2020 UK HomeAgent survey said that they currently allow their homeworkers to work multiple shifts on a single day.
  3. Don’t just assume your in-house technology and systems are suited to homeworking: Just because your technology is cloud-delivered doesn’t mean that it’s optimised for homeworking. Does your workforce scheduling technology enable homeworkers to self-schedule and work split shifts for example? Does your training platform support virtual training? Does your communications technology provide a virtual community workspace for homeworkers with live chat and team rooms? If not, you may benefit from a technology ecosystem that’s purpose-built for homeworking.
  4. Pay particular attention to people’s well being: Anxiety/Mental Health has been the biggest concern for organisations operating work-from-home centres during the current crisis according to the Call North West/SWCCF/Talkdesk Post Lockdown survey, with 66% of contact centre leaders stating that it had been a significant or very significant issue. Only 25% of leaders saw Anxiety/Mental Health as being less of a challenge across their entire estates in 2021, with 30% seeing it as more of a challenge.
  5. Treat homeworkers and in-house personnel the same (wherever possible): If you are operating a hybrid model it’s important that you don’t penalise employees for choosing to work-from-home or work from the office. While it’s not always possible to deliver the same advantages to both sets of workers (e.g. you can’t lay on free fruit, coffee and games machines for homeworkers), it’s important that you set similar expectations when it comes to contact handling quality and performance.
  6. Recognise the uniqueness of the work-from-home environment: As many organisations have found to their cost in recent months, if you simply lift employees out of a contact centre, ask them to work from home, and then not give them the right tools then the move can be counterproductive, leading to lower productivity, lower morale, high instances of absence, mental health issues and lower revenues/profit. Do it properly, and there’s plenty of evidence that homeworking can boost productivity, reduce absenteeism/attrition, cut costs and generate huge work-life-balance benefits. Recognise the uniqueness of the work from home environment and ‘overcompensate’ and ‘overcommunicate’ if appropriate!

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