Will home working be the new normal in 2021?

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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.

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