(CCMA Online Seminar) Managing Health & Wellbeing in a Hybrid Working Contact Centre

Date: Thu 16 Sep 2021
Time: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

A November 2020 report from McKinsey showed that 62 per cent of employees globally considered mental health issues to be a top challenge during the COVID-19 crisis, with higher reporting among diverse groups. The same report painted a picture of employers that are scrambling to meet the moment: 96 per cent of companies globally provided additional mental-health resources to employees, but only one in six employees reported feeling supported.

As part of the CCMA Hybrid Series, this online seminar will look at the strategies, measures and tools that organisations should consider to better manage health and wellbeing in hybrid contact centres.

Hosted by Leigh Hopwood, CCMA’s CEO, the event will feature:

Steve Mosser: Sensée’s Founder, and CEO and CIO of Cloudworks

Abigail Hirshman: Director Workplace Programmes (Mental Health and Wellbeing), The Charlie Waller Trust. A leading consultant in mental health & wellbeing at work, and former Head of Workplace Mental Health and Well Being at ACAS.

Abigail and Steve will be discussing:

  • How mental health and wellbeing issues experienced amongst homeworkers are often different to those experienced by office workers – and must be handled accordingly
  • The importance of creating Digital Workplaces for hybrid and homeworking communities that mirror the communications processes and resources that people have come to expect from office-based working
  • The vital role of the Team Leader in monitoring and dealing with mental health and wellbeing issues amongst frontline workers
  • Why flexible working and work-life balance are crucial to better health and wellbeing, and therefore to the success of home and hybrid initiatives.

Abigail Hirshman

Abigail Hirshman leads Charlie Waller’s highly experienced team of mental health trainers and consultants in their mission to help make a real and sustained difference within workplaces.

With an MA in Psychotherapy an MSc in Psychology Abigail has over twenty-five years’ experience in mental health and wellbeing at work from a clinical, research and delivery perspective.

Abigail is an active member of several mental health at work advisory groups, has sat as the workplace expert for the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on mental wellbeing at work and is regularly invited to chair and present at national conferences

Abigail joined the Charlie Waller Trust from Acas, the independent national advisory body for employers and employees, where she was Head of Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Abigail has established relationship with global brands from the public, private and third sector and has significant experience in providing consultancy support on the development and implementation of pragmatic tailored strategies to support mental health in the workplace.

Steve Mosser

Steve is the Founder of Sensée, and the CEO & CIO of its Cloudworks division. He is a homeworking and HomeAgent solution architect for contact centres of all sizes and industries. Steve is passionate about designing, building and deploying solutions that truly provide added value, are sustainable and fix problems, not just mend them.

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(Webinar) Building a Sense of Togetherness in Hybrid (Home/Office) Teams

Chair: Sandra Busby, Welsh Contact Centre Forum
Date: Sept 8th 2021
Time: 10.00 to 11.30am

In this interactive Q&A panel session, we will discuss how to optimise communications and team management to build team morale in the new world of hybrid (home/office) working and 100% work-from-home (WFH).

  • How do you replicate the ‘team office’ feeling for homeworkers?
  • How do you build a Digital Workplace where workers on the same work mission can be together (regardless of whether they WFH or from the office)?
  • How do you facilitate and manage social interactions between work colleagues?
  • What special skills do WFH managers and Team Leaders (TLs) need (and how are they different to their office-based equivalents)?
  • How do you ensure home and office-based employees receive the same training?

Sandra Busby will be joined for a Q&A panel by experienced Sensée managers Jo Hodge (Service Delivery Manager), Sam Shields (Team Leader) and Sarah Birch (Head of Business Development).

Agenda:

10.00 – 10.05: Introductions and agenda (Sandra Busby)
10.05 – 10.15: How has the contact centre industry adapted to hybrid working post lockdown (Mark Walton, CEO, Sensée)
10.15 – 10.45: Q&A panel
10.45 – 11.30: Open Floor Q&A session led by Sandra Busby

To attend, please register here

Work and career expectations are changing forever

The Washington Post recently published a study revealing that a third of all American workers under 40 – and a significant 22% of all US employees – are now seeking a new career challenge.

For some it’s because they, or a close family member, were taken ill during the pandemic. For others it’s because lockdown has led them to re-evaluate what’s really important and they’ve decided they want something different from both their work and their career.

As one law firm employee put it: “If you come out of the pandemic the same as you were, you’ve missed an opportunity to evolve and grow as a person, I just realised I needed to do better.”

The Post claims that the pandemic has created a ‘carpe diem’ effect where people have become acutely aware of how short life can be and are now questioning their life choices. In other words, Americans are fundamentally re-imagining their relationships with the workplace.

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) takes this observation a step further, suggesting change is manifesting itself in a number of ways:

  • Workers feel more powerful than ever: They want better conditions, better jobs, and better pay – they mostly want more flexibility from employers.
  • Housing costs are higher: In particular, locations where it’s possible to live away from major cities and still have access to them when needed.
  • E-commerce has exploded: growing three times faster in 2020 than previously experienced.

MGI predicts that over a quarter of all office-based workers will now spend some time at home as workers come to expect greater flexibility. And it is not just in the US where attitudes are changing.

Just last week in the UK, for example, there was much debate about civil servants taking longer to return to the office than Government officials expected – with many workers claiming they don’t want to return, and that 2020 proved the business case for work from home (WFH).

When the 2020 UK HomeAgent Survey asked long term homeworkers why they work from home they gave three main reasons:

  1. To achieve a better work-life balance by fitting work hours around their other daily commitments 
  2. To eliminate time wasted commuting 
  3. To eliminate the cost of commuting 

The survey was conducted prior to lockdown. 

WFH is not the same as flexible working but they are often very close. Indeed, people who choose to WFH often do so because of the flexibility they gain to work the hours they want around their other daily commitments.

But for most employers who genuinely wish to embrace ‘flexibility’ it goes beyond just offering flexible hours. It’s about the culture of the organisation. It’s the ability to take a day off without needing to fake an illness. It’s about feeling that you are valued as a team member and knowing that the work you are doing is helping other people.

It’s not that American workers are throwing down their tools and having an existential crisis because they feel their work has no value. In many cases it’s probably because they would be happy to continue in their job, but now want the ability to balance their family life and commitments with work and to feel genuinely valued by their employer.

The kind of ‘forced WFH’ we saw at the start of the pandemic was far from flexible. In this situation, employees were expected to match their normal office hours from home – a solid 8-hour shift from the living room. WFH is an important component of the flexibility that many employees are now looking for, but it’s not the complete answer.

Employers Should Not Penalise Employees Who Want To Retain Flexibility After The Pandemic 

The UK government has now scrapped the advice that anyone who can possibly work from home should stay at home – the Covid restrictions and lockdowns are finished.

Many commentators referred to the lifting of restrictions as a time to celebrate – ‘we are regaining our freedom’ was an often-repeated statement, but the reality appears to be more complex. In Glasgow, only 8% of office-based employees have returned to their office.

One area of the economy that cannot just switch back to normal overnight is the large number of people that continue to work from home. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, led government comments by saying that his career could not have taken off if he was working from home. Mr Sunak even went so far as to warn young people that not returning to the office now would damage their career.

There was an outcry when unnamed UK government ministers were quoted as saying that civil servants who refuse to return to the office should face a pay cut. The media has not named the ministers involved, but it has been acknowledged that these opinions came directly from the cabinet. The Prime Minister has strenuously denied that there are any such plans.

However, there is an issue. The Department of Health and Social Care reportedly abandoned plans for its civil servants to be back at their desks between four and eight days a month from September. The department was already offering what some might argue are flexible terms – one or two days a week in the office – and yet after a year and a half without commuting, these employees don’t want to return to the office, even for reduced days. This experience has also been reflected in the private sector in several recent examples too.

This is certainly not a partisan, or strictly a political, issue. Any government would now be struggling to encourage their civil servants to snap back to how things were in 2019. This is because every employee, in the public or private sector, has now seen that there is an alternative to that long train ride, trudging through the rain, and an awful coffee machine followed by a fixed number of hours at desk.

Some private sector employers have started exploring how they can integrate home-based working on a permanent basis. Google has created a formula that calculates the discount to your salary if you stay at home and it appears that Google employees have accepted this.

However, we should be careful to compare Silicon Valley to the rest of the world. Even inside the US, the region around San Francisco is an extremely expensive place to live. If you can get a well paid job at Google and live in a lower cost city, or even another state, then the work-from-home pay reduction is probably acceptable.

This may not apply in the UK, but many companies are already asking the question – as the debate within the civil service indicates. A ‘London weighting’ salary premium is usually paid by employers in London and this salary boost may be at risk for employees who don’t want to return to the daily commute.

This is a debate that we will see playing out in the coming months as employees start deciding how they want to work after the pandemic. Even someone living fairly close to London, such as in Windsor, needs to spend around £3,500 a year on train fares and will spend 454 hours on a train – assuming there are no delays. Many employers will start questioning the need for London weighting and how much the employees are saving by not commuting.

Lawyers suggest that it will not be easy to slash contracted salaries, but I believe there is a bigger picture here. In all these stories about cutting salaries for home-based employees there is an implication that they are working less, or should feel lucky they are not commuting, or may be getting away with an early finish because their manager is not watching. Organisations that feel they need to enforce different salaries and other working conditions may in fact just be creating a two-tier workforce. 

At Sensée, working from home is how we all work. Offices have their purpose and they can play a useful role in helping teams work together, but it is possible to be a valuable member of a team when working from home. It’s not just a theoretical possibility that needs to be proven – we knew it even before the pandemic.

There is a place for workers based in the home and for workers based in the office. As Mr Sunak suggested, for those starting out in their career it can often be useful to have knowledgable colleagues just a desk away, but with imagination much of the connectivity and networking we value in offices can be replicated in a home-working environment. Plus, some people just don’t want to work in an office. 

This debate needs to explore the positive aspects of working from home. The additional time that families can spend together. The greater control over working hours. The reduction in presenteeism and office politics. The idea that employees who want more flexibility should be penalised isn’t how any twenty-first century employer should behave. We need a wider range of voices contributing to this debate – even office landlords are accepting that they may need to change – so why aren’t more employers?

Building A Culture Of Communication That Facilitates Better WFH

Our CEO Mark Walton recently featured as a guest on an episode of the CX Files podcast. You can follow the link to listen to the entire conversation, but I’d like to follow up on one of the areas that Mark discussed with the podcast host, Mark Hillary. This was around the technology required to make work-from-home (WFH) really operate effectively.

Mark explained that a remote and distributed team can be connected using tools such as Microsoft Teams, but you still miss out on the dynamics of being together in the office. Even something as simple as an agent waving to a team leader to indicate that they need help is more complex, unless you have tools that can build these bonds and reinforce teamwork. You need comms that are always on, not just for meetings.

Our platform, called LiveDesk, delivers an always-on digital workplace for homeworkers as well as office-based workers that are ‘on the same work mission’.

If you think about twelve people working on a team in the office then they are probably all seated close together – perhaps on a long table or pods that are next to each other and clustered in one physical space.

Twelve people working remotely is slightly different – it’s harder to think of them as a team. It feels more like twelve people working alone in their own little silo.

This is where LiveDesk helps. It’s always on and creates a virtual workplace where everyone within the distributed team can work together in a single place. Your managers are there, all the subject matter experts are there, you can access the IT and HR teams there, and you can also use the same tool to chat socially with colleagues. It truly is a virtual representation of the office. It brings the entire team together.

Sensée team members use (at least) two screens. One is for their main work tasks, such as the CRM or contact handling system. Another is for LiveDesk. This means that their communication platform is always running and always visible.

When the Covid lockdowns started in March 2020, many companies sent their employees home and asked them to continue working remotely but without this kind of communication infrastructure. Calls on Teams or Zoom are usually pre-arranged meetings, not like calling across to a team member and asking if they can help you with a customer question – right now!

LiveDesk allows team members to work remotely without many of the problems experienced by companies forced into homeworking during lockdown.  Such as the sense of isolation and inability to have more casual meetings and social interactions without first needing to book calls.

Add in the Sensée TeamTonic solution, which enables flexible working by allowing people to self-select the shifts they work, and one is looking at a comprehensive environment that supports an improved better work-life balance as well as supporting a work environment that is as close to the office as possible when working remotely.

In many respects, it’s easy to make a case for saying that work from home using LiveDesk and TeamTonic is preferable to working in the office. You don’t need to commute or handle the distractions that are normal in an office, and you may create a better work-life balance.

In addition, and what’s often overlooked, is that you can also establish a really strong sense of teamwork and an ability to talk to anyone whenever needed. Remote teams can be every bit as tight as office-based teams – you just need the right communications and scheduling platforms to make it happen.

What homeworking means to me as a working mum

As a working mum and recording artist, the flexible schedules and support provided by Sensée makes a massive difference to Kirsty. Here is her story.

After many years working in Account Management roles within the food supplies sector, and then helping build a start-up solar energy business, Kirsty decided on a career change.

When not working, she is a recording artist and plays lots of gigs, which is demanding on her time in terms of rehearsals, travel etc. She also wanted a better work-life-balance.

Kirsty sought a part time role and, after finding Sensée online and successfully applying in 2015, she started work as a service adviser for a leading UK car breakdown service. She quickly fell in love with homeworking and was promoted to a Quality Analyst and, in 2018, to a Team Leader working for a well known insurance brand.

In late 2018 her biggest dream came true and her daughter was born. Kirsty is raising her daughter on her own due to circumstances out of her control and started to build a close support network with her family and friends.

Kirsty returned to work at Sensée for the same insurance client in January 2020. However it hasn’t been all plain sailing. In April 2020, for example, she was forced to isolate with her 14 month old daughter due to a Covid outbreak at nursery and was quickly forced to seek help.

Kirsty’s managers placed her onto an account which would allow her the flexibility she needed to raise her daughter and maintain her income.

Throughout lockdown, Kirsty adjusted her schedules to fit in meetings around her daughter’s naps and other times when she would be quieter or could be easily distracted (e.g. with Pepper Pig!). She even occasionally brought her along to team meetings.

While there were times when things got tricky as her daughter started to find her feet and became more adventurous, Kirsty has had constant support – with team members more than willing to jump in and cover matters as and when required. Her daughter became an account mascot and everyone was made up to see her big smile in weekly huddles.

Kirsty works a 40 hour week and that sometime means working 7 days a week, and during evenings, to fit in all her hours. “Things have been tough for many colleagues during lockdown and I frequently hear people say we are all in same boat” says Kirsty “But I’m not sure any other job would allow that me the degree of flexibility I have at Sensée”.

As we emerge from lockdown, her daughter is back at nursery and thriving. Working at Sensée allows Kirsty to work around her nursery pick up and drop off times without a long commute, as well as maintain a great work-life balance.

We Are Hiring – Everyone Wants To Work From Home!

I was recently featured as a guest on an episode of the CX Files podcast. You can follow the link to listen to the entire conversation, but I wanted to highlight one of the key points that I discussed.

I explained to the podcast host, Mark Hillary, that there has been an epiphany around work-from-home (WFH) in many boardrooms because of the Covid pandemic. In fact, it could be argued that there has been an epiphany both for corporate executives and the workers who needed to continue their normal tasks from home.

On the corporate side, many companies found that they could continue operating with an entirely remote team. This has opened many eyes in management because there is the potential to reduce real estate costs and also hire from anywhere – if the office no longer exists as a single hub for all employees then you no longer need to restrict hiring just to those within commuting distance.

On the personal and employee side, there has also been some thought and analysis around jobs and employers. Many people have been re-evaluating what they are doing with their life. The pandemic has taken millions of lives across the world – very few of us have been unaffected in some way by this tragedy. In the US they are already calling this period ‘The Great Resignation’ – over 4 million Americans quit their job in April this year and vowed to do something better.

Many employees are reconsidering where they live. If remote working is possible then why live in a city centre? Why not live somewhere cheaper or even somewhere nicer, but usually impossible as an option – such as living by the coast far from a major city.

WFH has also demonstrated to many people that a better work/life balance really is possible. There was always a lot of discussion before the pandemic on this subject from business school academics and wellness coaches, but millions of regular employees saw for themselves that if they could forget about the commute and adopt more flexible hours then work really could fit around their own life and commitments.

This has led to an interesting dynamic. Companies are now seeing that WFH can allow them to be more flexible, especially around resourcing during busy periods, and employees appreciate the flexibility so that builds a greater level of trust and loyalty into the relationship. Employees are now exploring how to maintain some of this flexibility as we gradually see the economy and workplaces return to something closer to normal.

At Sensée we can really sense that a change is taking place. We just announced 500 new jobs – all WFH positions. This is one of those nice business problems – we need to get hundreds of new people on our team as fast as possible.

More clients and prospective clients are asking about WFH customer care solutions and more people are interested in working in these positions because they have seen the flexibility that is possible and they want to maintain that lifestyle.

So what happens when companies just say that the UK restrictions are now over – everyone needs to get back into the office? I don’t think it’s possible to force your employees back any longer. They have experienced a different way of working that was productive both for the company and for the employees. Any change now needs to be in partnership with employees, rather than being a top-down decision.

Companies that start forcing old working practices on their employees will find that they force many of them out – they will search for new positions that allow them to earn a living and manage their commitments at home too. With so many WFH opportunities at Sensée right now their loss will certainly be our gain.

Work-Life Balance Requires More Than Just WFH

The American psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth was the first academic to write about an explicit connection between time, motion, and fatigue. She wrote many books and papers in this field and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial and organisational psychology. Her work created the idea of a ‘work-life balance’ and it’s almost half a century since she died.

As most people know, managing a work-life balance can be complex. The equilibrium between your personal life and your employment affects both these areas and over the past few decades an entire industry has been created, focusing on happiness at work and how to achieve the right levels of rest and leisure time balanced with efforts at work.

Work-life balance is a subject that many employers and employees have aspired to for many years. Employers believe that their employees will be more productive and engaged if this balance is improved and employees generally agree – but with so much focus on this area and such a long history of analysis, why is it still so difficult to achieve? Why aren’t those Chief Happiness Officers more effective?

The first issue is the number of variables. The government creates laws and regulations that define how people work. Employers create the job opportunities, and employees undertake those jobs. Each actor has their own set of expectations about what will make them more productive and more engaged. The reality of many modern working arrangements may also have evolved much faster than legislation can catch up – so there is often a disconnect.

Working from home (WFH) is a good example. Many employees were asked to work from home during the Covid pandemic and many are planning to continue, either full-time at home or using a hybrid model where they sometimes visit the office and sometimes stay at home. But WFH needs some preparation, so why is a desk and chair considered to be tax deductible and yet Internet access is not?

In the past year, the British tax agency HMRC has been flooded with people asking for tax deductions for all the purchases they were forced to make to ensure that their home working environment is safe, secure, and allows them to work productively.

The government doesn’t have a simple answer to these questions because nobody really expected such a dramatic shift to home working, but now we can see that many people intend to remain working from home, some clear guidance and regulations would be welcome. Government agencies, employers, and employees all need to work together to define how the future of work is going to look.

At Sensée, we believe that one of the fundamental changes is around personal control or ‘agency’ as the psychologists would define it. All our teams work at home, but they are not expected to work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday. We empower them to self-schedule their work hours, providing greater control and flexibility to blend their personal life around work. This could be as simple as taking a couple of hours off in the afternoon to pick up the kids from school and then logging in later for a shift once everyone at home has been fed.

It sounds simple, but companies cannot just offer this flexibility overnight. It’s not just the fact that someone works from home that defines their job as flexible, it is also how the employer allows the employee to manage some of the parameters around when and where they are working. This idea of flexible workforce management is where the process can really evolve and improve – both for employers (who can benefit from higher employee engagement and productivity, and lower attrition) and employees (who frequently cite a better work-life balance as well as benefitting by losing the travel to and from work).

Work-life balance studies have been taking place for almost a century, but at the end of the day it is not working from home alone that creates flexibility. Employers and governments need to recognise this if we are going to create a new framework for how modern companies operate and look after their people.

How Will Companies Manage The Transition From WFH To Hybrid?

Each day is now bringing more positive news about the end of the pandemic. Although there are still concerns about the variants, the situation is far better than a year ago when we had no vaccines and idea how long the crisis would run for.

Many governments, including here in the UK, are now actively working on plans that should see a a new phase where the public is expected to remain cautious, but the various lockdowns, restrictions, and mask mandates will all be relaxed. The next key date for the UK is July 19th. After this date, the government will remove all Covid restrictions and this includes the advice to work from home, although the PM Boris Johnson has said that it will be up to individual companies to decide on whether to recall everyone to the office or to continue some home working – there will no longer be any direction from Whitehall.

Naturally this is going to have a big impact on companies and the use of offices. Every office-based employee moved to a work-from-home (WFH) environment in March 2020 and now the discussion is focused on how to return to the office. Naturally, when there was a crisis, it was easy to mandate that everyone has to work from home. Now that we are seeing an end to restrictions, the situation is less clear cut. The government is making it clear that they are now leaving it up to employers.

Last month, the British government announced a flexible working taskforce to explore all the potential future options. One of the suggested ideas was a default right to work from home – so all office-based employees would automatically have the right to tell their employer where they plan to work from.

The situation is fairly confusing, because this taskforce is just exploring ideas – these are not new rules or regulations yet. Many companies, including most of the tech giants, have announced that they will permanently embrace flexible working. Many of their employees enjoyed the increased flexibility of WFH and want to keep it as an option. So if you work for Salesforce or Twitter then it’s likely that you can pick and choose the days that you spend time in the office and time at home.

Spotify is a good example, because they have at least thought about it carefully. They will repurpose all their office estate so employees have office facilities, but it may not look like it did before the pandemic – individual desks for use by one person are probably now entering the history books.

But the confusion over this return to the office demonstrates that the creation of a productive and positive network of home-based workers is about far more than just connecting people together on Slack and allowing them to work anywhere.

The most recent Harvard Business Review podcast features some thoughtful suggestions from Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. Professor Bloom has studied the economic effect of home working for several years and he makes some valid points in the podcast. These include the problems of managing real estate use if employees have complete freedom over when and where they work. Also, the difficulties of planning meetings where some team members are on Teams or Zoom and some are crowded together in a meeting room.

Professor Bloom advises that companies will probably need to mandate the days that can be used as home working days – either at a company level or with individual team managers deciding. Either way, for meetings to run effectively he believes that everyone should be entirely remote or all in-person.

Whether you agree or not, what Professor Bloom is pointing out is the danger of a twin-track workforce. He argues that, when everyone works from home, it is more likely that their performance is measured on output – i.e. what do they deliver? Once some team members are visible back in the office then the old problems of judging people based on perceived effort, hours at the desk, and who has lunch with which manager all come back into view. The playing field is no longer level.

It takes effort to make a fully remote team work well together because it is about more than just the process. It requires organisations to adopt a virtual mindset across everything that they do – from recruitment to training, management, security and scheduling.  It also requires them to recognise the importance of flexible working and self-scheduling to  enable homeworkers to enjoy an improved work-life balance.

At Sensée we’ve been focused on WFH since 2004 – long before the pandemic arrived – so these are issues that we’re very familiar with.  Nevertheless, the point should not be lost.  The key question for many organisations is no longer ‘how do we make homeworking work?’ it is ‘how do we make hybrid working work?’ And that calls for a whole new mindset.

Sensée Creates 500 New Work-from-Home Contact Centre Roles

Sensée, the work-from-home specialist, is creating 500 new permanent and temporary positions to meet the growing demand for homeworking staff.

The vacancies are for Customer Contact Advisors, Team Managers and back office staff to work for new and existing clients. Start dates are immediate.

Applications from people of all backgrounds, levels of experience, gender and age are welcome. Contact centre experience is preferred but not essential. Customer service and other job-specific training is provided.

Sensée is the UK’s only 100% work-from-home contact centre specialist with fully-employed homeworkers. The company has 17 years experience of operating and refining its homeworking model and manages customer contacts on behalf of many household brands as well as a number of Government departments.

“We are delighted to announce these new permanent and temporary roles in response to the growing demand for work-from-home personnel” said Paul Whymark, Chief Operating Officer of Sensée. “A vast number of people have experienced the benefits of homeworking during lockdown and many are now considering their options as organisations contemplate a full time return to the office. We predict a major surge in demand for full and part time homeworking careers where people can balance work with their other daily tasks and priorities.”

Candidates can apply today for the new roles at www.sensee.co.uk